Rivalry games are always meaningful regardless of whether the team is in the standings. They are the games that the circumstances do not matter so much. You want to beat your rivals. After getting trounced in their previous two meetings this season, the New Jersey Devils got a big rivalry win tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils gloriously frustrated the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-0 win that left the home crowd booing their team off the ice. You just love to see it. I know I did.
From a distance, it is a minor miracle that the Devils won this game at all much less by five. They were out-shot 18-46. They generated seven shot attempts combined in the second and third periods in 5-on-5. They handed a team loaded with offensive talent four power plays. They have nothing to play for and they were on the road against a team that needs every point for their fierce playoff fight. On most nights, this kind of performance would more likely end with the Devils losing by five. But tonight was not one of among most nights. This was one of those nights for the Flyers. In an 82-game season, a team is bound to have a game where not a lot goes right and it just snowballs from there. That would be a more accurate way to describe how the latest chapter in the Devils-Flyers rivalry was written this evening.
Philadelphia was surprisingly loose on the puck. Despite generating 46 shots and 74 shooting attempts, the Flyers skaters just lost the puck quite a bit. Whether it was an errant pass that would send them out of the Devils’ zone, a lost puck in the neutral zone, or just failing to win a puck battle on offense. Sure, the Flyers kept the puck in the Devils’ end and made New Jersey spend a lot of time in their own end. But for a team that had as much zone time and created as many attempts as they did, only 15 of their attempts were classified as “high danger” by Natural Stat Trick. You would think a team as loaded as the Flyers and as defensively deficient as the Devils would give up a lot more. No. And even as the Devils ran up the score, the Flyers just kept having moments of simply failing to execute on a basic pass or losing the puck over the blue line.
That being said, the only way to really win a game like this one is for the goalie to be fantastic and for the team getting dominated in the run of play to score on their precious few opportunities. The Devils accomplished both, which served to make the Flyers increasingly frustrated and their fans boo even harder as time went on in the game.
MacKenzie Blackwood was great but he did not have to be “stand on your head” amazing. He was more or less tracking the puck really well, controlling his rebounds, and putting himself in great positions such that he did not need to make the highlight-reel worthy save. He had a little luck. A re-direction during a second period power play hit the goal frame. There were two times where I thought he was beaten dead to rights by Jakub Voracek. During a delayed penalty call, Voracek had a loose puck at the left post. Voracek slammed the puck against the post and P.K. Subban, who took the penalty, got a touch on the puck to re-direct it away from the goal line. In the third period, Voracek had a great rebound opportunity with about a third of the net wide open. Voracek sent the puck to the outside of the right post. Those may have been good breaks but the Flyers failed to really break down Blackwood. He earned his shutout.
As for the scoring, the Devils did it in some of the most enraging ways possible. Here is a list of all five of them:
- The game opened with three Flyers watching Travis Zajac win a puck in the corner while no one was on Blake Coleman. Pass, shot, Brian Elliott is beaten to his right, and the Devils scored 13 seconds into the game. And on the first shot of the game.
- The Devils had a super-early lead and the first period was easily their best from a 5-on-5 standpoint. Early in the second period, Kevin Hayes tripped up Jesper Bratt. Early into that power play, Damon Severson went coast-to-coast, made a perfect bank pass to himself that seemingly used Wayne Simmonds as a decoy, and blazed a shot past Elliott for a power play goal to make it 2-0. That happened 1:38 into the period and on New Jersey’s first shot of the period. The Devils were limited to just four more until the third period.
- Early in the third period, Subban was called for tripping. More accurately, he kicked out Voracek’s leg. Not a wise penalty to take. Early in that kill, Hayes fanned on a shot and Pavel Zacha took it, passed it up to Kevin Rooney, and the two were off on a 2-on-1. Zacha led it through the neutral zone and elected to shoot. He beat Elliott five-hole to make it 3-0 on the Devils’ first shot of the third period.
- After the penalty was killed, the Flyers took control of the game for a bit. Shayne Gostisbehere mishandled a pass at the center point. The puck hopped over the blueline, he fell, and Miles Wood charged at the puck. Wood was off on a breakaway. And Wood’s hands were true as he beat Elliott straight-up glove-side to make it 4-0. That was the Devils’ second shot of the period. Elliott was then replaced by Alex Lyon.
- Alex Lyon faced two shots in the game. He would be beaten on the first shot he faced. Mirco Mueller helped a puck go free with a stick-check on Travis Konecny just over New Jersey’s blueline. He stepped up to take it and gave Miles Wood a short pass. Wood had to re-set his feet and decided to be really brave going into the Flyers’ zone. He beat Philippe Myers with a slick move, powered ahead of the pressure by Sanheim, and then poked a backhander through Lyon’s legs. It was a sick-nasty move by Wood. One of the best goals of his career just on aesthetics alone. That was also the Devils’ first shot against Lyon, their first shot on net since Wood’s first goal, the second and final shot of the game by Wood (yes, he shot at 100% tonight), and the goal made it 5-0 at 11:23 into the third.
For a team to prevail while being heavily out shot and out possessed, they need to make the most of the few chances they can make. The Devils did that. Coleman had the game’s first scoring chance and he scored. On special teams, they were a +2 in terms of scoring. Miles Wood finished a breakaway and made Myers, Sanheim, and Lyon look like chumps for his second goal. Philadelphia did not just fail to beat Blackwood tonight. They were let down by their own goaltenders and their failure to finish especially on special teams. The Devils punished them for the few big mistakes they made tonight. It would make any fanbase be unhappy and the Flyers’ fans let the team know about it from the second period onward. I, of course, enjoyed the booing.
There is plenty of hockey left so this does not mean that this loss means the Flyers will not make the postseason. It was one of those nights for them. But the New Jersey Devils and their fans around the world should be very happy with how tonight’s game happened even if the performance was far from ideal. I certainly am. The Devils do not have much to play for this season anyway, so why not enjoy a five-spot being dropped on a rival by any means? I know I do.
The Opposition Opinion: Mike Dusak at Broad Street Hockey is confused about what happened.
The Game Highlights: I highly recommend watching this highlight video from NHL.com. It is a great way to spend five minutes:
The Best Devil Tonight? Easy: In my view, it has to be Blackwood. A goalie making 46 saves for a shutout is always worth high praise. Even if the Flyers did not create the best opportunities against them and their most common shooting location in 5-on-5 was the left point (Blackwood’s left), it is still 46 saves made. That is a massive amount of work and he was just about perfect. Blackwood really only misplayed one puck and it was nearly at the end of the game when he tried to shovel it away in the dying seconds. But the bounce never went to a Flyers stick that led to a shot, so no big deal.
On top of that, tonight was another first for Blackwood. He passed the puck to Severson after a Flyers clearance during their first power play in the second period. Severson took that puck and went off on a wonderful individual effort that ended with a power play goal. This meant Blackwood was credited for his first NHL assist in his career. And it was a legitimate one too; he did make an intentional pass to Severson. Congratulations to Blackwood for the shutout and the first point of what could be a long NHL career.
About the Defense: I cannot praise a team for playing good defense when they concede 46 shots and 74 attempts in all situations. That is not good even if no goals were given up. The “best” defenseman in terms of attempt differential was Severson and the Devils were out-attempted 8-17 when he was on the ice. That is a testament to the goaltender, not the skaters. However, I will credit them for not making a massive and costly error that we have seen all too often this season. They were at least making a better effort about not leaving each other out of position or being caught puck watching in critical situations. The team’s defense needs to be tighter in future games as they are not likely to repeat this kind of performance any time soon or even this season. It also contributed to the lack of Devils offense, five goals aside. Still, they did not give up a large number of odd man rushes, there were not total miscues in coverage, and everyone tried to help Blackwood out on rebounds with plenty of success. That is worth noting in a season where big fundamental mistakes that lead to goals against or stunning saves seemingly happen on most nights. Again, this was not most nights.
It Feels Good to Be Sort of Right: Yesterday, Kelly Hinkle of Broad Street Hockey Radio invited me on to discuss tonight’s game. She asked about Nico Hischier, who was absent, and I told her that he was not the team’s best player. Blake Coleman arguably was and he should be a concern for the Flyers tonight. Thirteen seconds in and I was right. Coleman led a Devils team that did not even crack 20 shots on net with four of his including his early goal. His seven individual shooting attempts also led the team by a wide margin. It feels good to be right. Also, congratulations to Coleman for hitting the 20-goal mark. He has plenty of time to set a new career high in scoring in a season and even reach the 30-goal mark.
I also told her that as a blogger who has been on the scene for a while, it is important to be strong enough to be wrong. That was my preface for a prediction for tonight’s game. I predicted a 5-4 shootout win. I admit that I was wrong about the Devils needing a shootout and the Flyers scoring anything, much less four goals.
A Pavel Zacha Idea: Convince him he is playing shorthanded. When he is on the ice in a PK situation, Zacha is a force. In 5-on-5, he is not much of a force at all. OK, I am not being totally serious but his work on the penalty kill was great tonight. All three of his shots on net (and his goal) were during penalty kills and he worked well alongside Kevin Rooney as the Devils held the Flyers to just six shots over four power plays. I would wait on seeing any kind of consistent success before getting excited about Zacha but it is more than OK to say he was a positive factor tonight.
More Please: Miles Wood will be a lot more valuable to the Devils and to other teams if he can utilize his hands like he did on his two goals tonight. We all know he is fast. So do they. Pairing them with being able to make a move on a defender and try to beat a goalie, albeit a really bad one like Elliott or Lyon, makes that speed much more attractive. His goals made me jump for joy. I want more of that from #44.
You’re Welcome: If you follow the Division Snapshot every Sunday at this site (and you should), then you know that Philly is in the middle of a playoff bubble. So this win by New Jersey is likely welcomed by the Isles, Columbus, Florida, Carolina, and Toronto. I would not expect a Thank You card. But spoiling a rival, even for a little bit, is its own gift.
One Last Thought: The Devils’ CF% by player in 5-on-5 tonight ranged from 35.71% (Jack Hughes) to 9.09% (John Hayden). The Devils won this game 5-0. In other words:
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Your Take: The Devils won big over a hated rival on the road such that it made their home fans boo them off the ice. You love to see it. I did. But I want to know what else you thought about tonight’s game. Who or what impressed you the most tonight? Which of the five goals was your favorite? Can the Devils play a far better game in 5-on-5 on Saturday? Is there a bad time to enjoy a win over a rival? The answer to that last question is no. Please leave the answers to the other questions and other thoughts on tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for putting up the game preview. Thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.