Rivalry games tend to have more tension and more heat between the two teams than other games. In this latest installment of the New Jersey Devils’ rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers, the nastiness came in spots and at a level not seen in most other Devils games this season. Unfortunately, the Flyers also provided plenty of goals in a quantity that the Devils have suffered a few other times this season. Regardless of who won the beefs, scrums, and arguments, the Devils lost to the Flyers, 3-6. It was a decisive score.
Interestingly, it was not that decisive of a performance. Even with a forward group that mostly came from Binghamton, the Devils out-attempted and out-shot the Flyers by a healthy margin. In 5-on-5 hockey, it was 49-26 in attempts NJ and 27-18 in shots. For all situations, it was 58-37 and 33-24, respectively. The second and third periods saw stretches of legitimately good play by the Devils. The Flyers did not stomp all over the Devils on the rink, not even in the first period. So why did they give up six goals and lose? The Devils shot themselves in the foot a few times, goaltender Cory Schneider was not at all as amazing as he has been in February, and a bad break towards the end of an otherwise very good second period by New Jersey all made a big difference. The Devils had to play from behind for much of it and despite the efforts being made and owning the shot count and the chance count, they could not match the Flyers’ goals after the first two in that second period.
What really hurt were the third and fourth goals against. At the end of very good second period performance, Schneider saw a loose puck and Travis Konecny bearing down towards it. Schneider correctly poked the puck away. The puck bounced off Konecny’s skate, the toe of Schneider’s right pad, and then Kevin Rooney’s skate to slide into the net. It was a really unlucky bounce as opposed to an intentional own goal and it put the Devils down 2-3 after working well to tie up the game in that period. The first shot of the third period ended up being the dagger. Sean Couturier got ahead of Damon Severson and fired a well-placed shot to Schneider’s left arm. Schneider saw the shot but he could not squeeze his arm to his body in time to stop the shot. That made it 2-4 and that cushion was enough for Philly to hold onto. In the post-game broadcast, Schneider faulted himself for those two. I don’t blame Schneider for the third GA; he did the right thing, it is not his fault Konecny and Rooney got to the spots where they went. I do blame him for that fourth GA; that was a soft goal. It is disappointing to write that since Schneider did have some really good saves tonight and his recent performances have been legitimately good. Not tonight.
Of course, Schneider not being all that and a bag of chips does tonight does not absolve the other issues that ended up costing the Devils goals tonight.
- During a first period penalty kill, Rooney decided to stop skating and went back with his stick when Claude Giroux had the puck outside of the right circle. He should have went forward or had his stick out in front of him. Either would have made his pass to James van Reimsdyk, who was in the slot and hammered in a one-timer, that much more difficult for Giroux to complete. That the Devils were on the PK was an issue as it came shortly after the Devils killed off a major penalty.
- Later in the first period, Schneider batted away a loose puck to his left. Drew Stafford stood by the left side of the net. He had a great view of Ryan Hartman making a fantastic pass to van Reimsdyk, who had an easy score on Schneider’s left flank. Not that Stafford would have totally prevented it, but he should have stepped up on the play instead of hesitating.
- Over six minutes into the third period, the Flyers had an attacking shift. The Devils have had this issue of getting lost in their own end as the other team controls the play in their end of the rink. It did not happen a lot tonight but it happened on this shift and the Devils paid the price. As the play rotated around back to the right point. Somehow, defenseman Ivan Provorov was left alone just outside of the slot. Travis Sanheim took the puck to the center point, saw Provorov open with his stick blade in the slot, and fired a shot towards his stick. Provorov re-directed the shot. Where was Severson or any other Devil to pick up the defenseman? I don’t know but it made it 2-5.
- For reasons I do not understand, John Hynes pulled Schneider with just under five minutes left to play for an extra skater. The team was down three goals and despite tilting the ice in their direction as the period went on, they were not at all likely to put three past Cam Talbot in under five minutes. After a minute or so, Nick Lappin went down in pain, the Flyers broke out, and van Reimsdyk sent a pass across to Konecny for the ENG to make it 2-6. The game may have been out of doubt at that point, but there was no need to pull the goalie down three goals. Not with an already shortened bench filled with guys who would normally not be in the NHL.
I can appreciate and even agree that the Devils did not play that bad of a game tonight. The main issue is that they went down, they had a hand in that, and Schneider did not excel enough times as he has in most of his last eight starts. With fewer mistakes, a better goaltending performance, and one less bad bounce, then the Devils maybe would have taken the game tonight.
Both sides got mad at each other, there was some real heat out there, and there was the chippiness that tends to come with these kinds of games. But the score was definitive and so the Devils took another ‘L’ in their push to just end this season.
The Opposition Opinion: As per Emily Quast’s recap at Broad Street Hockey, she is pleased that the Flyers won and calls Kurtis Gabriel a “Hot Couch Guy.” OK, whatever that means!
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
This is the Part Where I Go Into the Violence of the Game, or Suspensions, Please: I made a point of it to focus on the hockey and the performance and the goals first because one of the bigger stories out of this game would be a number of violent acts involved.
It began with Kurtis Gabriel. Gabriel did something reckless and just plain stupid. In the first period, he came off the bench, entered the offensive zone, and crunched Nolan Patrick from behind into the boards. Patrick was battling for a puck; he had no idea that a check was coming, much less from a man who traveled over a hundred feet to get to him. It was a hit into the numbers. It was an indefensible hit. Gabriel was assessed a major penalty for it and Patrick went to the back to undergo concussion protocol. Patrick would return to the game. The Devils did a fantastic job killing the five minutes. They even out-shot the Flyers on it.
Later in the third period, after Provorov’s re-direction made it 2-5, Gabriel was in Philly’s zone on a forecheck. He threw a legal check on Radko Gudas into the endboards. As Gabriel turned away, Patrick blind-sided him with a shoulder to the head. Patrick wanted revenge and he got it. The referees did not make a penalty call. Gabriel was understandably upset about the hit.
So because he is Kurtis Gabriel, he got up, re-joined the play, threw a hard check at Scott Laughton, and then grabbed him in a clinch in trying to fight the man. Laughton was not having any of it. Gabriel just wanted a piece of someone and he was lipping off all the way to the box - and continued on. Gabriel was correctly given a minor penalty for roughing.
Then he was sent to the back to undergo a concussion protocol. The refs who did not call anything on Patrick found it necessary to send Gabriel off to get checked up for it. Gabriel would not return to the game.
After the Gabriel penalty was killed, play continued. In the left corner, Damon Severson tagged Nolan Patrick for a hit. Travis Konecny came in and cross-checked Severson from behind. Sami Vatanen took a large exception to that and tried to fight Konecny. A large scrum ensued with Severson eventually clinched away by Provorov and a linesman had to extend a lot of strength to keep Vatanen and Konecny apart. Severson, Patrick, and Vatanen all received roughing minors and arguments continued.
The good news is that the beefs largely ended after that. The bad news is that it was still poor control by the refs and there were two events that should receive further review from the Department of Player Safety. Ken Daneyko made an astute point on the broadcast tonight. Since Gabriel was sent back for a concussion protocol, that should lead the league to take a look at what Patrick did - especially if Gabriel does end up with a concussion. That Patrick’s hit was uncalled was a big mistake. Of course, Gabriel’s hit from behind should also be reviewed. I hate those plays when Tom Wilson does them and so I hate it when a Devil does it. Since Gabriel received a major penalty, DoPS may opt to leave it at that but I think that deserves further punishment. I can appreciate how checks can be a bit harder and tempers flare in a rivalry game. But these went beyond and the big scrum that sent four players to the box in the third period could have escalated to something uglier.
A quick aside: All of these events and Radko Gudas was not involved in any of it. How about that.
More Injuries?: Gabriel was done after he went to the locker room to go through the concussion protocol. He was not given a game misconduct so there is reason to suspect he may have one since he did not return. The third period yielded two more potential injuries for a Devils team heading to Boston for a game tomorrow. In the third period, Nathan Bastian collided with Nick Lappin in the Flyers’ zone. Bastian went off with 16:55 on the clock and would not return. Late in the game, just as van Reimsdyk was breaking out against six Devils skaters, Lappin was down in a lot of pain. After Konecny’s empty-net goal, Lappin sort-of skated to the Devils bench and put no weight on his left leg. I fear he is now hurt as well. The broadcast made mention that Pavel Zacha may be close to returning. I hope so because the Devils have only so many more players in Binghamton to pull from. It is not enough that the Devils lost by three to a hated rival tonight, they may have three more forwards to add to the injury list.
A Return of a Healthy Player: Jesper Bratt only missed a couple of games and returned to action tonight. Hynes smartly put him with Nico Hischier. He also put those two with Drew Stafford, which was not terrible in the run of play. Stafford was not all that good between his penalty and standing about on van Reimsdyk’s second goal, but he was not an anchor on the run of play. It was a welcome sight as Bratt contributed five shooting attempts, three shots on goal, a goal and an assist. He made himself lost in Philly’s end and Provorov had no idea where he was as Severson took a shot on net. The rebound went through Provorov’s legs and Bratt was right there behind the defenseman to score a goal. That goal tied up the game at the time too. Late in the third period, Bratt had an awesome pass through traffic to the slot that Kevin Rooney finished to make it a 3-6 score. It furthered the point that Bratt had a successful night. I was happy to see him back and I hope he sticks around because the Devils need all the NHL-caliber forwards they can get.
Dominating the Run of Play for a Change: As a spoiler for Monday’s February 2019 in Review post, the Devils were arguably the worst 5-on-5 team in February. To see them put up a big lead in attempts, shots, and chances on the Flyers was a welcome sight in light of that. Some Devils had some outstanding differentials. For example, the combination of Lappin and McLeod. When Lappin was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted Philadelphia 13-2 and out-shot them 9-1 in 5-on-5 play. As for McLeod, attempts were 17-3 and shots were 9-2 in favor of NJ. That is with McLeod registering no attempts or shots tonight. It speaks to how they were able to at least keep pushing the play in a favorable direction.
The defense featured a rare amazing night for Andy Greene and Severson. Severson was easily one of the best Devils tonight. While I question where he was on the Provorov goal, he scored the Devils’ first goal when he rushed up ice to put home a rebound caused by a Kenny Agostino shot and he created Bratt’s goal. Severson passed the puck up to Bratt before he sent a killer pass to the slot for Rooney’s goal. That’s a three-point night and a career high in points for #28. The points came on a night where when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers 17-5 and out-shot them 11-4. That is great. And Greene was even better. When the captain was on the ice in 5-on-5, the Devils led the Flyers 18-4 in attempts and 11-3 in shots. After seeing the 6-28 pairing get mauled on a nightly basis, it was refreshing to see them not be constantly pinned back and have them contribute to the scoring tonight. Sadly, two of those handful of shots against Greene and Severson were goals. At least they saw/contributed to three Devils goals.
The vast majority of the roster put up a CF% and a SF% over 50% tonight. Only Rooney and Gabriel saw dismal differentials in those categories in 5-on-5. Such is the reality of the all AHL fourth line. Even though Blake Pietila found more success for his whole night, the good stuff came when he was apart from those two.
Another Positive: Blake Coleman behaved better tonight and was firing away at Talbot. He had five of the team’s 33 shots on net. He could have had more as he was listed for three missed shots. Coleman even had his requisite shorthanded breakaway during the major penalty. While Talbot stopped him, it was a good early sign that Coleman would be more helpful than he has been in the last couple of games. With the Binghamton-laden forward corps that is in New Jersey, it important that the NHL forwards perform well to at least help them out. Coleman achieved that in my view.
Crash it More: The Devils scored their two goals off rebounds. The Devils nearly scored a third goal in the second period with jam plays and guys getting into Talbot’s area. While the Devils ended up leading the Flyers in high-danger chances tonight (9-4 in 5-on-5, 11-4 if you include special teams), I wanted more. With the team not laden in talent, simple things like going to the net, establishing position, and try to beat defenders to loose puck can provide a pathway to success. I thought the Devils had some of their best shifts when they did that. I just wanted more of it.
Two More Rivalry Games or the Sherman Abrams Section: The Devils completed their season series with the Flyers tonight. They split it. There are two more rivalry games and both are against Our Hated Rivals. For those of you who would like to see the Devils beat some rivals regardless of any tanking, there’s only two of those left.
Speaking of tanking, Mr. Abrams would like to extend their congratulations to the Devils for losing again in regulation. Go forth to Boston and take on a team that takes care of business at home, did not play tonight, and has at least twelve NHL forwards. He says you know what to do. Sigh. Elsewhere in the NHL, followers of Sherman shall keep on rooting for Anaheim to win (good luck) and do a lot of scoreboard watching tomorrow.
He’ll Be 26 in May: Please stop calling Kevin Rooney a young player. Yes, he’s about a decade younger than me. But from a player perspective, what you see from him is what you’re going to get. I doubt he is this late-bloomer who will somehow become a lesser version of Coleman somehow. I like that he scored a goal and he did good work on killing the major penalty tonight. But there was a reason he has spent so much time in the AHL. Let’s temper those expectations a bit.
One Last Thought: The Devils worn their “heritage jerseys” tonight and lost another game by a decisive scoreline. I have three words for that: Burn those jerseys!
Your Take: The Devils lost 3-6 to the Flyers. The tempers flared. There was violence. But the goals were largely in Philadelphia’s favor tonight. What’s your take on tonight’s loss? What did you appreciate? What did you dislike the most? I intentionally did not mention a meaningless power play that yielded one (1) great save by Schneider on a shorthanded attempt. Did you notice? What can the Devils learn from tonight’s loss and apply it for their game in Boston tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight’s loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to CJ for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread tonight. Thank you for reading.