The Devils’ fourth line gave an early breakaway to Claude Giroux, but the puck rolled off Giroux’s stick before he could get a shot on Scott Wedgewood. P.K. Subban made an aggressive play in the neutral zone and got burned. The Devils could not clear the defensive zone for awhile, but lasted until they got possession to change lines. Right off the bench, Jesper Bratt got a pass from Jack Hughes in the faceoff circle to Carter Hart’s blocker side. Bratt ripped off a wrist shot but Hart made the save.
Ty Smith made his first mistake on the second pairing shortly after, as he fell backwards while trying to defend Joel Farabee on the rush. Farabee had a great chance, but Wedgewood stood strong for that chance and the ensuing offensive zone possession for the Flyers.
The Hughes line had a great shift a couple minutes later, as Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt combined for an excellent cycling sequence, and they created a few good scoring chances on their shift. They were unable to convert, but a notable point was that Johnsson also appeared to be comfortable and active on the line. He gained the offensive zone and continued possession by slapping a loose puck to the corner for Hughes to retrieve to continue possession.
Damon Severson finally made one of his rush attempts work, as he caught the Flyers defense sleeping after a pass from Ryan Murray came far out of the zone following a lengthy possession by the Sharangovich line. Severson shot from the upper half of the faceoff circle and scored off the far-side post. 1-0, Devils. That was Ryan Murray’s first point of the season.
Damn, Damon.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 29, 2021
: Murray pic.twitter.com/ziDxbEzaAY
Following an icing by Travis Zajac, the Flyers won the faceoff and a shot from Shayne Gostisbhere was saved by Wedgewood. However, Nate Prosser jumped on the rebound and poked it past the goal line, and Kyle Palmieri was just too slow to get the rebound as Prosser came in from behind him. 1-1.
Jesper Bratt very nearly created a goal for Andreas Johnsson minutes after the Flyers goal. Jack Hughes centered the puck from behind the net for Jesper Bratt. The Flyers had collapsed in front of Hart, and Bratt made a great pass while keeping the Flyers back for a shot, and Ivan Provorov made a timely block in front of a wide open net on Johnsson’s attempt. Not too long after, Jesper Bratt had Andreas Johnsson on a two-on-one, but Johnsson’s shot was deflected by Provorov’s skate and saved by Hart.
The Devils drew an interference call while the fourth line had a long possession in the offensive zone. McLeod continually danced free from oncoming defenders and Bastian fought off Flyers in puck battles by the walls to maintain possession, but they did not get much in the way of scoring chances out of it. However, they managed to get a power play out of it, so it was a job well done by the Nathan Bastian as he fought off Travis Sanheim and forced him to take a penalty.
On the power play, the first unit did not get much going until their third attempt at holding the offensive zone. Kyle Palmieri was set up for a one-time by Ty Smith, but Hart was able to make a save before the puck ended up in the Flyers bench. The second unit then came on for the last 52 seconds of the power play, and Nikita Gusev got a shot off the rush before the unit cycled the puck along the wall without a shot for the rest of the power play before a bad pass went all the way down the ice.
The Devils’ second line finally got something going on a shift in the last minute of the period. After Pavel Zacha gained the offensive zone, he dropped a pass for Damon Severson to blast a slap shot toward Hart. Kyle Palmieri was in front and was close to scoring his first goal of the year on his attempt to deflect Severson’s shot and then again off the rebound. After the puck was frozen, nothing notable happened for the rest of the final minute. The Devils were very strong in the run of play in the first period, leading the shots battle 14-4. However, their defensive lapses allowed Philadelphia to continually threaten to score and keep the game tied at one.
First period back for #NJDevils forward Jesper Bratt in 324 days:— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) January 29, 2021
6:37 of ice time, two shots, 10-2 in even-strength shot attempts (83.3 CF%), 97.28 xGF%
The fourth line was again matched up against Giroux’s line to start the period. They yielded no opportunities this time, and changed for the Hughes line without incident. Wedgewood had to make a big save on Jakub Voracek cutting to redirect a pass just above the crease right after the line change, though, and the first line finally ran into some trouble. They survived, and gained offensive zone possession for awhile before Jesper Bratt took a shot that deflected off of Van Riemsdyk’s stick and out of play.
The Devils’ first line drew a penalty just past three and a half minutes into the period. Nolan Patrick went off for slashing as the Andreas Johnsson tried to get to the puck around the slot. Kyle Palmieri got a shot right off the draw on the power play, which Hart saved and froze for another faceoff. The Devils won that draw too, and played catch between Palmieri, Smith, and Hughes at the top of the zone before Palmieri took another shot which was gloved by Hart 34 seconds into the power play despite the screen of Miles Wood.
With the second unit on the ice for the last 45 seconds of the power play, they failed to gain the zone until Jesper Bratt dumped the puck in with about 15 seconds remaining. Pavel Zacha tried to create a one-time with pass from the goal line to Nikita Gusev in the final moments, but the Flyers just got a stick on it and completed the kill.
Nikita Gusev was able to break up a two-on-one on the backcheck after a long possession which was killed by his own errant pass to Dmitry Kulikov at the blueline. I was surprised he was able to build up enough speed to break up Konecny’s pass to Patrick.
The Hughes line made another odd-man rush for themselves near the halfway point of the period. Jack Hughes fought off a defender to create a one-timer for Andreas Johnsson, and Carter Hart sprawled onto his side for the save. About a minute later, Pavel Zacha went off for holding Jakub Voracek along the boards to give the Flyers their first power play of the night.
Without Zacha for the penalty kill, Ruff sent out Sharangovich with Travis Zajac. They got the puck down ice once while together before Zajac changed for McLeod. After another possession in which the Flyers created a good chance for Giroux, McLeod changed for Palmieri while Sharangovich went off for Bastian. Nathan Bastian got a clear late in the penalty kill, and the Devils did not yield much in the way of opportunities while zero shots made way to Wedgewood. After the kill, the Devils had a four-on-one with Zacha gaining the offensive zone. He passed back to Hughes, who did not pass and shot instead - and Hart made the save. Not that I don’t want Hughes to be aggressive - but he had a lot of options to create a goal there.
After Ty Smith successfully defended a one-on-one rush with some physical defense on Scott Laughton, the Flyers took a too many men on the ice penalty and sent the Devils back to the power play. Jack Hughes had his offensive zone entry attempt broken up, and then Ty Smith turned the puck over upon his entry attempt. Hughes made a bad pass shortly after that ended the first unit’s time on the ice. With Subban and Severson with Gusev, Bratt, and Johnsson - P.K. Subban wound up for a blast from the point which made it through an attempted block and was saved by Hart. I get punishing Zacha for his penalty, but Subban doesn’t often make the Devils power play better.
In the final two or so minutes of the period, the top line fought hard to create turnovers and shots, but they never got a particularly good scoring chance. With the second line on the ice, Pavel Zacha, who had the puck at the point by the Devils bench, found Kyle Palmieri on the far side, who did a give-and-go with Zajac and almost scored in close on Hart. It was the best I’ve seen the second line move the puck all night to that point.
At the end of the second period, the Devils were leading the shots battle 24-8. They were dominant at even strength, but just could not beat Carter Hart.
The Devils sent their fourth line out to start the period again, and they went up against the Flyers fourth line this time. They yielded a few attempts in the defensive zone before changing off for the Zajac line after Nathan Bastian couldn’t find anyone for a pass after turning play around. Scott Wedgwood made a good glove save on Joel Farabee after a long puck battle on the boards was won by the Flyers. After Jack Hughes was kicked from a faceoff following another Wedgewood save, Wedgewood had to make two saves in quick succession. The Devils needed to get going before the Flyers pounced on their chance to take the lead.
Of course, the Flyers’ fourth line beat Jack Hughes behind Wedgewood’s net and scored following a Connor Bunnaman wraparound. Michael Raffl scored cleaning up the shot that went off the post. Hughes needed to send the puck away there - as he went down due to being tripped. At first glance, I was not very convinced by the way he went down and apparently the referee was not either - and thus no trip was called. 2-1, Flyers. Just over three minutes in the period, the Devils were down 6-0 in shots for the period.
The Devils’ run of bad play continue as Claude Giroux was in position to tip a shot from Erik Gustafsson. Kulikov was on Giroux’s back, nobody was able to pressure Gustafsson, and it was an ugly sequence for the Devils. 3-1, Flyers.
The Devils power play was given a chance to put up a goal after Joel Farabee went off for slashing just past eight minutes into the period. He slashed Travis Zajac in the hands. Pavel Zacha returned to the power play in place of Jesper Bratt on the second unit, which failed to get anything going for the first half minute. P.K. Subban killed the power play by hooking Scott Laughton after losing the puck. His run of awful decision making continues.
Pavel Zacha nearly had a goal with just under seven minutes to play. Ryan Murray missed with a pass that went off the boards, and the puck came right out in front for Zacha to make a move alone on Hart. Zacha went for the backhand, and Hart made the glove save.
With 3:45 left to play, the Devils pulled Scott Wedgewood. Damon Severson made a play early into six-on-five that prevented the Flyers from taking the puck out of the zone. After a soft clear, the puck went out of play and Scott Wedgewood had to return to the ice. Wedgewood got back off the ice with two and a half minutes to play. The Flyers very nearly scored on the empty net, but Ty Smith went down to the ice to prevent a shot. Trying to re-enter, the Devils were offsides with 2:02 to play and Wedgewood returned to his net.
After some rough play in their own end, the Devils got an offensive zone faceoff with 1:24 to play and brought the extra attacker on. Janne Kuokkanen rang a shot off the crossbar on a spin-around shot on a bouncing puck from Severson. The Devils did not get another good chance for another minute before Claude Giroux iced the puck with 28 seconds to play. P.K. Subban got a one-timer from the point with 18 seconds, which was saved by Hart. That was the last shot on goal of the game, and the Devils lost 3-1.
The Game Stats
The Return of Bratt
Tonight marked the long-awaited return of Jesper Bratt. Bratt was foolishly kept without a contract well into camp by Tom Fitzgerald, and his arrival to the team was further delayed by the work visa process and COVID protocol. Without a practice to get ready for this game, Bratt looked unbelievable early on. However, Ruff’s decision to put him on the first line led to him seeming fatigued as the game went on. Bratt played 20:46 tonight - and had great possession stats with a 69.70 even strength CF%. He created scoring chances, worked well to maintain possession - but could not replicate his first period magic so much by the third. His even strength xGF% was in the 90s in the first period, but finished at just 50.38% according to Natural Stat Trick. I look forward to seeing Bratt able to get used to playing so much hockey after not being in a game for over 10 months.
The Continued Failures of Murray and Subban
I thought P.K. Subban was the worst player on the ice tonight for the New Jersey Devils. Subban was on the ice for two of the Flyers’ three goals, and his pairing with Ryan Murray was by far the worst performing on the team. Even Matt Tennyson had a good night, with a 70.00 corsi for percentage and a six-to-one shot advantage while on the ice. In 10:21 together, the Murray-Subban pairing posted a 39.44 expected goals percentage. They were the worst on the team in xGA by far, as Murray had an 0.88 and Subban a 0.87. Severson was the next highest at 0.75, while every other Devils defenseman had an xGA of 0.5 or lower at five-on-five. Just look at their defense here:
NHL Video Highlight - Nate Prosser scores against the New Jersey Devils to make it 1-1. pic.twitter.com/Z5q3F2MsC6— NJDevils Game Bot (@NJDevilsGameBot) January 29, 2021
While it’s easy to rag on Kyle Palmieri for being asleep at the switch here, take a look at how Subban and Murray play the net together. They have James van Riemsdyk in front of the net, and Murray tries to push him out of position. Subban covers nobody and screens Wedgewood in front of Van Riemsdyk. When the shot rebounds, Murray is too focused on van Riemsdyk and Subban cannot do anything but watch. While James van Riemsdyk is a pain in front of the net, perhaps Subban can do something other than make a stupid block attempt with his stick and leg right in front of the goaltender and allow Murray to keep his side clear as well. With four Flyers high in the zone on that play, there was no need for Murray and Subban to cover the same man. Let’s also look at the goal Subban and Smith let up while together.
NHL Video Highlight - Michael Raffl scores against the New Jersey Devils to make it 2-1. pic.twitter.com/m9sd3io4pS— NJDevils Game Bot (@NJDevilsGameBot) January 29, 2021
When Hughes was tripped, both Smith and Subban were near the puck. It should have been Smith that went to fight for the puck by the boards, but Subban raced there first. Perhaps Smith should have went to cover the netfront area, but Subban needs to be aware of where his partner is here. Subban does not even make a play on the puck behind the net - Smith was the one who deflected the pass - and the only purpose Subban’s race to the area behind the net served was to free up Bunnaman for the scoring chance after he gloved down the puck that Smith deflected. His attempt to get back to Bunnaman resulted in him being unable to make a play on Raffl or the puck.
Waiting for Palmieri
Kyle Palmieri does not have any goals yet this season through seven games, and it is not because his effort is lacking. Rather, Palmieri was quite trigger happy tonight, registering six shots with an individual expected goals of 0.78 according to Natural Stat Trick. Palmieri got plenty of good opportunities and was active by the net, but he just could not put one home. Tonight, that really hurt the Devils. They have been in need of strong veteran performances in the early season to back up the positive showings from younger members of the team. Palmieri did not look bad offensively tonight, but his continued lack of production adds to the disappointing starts from the Devils’ more experienced players.
A Step Forward for Smith
A big concern of mine going into tonight was whether Ty Smith could survive on the second pairing with Damon Severson. There was an early scare, with Smith falling flat trying to backskate on defense in the first period - but Smith did very well down the stretch. In 12:09 with Severson at even strength, the pairing had a 78.95 CF%, an eight-to-two shots advantage, and an 84.52 xGF%. Smith also used his body to make plays on defense tonight, defending some rushes successfully and preventing an empty net goal. At 1.25, nobody had a higher total xGF than Smith - and tonight it did not come at the expense of defensive play.
Sometimes Experiments Don’t Work - Reverse Course
Some of the forward lines that Lindy Ruff grouped tonight worked out. The Hughes line was very good through two periods and then could not get much going in the third. The Zajac line took some time to gel, but actually ended up accounting for the most dangerous scoring chances - but Palmieri just could not bury a shot. The fourth line was good again in the early stages of the game (I consider the breakaway at the start of the game to be Subban’s fault), but they also struggled somewhat in the third and could not keep possession as well as previous in the game. The line that did not work at all was the line of Nikita Gusev, Yegor Sharangovich, and Miles Wood. And while Ruff has made mostly good decisions so far, this stuck out like a sore thumb. Miles Wood, who had five points in six games coming into tonight, was buried on that line and only got 8:16 of play at even strength tonight. That’s not what you want from one of your most effective players in the early season. Yegor Sharangovich only played 8:25 total, and Gusev was at 9:43 of even strength play in addition to his power play time. Of course, this line was on the ice for a goal on the only shot they allowed while together - and it was the only shot against Gusev and Sharangovich were on the ice for in the entire game...which leads me to my next point.
Apparently Faceoffs Do Matter
The Devils were terrible in the faceoff dot tonight, winning only 14 out of 53 faceoffs - good for a win rate just above 26%. This actually ended up mattering in the third period. While the Devils were struggling to get back from a one-goal deficit, the Flyers won the puck off a faceoff between Sharangovich and Giroux. The Devils did not respond to losing the faceoff well at all.
NHL Video Highlight - Claude Giroux scores against the New Jersey Devils to make it 3-1. pic.twitter.com/QjGY48lW4X— NJDevils Game Bot (@NJDevilsGameBot) January 29, 2021
Within 10 seconds of the draw, all five Devils were still to Wedgewood’s left while the Flyers set up their offensive possession. When Erik Gustafsson got the puck, Dmitry Kulikov was covering Claude Giroux with Severson and Gusev not doing anything behind him. Miles Wood did not go full speed and tried to disrupt Gustafsson with his stick but was too far to do so. Giroux had body position on Kulikov, and was able to tip the shot in for what ended up being a put-away goal. If the Devils won more faceoffs, they wouldn’t have to create turnovers and takeaways in their defensive zone so often. And while it’s not super important to win over 50%, it is apparently harmful to only win 26%. Sharangovich and Gusev made absolutely no impact here, and would have been better off if one of them played the middle of the ice rather than overcommitting by the wall.
What did you think about tonight’s game? How disappointed were you? Would MacKenzie Blackwood have made a difference tonight? How did you feel about the forward lines? The defensive pairings? Do you think the Devils should have won? Did they deserve it - or was their third period too much of a dud to overcome? Do the Devils have a problem with playing the full 60 minutes? What did you make of the referees tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.