The Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils entered Wednesday night’s tilt at Prudential Center in the midst of their worst stretches of the season. The Flyers lost 9 straight going in and relieved Alain Vigneault of his duties as head coach earlier in the week. The Devils were losers of 4 straight and hadn’t won since beating these Flyers ten days ago in Newark. Fortunately on this night, the Devils put together a complete effort over sixty minutes and came away from this one with a much needed two points in a 3-0 shutout win.
The two struggling teams traded blows over the first few minutes with Travis Sanheim and Cam Atkinson getting a couple shots on goal against starting netminder Mackenzie Blackwood. Philadelphia gave up 50 shots on goal against Colorado the other night, but the Devils didn’t do a whole lot to make Carter Hart break a sweat until PK Subban sent his trademark long-distance shot towards the net roughly four and a half minutes into the game. The Devils finally generated a little bit of pressure right before the first TV timeout, but the Flyers cleared the zone. New Jersey regained the offensive zone and Jack Hughes tried to use his speed to steal the puck from Hart behind the net but Philly avoided turning the puck over and Hart made another stop on a Subban slapper before the first commercial break.
The Flyers won the ensuing faceoff and gained the zone, with Blackwood turning away Sean Couturier. The Devils fourth line won the defensive zone draw and came back the other way but Hart’s net was displaced off its moorings, forcing a whistle. The Devils and Flyers traded blows for a bit before Blackwood had to make a tricky save off of a shot tipped by James van Riemsdyk. Philly’s third line of Frost-Giroux-van Riemsdyk generated some pressure in the Devils zone before the Devils finally got a clear. van Riemsdyk caught Michael McLeod in a vulnerable position along the boards in front of the Flyers bench with a cross check and an irate McLeod went after van Riemsdyk. The referees conferred and confirmed that it would simply be a two minute minor even though McLeod was bleeding from the lip and the play was dangerous enough to warrant a more serious penalty.
Philadelphia’s 22nd ranked penalty kill got an early clear as the puck got tied up in Dougie Hamilton and Sean Couturier’s skates. New Jersey regained the zone and worked the puck along the ends but were a little slow with the puck movement before finding Jack Hughes in the right circle. Hughes couldn’t handle the pass cleanly and Hart made the stop. Ty Smith sent the puck wide of the net in the closing seconds of the man advantage.
The two teams spent the next few minutes not doing a whole lot before Janne Kuokkanen forced a neutral zone turnover for McLeod, who chipped the puck into the Flyers zone to give Nathan Bastian an opportunity that was turned aside. Tomas Tatar got a chance moments later but Hart easily stopped the wrister with 2:57 to go in the first.
Philly won the defensive zone draw and got a quick clear, but the Devils stayed aggressive and were able to get a couple sneaky pucks on net with Jimmy Vesey and Dougie Hamilton. The Devils made a few nifty passes in the closing minute as Pavel Zacha tried to connect with Nico Hischier and Hischier looked for Hamilton, but the Devils couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. The Flyers won a late faceoff in their own end and got a clear as the final seconds ticked off in the first period.
Yegor Sharangovich got a point blank opportunity off of a juicy Hart rebound that was turned aside 90 seconds into the second. Jack Hughes found Jimmy Vesey for an opportunity moments later that Hart also made the stop on. The Devils finally got on the board at 5:30 into the second as Jesper Bratt utilized his speed to win the puck along the boards. Bratt sent the puck cross-ice to Nico Hischier, who sent it back to Bratt for a tight-angle shot that he squeezed past Hart for the 1-0 lead.
Bratt in black in the back of the net. pic.twitter.com/XjDnHcE27R— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 9, 2021
Andreas Johnsson went to the box moments later for interfering with Travis Konecny. Nico Hischier carried the puck into the Flyers zone and tied it up in the corner to kill off several precious seconds of the Flyers first power play of the night and the Devils got another clear about a minute in. Philadelphia got a nice look for van Riemsdyk down low that was turned aside by Blackwood and the officials missed the puck hitting the net moments later, but no harm, no foul as the Devils killed off the penalty and the Flyers failed to score.
Travis Konecny collided with Blackwood right in front of the official for a blatant interference call and the Devils got a power play. Surprisingly, the Devils moved the puck around pretty well on the power play. They even found a way to score with Dawson Mercer ending a seven-game goal drought by deflecting a Ty Smith shot from the blueline past Hart for the 2-0 lead for his seventh goal of the season. I’m just as surprised as you are with this development.
Philadelphia pushed hard after the Mercer goal and drew a Damon Severson hooking call on Flyers captain Claude Giroux. The Devils won the ensuing draw and got an early clear but the Flyers regrouped. The Devils responded and even generated a scoring chance shorthanded with Jimmy Vesey sending a backhander high and wide in the closing seconds of the Severson penalty.
The Devils added to their lead with 1:53 to go as Pavel Zacha one-handed poked a loose puck past Hart for the 3-0 lead.....or so they thought. Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo challenged for it being offsides. The referees took a quick look at the replay and it appeared that Zacha was indeed offside as he was already completely across the blueline before Hischier got the puck in. The officials agreed with Yeo and ruled no goal.
New Jersey started the third period with 1:54 remaining on the carryover power play as Sean Couturier tripped Dawson Mercer late in the second. Hamilton and Hughes sent some shots wide of the cage on a power play that looked closer to the previous iterations under Mark Recchi and Philadelphia killed off the penalty relatively easily. Nico Hischier beat Carter Hart with a blistering wrister that rang off of the post to extend the Devils streak of posts and crossbars hit. The pace of the third was brisk as there were few stoppages early and they didn’t hit the first TV timeout until there was 12:20 to go. The Vesey-Mercer-Tatar line in particular threatened as the young rookie center showed off his nifty hands and playmaking ability to set up Tatar for a chance that sailed wide.
The Flyers almost scored a fluky goal as the puck took a weird bounce off an imperfection in the boards but fortunately, they sailed the puck wide. Philly pushed a little bit afterwards, but the Devils did a nice job defensively tightening things up, highlighted by Ty Smith tying up Scott Laughton in the defensive zone.
The Devils nearly scored a third goal to put the game out of reach as Ty Smith fired the puck towards the net. Nathan Bastian tipped it and everyone on the ice believed that Carter Hart stopped it, only for it to trickle under and past him and die on the goal line. Unfortunately, nobody was there for the Devils to poke it in as a few players were heading off for a change and everybody else believed Hart made the stop.
Mackenzie Blackwood stepped up in the closing minutes with some timely saves, highlighted by a big pad save on Travis Sanheim. Philadelphia pulled Carter Hart with about 3 and a half minutes to go for the extra skater after a Devils icing. Fortunately for the Devils, the Flyers wasted the first 90 seconds of the 6-on-5 advantage. Philly took their timeout with 2:01 left to talk it over. Dougie Hamilton got a clear off of the ensuing faceoff and got another clear where he just missed Bratt for a potential empty-netter. The Flyers regained with zone with 1:13 to go and worked the puck along the points but the shot attempt was deflected out of play with 47.2 seconds left. Yegor Sharangovich intercepted an errant pass in the defensive zone after the ensuing faceoff and pushed the puck ahead for Jack Hughes, who was unselfish and deferred to Michael McLeod for the empty netter to get his first of the season. The Devils took a 3-0 lead with 30 seconds remaining and won by that score on what was probably their best sixty minute effort thus far this season.
The Opposition Opinion: Broad Street Hockey will have a recap of this game from a Flyers point-of-view. I can’t imagine they’ll be too happy that their losing streak now stands at ten games, but that’s their problem.
Big nights for Ty Smith, Mackenzie Blackwood
I wanted to specifically highlight the night that Ty Smith had. We all know that Smith has struggled this season, but I thought tonight was a really strong performance by the second-year defenseman. Smith posted a 65.38 CF% and an xGF% of 82.77%, but more importantly, I thought he made really good decisions DEFENSIVELY. I thought he made good, smart decisions with the puck. His best play came in the third when he got tied up with Scott Laughton to the right of Blackwood’s cage and shut down a potential scoring chance for Philadelphia. He picked up the primary assist on the Mercer PPG. I would like to see more of this from Smith going forward.
Ty Smith is an important part of the Devils future, so this was a much needed effort. I get that the development of young defensemen can be tricky, so I need to see a lot more than one really good game against a bad Flyers team before I can definitively state he’s back, but tonight was a good start.
Tonight was also an important bounceback performance for Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped all 25 shots he saw after posting an .887 save percentage over his previous six outings. Philadelphia didn’t really test him too much with any high danger chances until about midway through the third period, but Blackwood made the key stops when he needed to to keep the Flyers from ever getting back in the game.
Big effort by the fourth line
The Devils fourth line of Janne Kuokkanen-Michael McLeod-Nathan Bastian didn’t play a whole lot, as Bastian only saw 5:19 of ice time and Kuokkanen checked in at 8:37, but when they did play, they tilted the ice in their favor. Collectively, they were at 100% for both CF% and xGF%. That’s all you can ask for from the fourth line.
The Devils didn’t shove McLeod down our throats with under 11 minutes of ice time. That’s good as less is more with McLeod, who tends to get exposed the more Lindy Ruff sends him out there. It was also nice to see Jack Hughes be unselfish and get the puck to McLeod to get the empty-netter for his first. It might seem like a minor thing, but you hope that with that monkey off of his back, he gets a little confidence going forward.
Blitzer speaks, but doesn’t say much
Devils co-managing partner David Blitzer joined Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador during the first intermission of the MSG broadcast. I was excited to hear from Devils ownership, as they’re typically quiet in regards to the day-to-day operations of the team, but I came away disappointed that he didn’t really say much of note outside of the rosy picture the team likes to paint publicly.
I get that there is a time and a place for the media to ask the tough questions, and this was most certainly NOT the setting for that. With that said, the team has struggled of late and the Devils had yet to score in this game when Erika and Bryce talked to him. The last thing I wanted to hear is PR spin about all of these great young players the Devils supposedly have when we’re still waiting to see it all click and come together on the ice.
Yes, it’s great that Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton committed to New Jersey long-term. I’m happy with that. Devils fans should be. However, I’m not happy with the team struggling of late when the goal, as we’ve been told, is to play in meaningful games late in the season. Even a blanket statement along the lines of “we’re not happy with where we are at the moment but we feel we have the pieces in place to turn things around” would have sufficed. This particular interview, which took place during a rivalry game with a bunch of empty seats in the lower bowl behind him, just came across as tone-deaf and oblivious to the current issues surrounding the team. It gave me the impression that Devils management still doesn’t quite ‘get’ the Devils fanbase between this and the lukewarm reception for the new jerseys. Or at least, that was my takeaway from hearing from ownership.
It’s one thing to preach patience and good times are ahead, but Devils fans have already been plenty patient with this rebuild. You can only pull away the football so many times before I start to question whether or not I should try to kick it. It’s time to start seeing results and get some assurances that the decision makers overseeing this actually know what the heck they’re doing. Fortunately, tonight was a positive step in that regard, but I need to see a lot more nights like tonight going forward before feeling confident that the Devils are on the right track.
New Jersey debuts their new jerseys
Tonight was the first time the Devils wore their new jerseys in an NHL game since announcing them back on November 23rd. The Devils made a big deal about them (despite an apathetic reaction at best from the fanbase) throughout the day on social media, and they went as far as draping the seats in the Prudential Center with black and white towels with the ‘Jersey’ logo on them.
The Devils are also now 1-0 in their new jerseys. Coincidence?
No, the Devils did not win because they wore black jerseys that the fans are split on, although they are starting to grow on me the more I see them. That said, I think these sweaters will become popular if the Devils can continue winning while wearing them. It’s funny what winning can do.
For the first time in a long time, the Devils played a full sixty minute effort and got a win that they desperately needed. Yes, Philadelphia is bad and they’re struggling, but its important to beat bad and struggling teams in this league to get where you want to go. Whether the Devils can build off of this going forward is another thing entirely, especially with Nashville coming up next, but there are few things to complain about this evening if you are a Devils fan.
What did you think of the win tonight? Can the Devils build off of this? Are you as pleased as I am with the outcome and the performances of Smith and Blackwood in particular? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.