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New Jersey Devils Survived Philadelphia Flyers’ Late Surge to Win 4-3

The New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time this season with a final score of 4-3. That is the most factual description of this game. The most accurate way to describe how the game went requires some qualifying statements.

The New Jersey Devils were the superior team on the ice of the Wells Fargo Center for about the first 50 minutes of the game. The Devils absolutely crushed the Flyers in the first period in the run of play and ended the period up 2-1. The Devils held the Flyers to just one shot on net within the first eleven minutes while the Devils used their speed to give the Flyers fits in all three zones. Andreas Johnsson found Ty Smith jumping up in the neutral zone to create a clear zone entry for a make-shift 2-on-1 with Michael McLeod. Erik Gustafsson bizarrely decided to go after Smith, who tossed a pass to McLeod. Carter Hart went down early, allowing McLeod to make a sick cut-back with the puck and roof a backhander to make it 1-0. A highly-questionable interference call on Smith (Thanks to Rob Taub for capturing it) minutes later gave the Flyers a chance to tie it up and they did when Joel Farabee fished a puck out of Mackenzie Blackwood’s pad and slid it in to make it 1-1. The Devils answered that with a late, late, late power play goal that saw Janne Kuokkanen knock the puck away from two Flyers to Jesper Bratt. Bratt, off edge and falling, saw Kyle Palmieri wide open in the inside half of the right circle (Hart’s right). Palmieri slammed in a one-timer that went in with 5.6 seconds left in the period, put the Devils up 2-1, and made Devils fans like myself lament that Mark Recchi has not yet figured out why that spot is where Palmieri should be on power plays. It was a positive result for a Devils team that outplayed the Flyers really bad in the first period.

How bad was it? In 15:50 of 5-on-5 play in the first period, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers 21-7, out-shot them 10-4, and out-chanced them 13-3 in the 15:50 of 5-on-5 play. The Flyers looked listless outside of special teams and even there, the score was 1-1 on special teams situations. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Oskar Lindblom looked especially useless as Philadelphia took zero shooting attempts when they were on the ice. This against forwards of the like of Mikhail Maltsev, Miles Wood, and Michael McLeod of other non-top six Devils. Philippe Meyers and Erik Gustaffson looked real bad on the goal against and most everywhere else in that period. The Flyers looked gassed in a choppy period whereas the Devils won plenty of pucks, asked for seconds, and sometimes got them.

The second period was less dominant in 5-on-5 due in part of all the penalties called. The Devils’ power play was less effective and threatening. Worse, they conceded two amazing shorthanded opportunities in a 2-1 game. Sean Couturier beat Blackwood on a 2-on-1 but did not beat the left post. Kevin Hayes took an odd turnover from P.K. Subban into a breakaway and missed the net. The Devils escaped those bad moments. They were sturdier on the penalty kill, with their second one of the period being especially good at giving nothing much at all to the Flyers. However, when there was 5-on-5 play, the Devils continued to dominate. Even better, they made it count twice. The line of Travis Zajac, Yegor Sharangovich, and Janne Kuokkanen put in a lot of good work against the Couturier line. A solid forecheck in the right corner led to Zajac hooking up Sharangovich for a shot that beat Hart to make it 3-1. Late in the period, a fantastic pass by Sharangovich found an activated Smith at the bottom of the right circle. Smith saw Zajac uncovered at the top the crease and passed it to him for a tap-in with 24 seconds left in the second. The Devils were up 4-1 and deservedly so. They out-attempted, out-shot, and out-chanced the Flyers again in the second period. Outside of those two shorthanded opportunities, Blackwood did not have a lot to contend with in any situations. The Devils looked like they were rolling against a Flyers team that forgot the game started at 7:08 PM ET.

The third period is where things went awry. The first ten minutes or so went pretty well. Sure, there was an initial push from the Flyers. Lindblom had a shot on net that yielded the first attempt of the game for the Giroux line. But the Devils answered back. They pushed the Flyers back in their own end for quite a few shifts. It was not as dominant or effective as it was in the first two periods. But they were up 4-1 and all they needed to do was to keep the Flyers honest. Maintain the situation. Do not let anything easy happen for the Flyers. The Devils accomplished this for the first ten minutes of the third period.

Then the Flyers managed to grab some life within the 11th minute of the third period. On a rush up ice, Travis Konency fired a perfect pass to a cutting Couturier, who was heading to the net. Couturier got behind Sami Vatanen and the pass was enough for Couturier to just tap-in on Blackwood’s flank. The Flyers made it 4-2. This was a cause for some concern. The Flyers now had something to believe in the game. Something tangible to make them think there was something to play for. They started to press a bit more and started to do some more competent things in all three zones. They started to tilt the ice in terms of attempts and shots. They ultimately out-attempted the Devils 22-10 in the third period and out-shot them 11-7. But Blackwood was in control, the Flyers did not create a lot of dangerous scoring chances, and the Devils seemed to stablize things as time ran down.

Then Carter Hart was pulled for an extra skater with about 2:50 left in the period. For about a minute and a half, this was not problematic but cracks started to form as the pressure mounted. Blackwood had to hold the right post against van Reimsdyk after a misplay by Subban. The Devils escaped that. But they iced it with 1:25 left. The Flyers gained the zone, they kept the puck in the zone, Blackwood denied Claude Giroux’s second shot of the game, but the Flyers recovered the loose puck. It ends up on the stick of Couturier alone in the slot and it is 4-3 with 62 seconds left. It was time for the Devils to get into By Any Means Necessary mode and Devils fans to hold their breaths.

There were a few moments of concern, but the Devils did hold on to win. The goals for Couturier were ultimately consolation goals. In a sense, this was concerning as the Flyers turned a game they were dominated in for 50 minutes into one where they were a shot away from forcing overtime. Hence, the headline is about surviving the surge as opposed to controlling the game in a win more comfortable than the score suggested.

Still, I choose to look at the positives in this game. The Devils had a schedule advantage in that they did not play last night and the Flyers did, and they took it. The Devils put in a similar effort to Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh where they used their speed to give their opponent fits. Unlike the Penguins, the Flyers were overwhelmed by it and the Devils kept up the pace and the work ethic even when it was not good. The Devils took advantage some really awful games from the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Lindblom, Gustaffson, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Farabee. They matched the Flyers’ power play in goals. The Devils received contributions from all four forward lines across their 32 shots on Hart. They scored four goals on Carter Hart. And as rough as the last ten minutes turned out to be, I would like to think the Devils can learn a good lesson that a 4-1 lead is hardly insurmountable and they need to continue to work hard to the end. For 50 minutes, they played a great game. The last 10 minutes were more of a struggle. Such is the sport.

The best news is that the Devils did survive those ten minutes and beat the Second Rate Rivals for the first time this season and on their home ice. Even the sternest Devils fan cannot help but smile at that.

Tonight stunk. I’m not even going to do a period-by-period recap because honestly, it isn’t warranted. The Flyers didn’t do enough in this game to make it worth that. Let’s jump in.

Again, you cannot help but smile at that.

The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights from tonight’s game.

First, An Apology: Yesterday, me and my scratchy, hoarse voice joined Kelly Hinkle in Broad Street Hockey’s Checking Out the Competition podcast wherein Kelly talks to an opposing fan about the upcoming game. We made predictions about the game. I predicted the Devils would win 4-3 in overtime. This did not happen. The Devils won 4-3 in regulation. My apologies for all involved.

I also do not apologize for dissing the Flyers and their tendency to give up goals as of late. Especially as that indeed happened tonight. I will go a little further into that.

The Devils Scored Four Goals!: The Devils scored four goals tonight in a game for the first time since they lost 4-5 in overtime to Washington on March 9. That was seven games ago so it has been a minute since that happened. This is worth celebrating as one of the issues for the Devils this season has been their offensive production. It was entirely possible that a Flyers team suffering badly from 1980s-level save percentages would enjoy a night against a Devils team whose finishing has left something to be desired. The Devils have faced Carter Hart earlier this season and did not score many past him. Tonight, the Devils did.

What makes it impressive is that it was not a case of Hart just being bad. Out of all four goals against, I would say that maybe he bore some blame the first goal scored by the Devils. And maybe that is being really nitpicky. The first one was a result of Gustafsson getting a 2-on-1 all wrong and McLeod being wide open after the pass. I can see how Hart going down aggressively is forgivable. McLeod had to make a difficult cut back for a beautiful backhanded goal. I think the defensemen Meyers, who took Wood at the blueline and left a gigantic hole for Smith to take the puck through into the zone, and Gustafsson are much more worthy of blame.

The other three goals scored were just great shots from open Devils left open by the Flyers. Or, in other words, the Flyers’ defensive effort victimized Hart. Palmieri’s power play goal was a result of the Flyers losing a loose, bouncing puck and being out of position. Scott Laughton and Hayes were outworked by Bratt and Kuokkanen to win the puck. Gostisbehere did not help and Justin Braun lost Palmieri. Bratt found Palmieri and he finished the drill. Sharangovich’s goal was a result of Kuokkanen forcing Meyer back into the corner and winning the puck to him, Zajac taking that won puck and finding Sharangovich open, and neither Couturier (yes, past Selke candidate Sean Couturier!) and Gustafsson (who was waiting in the opposite corner, assuming Meyer would reverse it) looking for Sharangovich until it was too late. Zajac’s goal was a result of Zajac knocking a puck off James van Reimsdyk’s stick after he denied a Sharangovich pass, and all four Flyers watching the puck instead of challenging Sharangovich, picking up Smith coming in down low, or covering Zajac at the crease. All three were enough for Flyers fans to lament the lackadaisical effort the Flyers put in on defense. Two of them alone were enough for Philly fans to hurl several expletives about Gustafsson’s performance alone. All three were enough for the Devils to go up as much as they did in the game.

By the way, all four goals scored by the Devils were beautiful goals. These were the kinds of goals that you would bring to your family, your friends, and anyone interested and say, “Look at these goals. These are some great goals. This is why Devils hockey can be great.” I encourage you to watch the NHL.com recap video to see them, even if you saw it live on television (or at the Wells Fargo Center if you were there). The McLeod goal, in particular, was gorgeous.

It was great to see an opponent make big mistakes on defense and the Devils making them pay for a change. I hope we can see this continue. However, the Devils will be playing a far more competent team later this week.

How Did the Lines Play?: This was a collaborative effort from the Devils, but some stuck out in a larger way than others. I do want to note that everyone on the Devils was at least 50% CF% after the second period. The third period was when things took a turn for the not-so-good for a couple of Devils.

That said, no one line was fully dominant. Everyone contributed. Jack Hughes had the best with 73.3% CF% to go with a 90.3% xGF% as he led a line with Jesper Bratt and Kyle Palmieri. The funny thing is that I do no think Hughes had all that good of a game. He had some nice shots. He unfortunately fell to nothing on what would have been a breakaway in the second period. And I would extend that Bratt and Palmieri were not that special in 5-on-5. I am glad Palmieri scored a power play goal. I was less than glad when he lazily high-sticked Gostisbehere on a forecheck in the second period, but the Devils killed that call with aplomb. However, it was worth noting that when they were out there, the Flyers did even less than the Devils. So they won their match-up while not necessarily standing out like they have been in past games.

The Zajac line did take a lot of hits in terms of Corsi and expected goals in the the third period. However, it is hard to say they had a bad game. They created and completed two second period goals, which were enough to give the Devils a sizeable lead going into the third and held up for the win. They saw a lot of Couturier and van Reimsdyk, who were probably the Flyers’ best forwards and definitely their most effective players in the third period. Still, they did not cause either Couturier goal against, they scored twice, and they were keeping the cycles and forechecks going in the first two periods.

The unit of Pavel Zacha, Mikhail Maltsev, and Ryan Merkley also ended up in the negative for shooting attempts as a group. But only Zacha alone fell below 50% in attempts and expected goals. Merkley tied Sharangovich for the most shots in the game for New Jersey with four and Maltsev drew a penalty that led to the Palmieri PPG. It could have been better, but it was hardly bad or a total negative either.

A fourth line of Andres Johnsson, Miles Wood, and Michael McLeod was very good this evening. While limited in their ice time, they were often in Philadelphia’s end of the rink in 5-on-5 play. Johnsson probably played his best game not next to Hughes this season and he had the right presence of mind to play Smith in instead of tossing the puck to Wood and Meyer at the blueline on McLeod’s goal. McLeod scored a sweet goal, drew a tripping penalty from Lindblom after a bad Devils power play, and did quite well on the penalty kill. Wood was active going forward, also drew a tripping penalty the Devils squandered, and helped push the play forward. If you were to tell me that they would see four to five minutes of Voracek, Giroux, and Lindblom at 5-on-5, then I would wince before asking how it would go. Holding those three to zero shooting attempts would not be what I would expect at all. While the Laughton-line matchup was not as favorable, that was the line McLeod scored against. It was a spirited performance for a fourth line.

What About the Defense?: The pairing of Sami Vatanen and Ryan Murray received the brunt of the third period pushes by Philadelphia. Both finished below 40% (much less 50%) in CF% and xGF%, which is not what you would like to see. Vatanen definitely did not look so good on Couturier’s first goal. It is not like he is a particularly fast skater and Vatanen was caught looking forward on the pass instead of trying to impede Couturier or even sell himself out to deny the pass.

P.K. Subban and Dmitry Kulikov were quite good in 5-on-5 play. I think there could be some wishes of Kulikov being more aggressive instead of watching Farabee jam in his power play goal in the first period. I am sure some fans were unhappy to see Subban have some foibles that nearly led to a shorthanded goal for Hayes or an extra-skater goal for van Reimsdyk. But Hayes missed, Blackwood stopped Reimsdyk, and Subban was otherwise solid in both ends. He did not even throw up a lot of meaningless slapshots.

The best pairing was Smith and Damon Severson. While Smith took two penalties, one was a bad call against him and his offense more than made up for the calls. Smith created two goals this evening. Both were representative of what Lindy Ruff wants to see with the defensemen in his systems, which is that he wants them involved. Smith was smart when it came to pinching in and activating throughout the night. Severson was not at all shabby in all three zones. I guess you could wish he did better towards the end as he was on the for Couturier’s second goal, but he was otherwise as collected as a defender could be.

Overall, the defense did quite well. That seems odd to read as the Devils did concede 33 shots on net in all situations. But a lot of that was built on the 6-on-5 situation and special teams. The Devils only allowed 18 shots on net in 5-on-5 play. That is really good against anyone. Especially against a team with the talent of Giroux, Voracek, etc.

How About Blackwood?: Blackwood seemed a little sloppy to start the game. Farabee did take puck from his pad to score a PPG. He dropped a shot into his own crease and it led to a scramble that he fortunately covered up. He did get beaten on Couturier’s shorthanded shot and was saved by the post. But after that post shot, Blackwood played much better as the game went on. He was more composed. He was quicker with his pads. I do not think he could have done much of anything on either of Couturier’s goals and he did hold the posts very well as the clock ran down. He was not as fantastic as he was in Pittsburgh on Sunday, but he was good enough to help the Devils get the win.

Seriously, A Lot of the Flyers Were Passengers Tonight: I do not think I can easily recall a game were Giroux and Voracek was this useless throughout most of the game. Sure, he appeared on special teams and in the 6-on-5. But they are players who are expected to make an impact for most of the game, not just in certain spots. They were awful.

As much stick as Gustafsson and Meyer should deservedly get for their play tonight, the Flyers’ defense really was not much of a threat in either end. Gostisbehere was more of a ghost, living up to his nickname for many shifts until the third period. Similarly, Provorov only appeared for one period. Justin Braun should have been called for several penalties because he had to cheat a lot in coverage. The Flyers’ defense was just beaten badly many times and especially for all four goals against.

By the end of the game, six Flyers crossed the 50% breakeven mark in CF% and two others matched it (Couturier, van Reimsdyk). But that required a third period where the Flyers had no choice but to throw anything forward in the hopes of getting something going in the game. While they did get it, that only Nolan Patrick and Nicolas Aube-Kubel had really good on-ice numbers in 5-on-5 speaks to how much of a hole a lot of the Flyers were in after two periods. As atrocious as Hart’s save percentage now looks, there were a lot of bad performances in the Orange and Black tonight.

Does This Mean We Should Not See Goose Soon?: Yes. McLeod is certainly safe for another game. I do not think Merkley did anything so bad that he should be taken out of the lineup. I think we should see the same group.

Two Notes for Mark Recchi: One: Look at Palmieri’s power play goal. Notice where he scored it from. It was not from screening the goalie. It was not at the crease. It was in the (goalie’s) right circle! I assure you, he has scored lot of goals from that right circle since 2015-16 for the Devils power play! Put him there! Make plays for it! He will make you look smarter!

Two: Drop the multiple drop passes. The Devils’ power plays have struggled much more with how they controlled the puck after gaining the zone. This was not as big of an issue on Sunday when the Devils’ power plays had no drop passes on their breakouts. While the Devils did get set up a few times, spending 20+ seconds to make two to four drop passes was wasteful. The Devils are fast enough to gain the zone on their own and did so once or twice. Keep doing that and keep working with the units to make their first and second passes after the zone entry count. When they do, then they can make some offense happen.

Congratulations: Sharangovich had his first multi-point game tonight. He was great on the puck on offense. He has played rather well as of late too. Keep firing away, young Yegor.

Also, get ready to congratulate Zajac soon. His game-winning goal was his 199th career goal. His next goal will be the 200th of his career.

One Last Thought: The Devils road trip is now 2-0-0 and the Devils are 8-3-2 on the road for the season. I cannot tell you why the Devils are so much more successful on the road this season. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see the Devils come out of Pennsylvania with two wins ahead of a difficult back-to-back in Washington D.C. Wouldn’t it be great if they can get their first win on Thursday to create a winning streak? I think so. Easier said than done, of course.

Your Take: The Devils won 4-3 in Philadelphia. Always a good thing in my book, even if it was a bit too dramatic by the end. What did you make of tonight’s game? Are you more pleased with the first 50 minutes, or was that spoiled by the last 10? Who impressed you the most tonight? Who do you think had a bad night this evening? What should the Devils take away from this victory to best prepare for a back-to-back against the Caps? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.

Thanks to Jenna for previewing tonight’s game. Thanks to Mike for taking care of the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game as well as all of the People Who Matter who interacted with us on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented and followed along in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.

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