I hated what happened during The Week of Hate. I was concerned that the New Jersey Devils would flop again in a four-game week against the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Given the state of the Devils’ season and the state of the Flyers’ season plus the Flyers since 1976, I dubbed this past week The Week of Pity. Four games against two teams with nothing much to play for beyond contracts, pride, and bragging rights. Tonight was the end of The Week of Pity and it ended with a pleasing 4-1 win for the New Jersey Devils. How the Devils got the win demonstrated something I always enjoy seeing against a rival: a team showing no pity for their opposition.
Tonight’s performance by the Devils was an exercise in extremes for score effects. The concept that teams down by a goal or two tend to take more shot attempts than the team that is leading. The Devils controlled the first five minutes; Pavel Zacha set up Jesper Bratt for a wide open shot from the left side that Brian Elliott did not stop enough of; the Devils went up 1-0; and then the Flyers proceeded to bombard the Devils with attempts (22), some of which that went on net (9), with plenty of chances (9, 6 high danger ones). Mackenzie Blackwood stopped them all from the Flyers’ sticks. Early in the second period, Jack Hughes set up Janne Kuokkanen for a one-timer from the left circle that torched Elliott. The Devils went up 2-0 and the Flyers brought the house again. With the help of a power play largely spent in the Devils’ end, the Flyers racked up 25 more attempts, 13 more shots, and 12 more scoring chances. (Shayne Gostisbehere hit the post on that power play too.) Mackenzie Blackwood stopped them all too. The third period started with even more pressure by the Flyers as they were down 2-0 and needed something in the game. They made the Devils fans sweat a lot in third periods in the other three games. They would have a golden chance after Ty Smith was given a slashing minor for whacking the back of Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s legs. Their first power play was successful besides hitting the post and not scoring. This was a big chance to get onto the scoreboard.
Then Nico Hischier broke them down with a shorthanded goal.
The play began with Yegor Sharangovich getting a shot attempt and missing the net. The Flyers try to counter with Sean Couturier leading the puck up ice. With Connor Carrick back, Hischier forced Couturier to the side wall and stole the puck from him. He used the boards to one-hand a puck past Jakub Voracek and led a 2-on-1 rush. Hischier skated towards the left dot and fired a wrist shot to the right post past Elliott to make it 3-0. It was a lovely goal from the captain. An excellent effort and the kind of thing that you love to see from a player on a contract worth at least $7 million.
After that goal, the pressure from the Flyers went down. They did not go as hard on their forechecks. They did not press the tempo in their favor. They were looser on the puck and the Devils were able to take advantage. A few minutes after the shorthanded goal, Couturier took an unnecessary slashing penalty on Nick Merkley on offense. The Devils did not do well on that power play, but the Flyers failed to build off any of that. It was as if their will was knocked down a peg. New Jersey started to generate more offense against the Flyers and spend some time in their end of the rink, giving Mackenzie Blackwood a well-deserved break on a few shifts. Even with special teams situations, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers 19-17 and shots were even 7-7 in the third period - a result of the Devils putting the game out of reach and the Flyers not even stretching to reach for it.
The Flyers’ will was kneecapped further with about five minutes left. Miles Wood skated up ice, held up by the side wall, and then dumped it to the corner as he took a hit. The Devils were changing and the Hughes line was coming on. Sharangovich applied back pressure behind the Flyers’ net, so a defender reversed the puck to the opposite corner. The puck eluded a Flyer, Hughes took it from the side wall, and saw Sharangovich wide open in the slot. Pass, shot, score to make it 4-0. If the Hischier goal was like a punch to their stomach, then the Sharangovich was a kick to their head. The game was effectively over.
The final five minutes were just for consolation. The Devils almost made it 5-0. Joel Farabee scored on a great shot to the far post with 1:18 left to ruin what would have been a deserved shutout for Mackenzie Blackwood. It was also the one goal that a Flyer did score off their stick. There was almost an own goal; Sharangovich nearly put one past Blackwood by accident in the first period. A goal review denied what would have been an early equalizer; the puck miraculously did not cross the line. Instead, the first and only goal for Philly tonight was all for pumping up the stats of Farabee, Gostisbehere, and Aube-Kubel. There would be no need to panic, stress, or worry about the result after that goal. The Devils were going to win and they did, 4-1.
Had the Devils performed more like they did in their ten-game losing streak or even like last Sunday’s game, the Devils would have found a way to collapse at some point in the game. The sheer amount of ice time in the Devils’ end would have led to someone missing their coverage in a big way or a big turnover or something that would make you wonder whether the Devils were playing professional level hockey. But no. While the Devils definitely struggled to be stingy in their own end and make their zone exits more than just clearances at time (and sometimes they had problems with doing just that), they made sure to be clinical when they could be. They did not cruise up 2-0 and just leave it all to Blackwood in the third period. Hischier’s goal did not result in the Devils sitting back as they did score a fourth and nearly a fifth. The Devils showed no pity for the Second Rate Rivals. Just like how it should be in a rivalry.
The Opposition Opinion: Kurt R has this recap of the loss at Broad Street Hockey. You can guess what kind of mindset he was in when writing this when the permalink includes the words “pain,” “agony,” and “nihilism.”
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Blackwood & Blockwood: The final result of the game had the Flyers take 32 shots on net out of 67 attempts in all situations. Out of those 67, 19 were blocked and another 13 missed the net. The 19 blocks did help take some of the pressure of Blackwood needing to get in front of a shot. It did not always help in the best way as several of those blocked shots still led to possession and more attempts by the Flyers. They did serve to disappoint the Flyer faithful who was seeing the zone time and wondering where the breakthrough would be.
To be fair, the breakthrough was not going to come for over 57 minutes was largely due to the man in the crease. Blackwood was locked in from the first minute onward and he did well to get in front of just about everything he saw this evening. The Devils did better by their goaltender tonight by not leaving too many Flyers open in dangerous situations. During several of those extended shifts in the Devils’ end of the rink, I was concerned about a mistake coming or a bad bounce that would hinder the Devils happening. But it either never came or it was not something Blackwood could overcome. Shayne Gostisbehere gave me a shock when he hammered the post in the Flyers’ first power play and Claude Giroux missed on what I thought would be a dunk of a rebound opportunity on the same power play later on it. But they did not score and that was really the closest the Flyers were getting on the board until Farabee scored after Sharangovich’s own-goal was proven not to be a goal.
One could argue the Devils really leaned on Blackwood to get this win as they have leaned on their goaltender in most of their 17 wins this season. With just five games left in a playoff-less season, I am not particularly bothered by it. Blackwood was great. And while I cannot say the Devils were great defensively as they allowed 58 attempts and 29 shots in 5-on-5 play, their blocks and positioning in shooting situations was acceptable to at least make the game easier for Blackwood compared to a lot of what we saw in April (and March...and February...and some of January).
There Were Attempts But Not Always Shots: Case in point of the disparity in attempts and shots, take the Flyers’ best line in the run of play at 5-on-5 tonight: Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier. As a line, the Flyers out attempted the Devils 16-8 when they were on the ice. That is normally impressive. Not as impressive when you see the shots were only 8-4 in favor of the Flyers when they were on the ice too. Worse, they were out-scored 0-2. While no Flyer ended up being out-shot in 5-on-5 play tonight, I would not say any of their forwards really dominated outside of Nolan Patrick (5-1) or James van Reimsdyk (5-1) - and neither of those two made a real impact on tonight’s game.
The Big Deal’s Line: In a game where the Devils were out-attempted 58-38 in 5-on-5 play, all Devils were in the red with respect to Corsi and expected goals. The best line among the bunch, once again, was the Hughes line. Jack Hughes, Janne Kuokkanen, and Yegor Sharangovich gave the Flyers’ defense the most fits with their speed and talent when they were able to get something going on offense. They were also responsible for the heavy disparity in attempts (and shots and xG) as Hughes set up that early second period goal for Kuokkanen, which led to the Flyers trying like mad to get a goal. Two-thirds of the line were responsible for essentially icing the game; Hughes setting up Sharangovich for his goal. Once again, I find myself in awe of what they could do. We shall see how they do when they play a team with a more mobile defense and something to play for in the coming week. But I expect them to do something good because The Big Deal and his linemates just keep making things happen regardless of the situation.
Congratulations: Kevin Bahl won a puck behind the net in the first period before moving it over to Pavel Zacha. Zacha proceeded to head up ice, draw the attention of two Flyers defenders who backed away from him for some reason, pass the puck to a wide open Bratt, and Bratt fired a hard shot off Elliott and in. That meant Bahl earned an assist on the play for his first career NHL point. Congratulations to the young defenseman.
Bahl was OK at times. Certainly, Ken Daneyko could not praise his largeness enough at times. I thought he was making some good decisions at times and he did not really put himself into trouble. There were plenty of shifts where the Flyers did pick on that pairing and he was kind of “just there” at times. Still, for a second NHL game, not being actively awful is a pretty good result. I can see Bahl sticking around for a few more games. I think he has earned that.
Better than I Thought: Given that I just brought up not being actively bad as a positive, I should note that Ryan Murray and Damon Severson were better than I expected this evening. Despite being below 50% in attempts like all of the other Devils, they were the closest to breaking even. The Devils also managed to out-shoot the Flyers when they were on the ice. Most of all, neither of them really did anything memorably bad. Given that Severson and Murray have been liable in big ways this season, that is a positive in of itself.
Also better than I thought: Miles Wood. While he ended up pointless this evening and had some bizarre non-defensive moves at times, he helped stretch out the rink and save a few pucks that otherwise would have been icings or easy pucks for the Flyers to pick up. He did play a role in what would become Sharangovich’s goal too. When he was on the ice, the Devils were not as badly picked on as, say, the line of Jesper Boqvist, Merkley, and Mikhail Maltsev. As much praise as Wood gets for consistency (??), he played a fine game along with the fourth-line. Now I just want him to learn to commit on defense more when there is no opportunity to dart ahead to chase a puck.
Was This a Good Game?: Bratt scored to open the game’s scoring. That was good. He took an unneeded penalty on offense after a dumped-in puck by Hischier. That was bad. Bratt nearly scored with a defender on his back but hit the inside of the post over a fallen Elliott after his penalty ended. That was good. Bratt’s following shifts in the second period featured him struggling to make a zone exit or not making an impact. That was bad. Bratt was pretty good on the Devils’ first power play, which went well. That was pretty good. Bratt was pretty much a non-factor on the Devils’ second power play, which went as most of them have went for the Devils this season. That was pretty not good. I think the goal puts him on the side “good game,” but the more accurate phrase may be “good game but there were some issues this evening.”
I Assure You That These Notable Big Money Forwards for the Flyers Did Play This Evening: Kevin Hayes was scratched in Thursday’s game. He did play in tonight’s game. He did not do much of anything of note. The Flyers just barely out attempted and out shot the Devils tonight when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play. That contract is wonderful.
Likewise, Jakub Voracek was seen on the ice a lot and registered a whopping zero shots, a blocked shot, and a missed shot. Sure, his line dominated the run of play when the Flyers were attacking from the fifth minute to about the forty-fifth minute, but it was not like he did anything in particular. His contract is even more expensive than Hayes.
The Sherman Abrams Section: I was told that Sherman Abrams is seething too much in his big place in Alpine right now to comment. So I suppose I will do this for him.
Those worried about draft position should not be. The Devils did win tonight to get up to 41 points. As it will be revealed in the Division Snapshot tomorrow, Buffalo was not going to catch the Devils even if the Devils lost The Week of Pity outright. The Devils entered tonight at 29th overall and they are still at 29th overall pending the results of Anaheim-LA. Which may not matter much as Anaheim is four points behind New Jersey and will have 52 games played after their game. The Devils are now tied with Vancouver in points, but the Canucks have six games in hand on New Jersey. That will not last. They are two behind Ottawa (same number of games as the Devils) and Columbus (one more GP than the Devils). For the Devils to move up at all, they would need to extend this winning streak into this coming week. As the Devils will be playing a Boston team and an Islanders team that both have a lot to play for, I would not expect the good times to keep rolling.
I suggest that you should not be like Sherman Abrams and seethe about a 4-1 win that gives many among the People Who Matter something to smile about in this dismal season. The Devils are still heavy favorites for a top five pick pending the lottery. Relax.
One Last Thought: The Devils are not quite done with the Flyers yet this season. Due to the Coronavirus forcing schedule changes, these two will meet up one last time on May 10. The game will mean nothing in the bigger scheme of things for both organizations. However, the season series is now 4-2-1 in favor of New Jersey. It would be nice for the Devils to secure another winning record in a season series other than Boston (yes, Devils are 4-0-2 against Boston so far this season). It would be nice to see the Devils send the Flyers fans home with one last disappointment in a season full of them for the Winged P’s.
Your Take: The Devils survived the surges and pulled away with the game to make it out of doubt in the third period for a 4-1 win over the Second Rate Rivals. The Devils won The Week of Pity, 3-0-1. I ultimately enjoyed the game and the result. What did you think of tonight’s victory? Who stood out in your opinion? What can the Devils take from this game before their back-to-back set with Boston at the Rock? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
Thanks to Jenna for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for handling the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented and paid attention in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.