There's not much more you can ask for in a game than what you got from the Devils tonight. The effort was there in all phases, the stars delivered and Johan Hedberg was strong for the third time in the last four games (coincidentally, all Devils wins). It certainly set up an interesting game Friday in the second half of this home-and-home series with Philly. Some thoughts...
Stars deliver: For the past two weeks, everyone's been asking for the Devils' key players to step up, including Pete DeBoer. Well, tonight everyone and DeBoer got their wish. Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias all lit the lamp, with a little extra help from a beautiful Andrei Loktionov toe drag. With all due respect to Loktionov, Ryan Carter and the supporting cast, the Devils need their top players to step up in order to make a serious run at and eventually through the playoffs. Kovy is going to be Kovy aka he's going to score, going to dazzle and apparently, going to score a lot of short-handed goals. Elias is leading the team in points and outside a brief stretch has been the Devils' most consistent player all season. The difference maker tonight was clearly Henrique, who has been an absentee figure (along with Travis Zajac) for large chunks of this season. It wasn't just than Henrique had two goals and an assist tonight. It was that he was all over the ice, particularly in the offensive end. He was constantly putting the puck on net and was a nightmare for the Flyers all night. With the way Loktionov is playing on the top line alongside Kovy, an energized and dangerous Henrique would make the Devils a dangerous two-line team that has the potential to play offensive hockey three lines deep once Zajac awakens from his slumber. Up until tonight, the Devils had been mostly playing one line deep or maybe two lines when the third line or CBGB line was rolling. Tonight you saw why New Jersey so desperately depends on their top players and what happens when those top players deliver.
Shots, shots, shots, shots: 32. That's the number of shots on goal the Devils were credited with when tonight was all said and done. Don't forget that the Flyers also were credited with 15 blocked shots, meaning the Devils put at least attempted 47 shots tonight with probably a few more unaccounted for. That's a lot of shots and certainly lives up to DeBoer's request for his players to shoot the puck more. It's also two straight games where the Devils have looked to throw the puck at the net every chance they got, which is a total shift in mindset from the almost passive nature they displayed during a two-week losing skid. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Devils have also won two straight and three out of four and went from on the edge of the playoff picture to tied for fifth in a matter of days. Crazy lockout division math? Of course, but it's also a sign of what happens when the Devils play the style of hockey that DeBoer asks of them. As long as New Jersey gets the puck in deep and forechecks diligently, the other team will end up making mistakes and the Devils will have plenty of chances to turn those mistakes into scoring chances and those chances into goals. That's precisely what happened tonight when the Devils pressured the Flyers relentlessly almost to the point of submission. The Devils aren't always going to play this well, but as evidenced on one of Henrique's goals, just simply throwing the puck toward the net can only create good things.
What a mess: Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger is the Flyers. The sloppy, messy, frustrated, downtrodden Flyers. What to say about a team that looked like it could do nothing right for 60 minutes? Or a team that seemingly couldn't decide how, when or where to pinch in the offensive zone? Or a goalie that let in basically the same shot over his glove-side shoulder on two different occasion by two different Devils on the forehand and the backhand? The Flyers barely even mustered up enough energy in the final 10 minutes of the period to "send a message" to a Devils team that just throttled them ahead of a Friday rematch. The closest they came was a meaningless slash by Scott Hartnell in the final two minutes. I kept waiting for the Flyers to wake up, to try to send someone through the boards or at least try to get Krys Barch to drop the gloves -- but none of it happened. It almost looked like the Flyers had no fight in them. Have they quit on Peter Laviolette? Hard to say. I haven't watched nearly enough Flyers hockey to make that sort condemning statement about an entire team. All I know is that tonight the Flyers team that showed up didn't really want to be there from almost the drop of the puck and predictably ended up getting 100 percent dominated by a team much better than them.
Friday: All of this brings me to my last point before the notes: What in the world is going to happen Friday night in Philadelphia? Normally I would say something like this: "The Flyers are going to come out pissed off. They're going to try to take the Devils' heads off in the first period while also putting roughly 27 shots on goal before the 10-minute mark. They'll do everything they possibly can to send a message to the Devils and the NHL as a whole." Except, does anyone think the Flyers team we watched tonight is capable of that? I'm not sure, which makes me even more on edge about what to expect. The Flyers may have always played with an edge, but it was a somewhat predictable edge. These Flyers are an untrustworthy bunch and they're basically playing for their season. The Devils, meanwhile, are not a team to back down. There's a reason why Barch was in the lineup tonight and will be in the lineup again Friday. The key for New Jersey will be keeping their heads about them while letting the Flyers come to them. Let Hartnell flip his lid after getting clotheslined at his own blueline because his head was down. Let Philly spend the next two days trying to figure out how and when to properly pinch inside the offensive end. And most importantly, dump the puck deep, forecheck and fire as many shots as possible as Ilya Bryzgalov while his defensemen stand around and let you.
Notes: Is it just me or did the Devils seemingly move the puck at will on the power play tonight? The Flyers seemed almost complicit on Henrique's power-play goal in which the puck moved pretty much around the entire zone before ending up on Henrique's stick. Not something you see every day from a Devils power play. ... The Loktionov toe drag. Because, toe drag. ... I liked seeing Steve Bernier on the right wing of the second line. DeBoer seems determined to do everything possibly to get David Clarkson and Zajac going. Clarkson hit a post tonight and always seems thisclose to getting it together. ... Hedberg had a quiet but very strong game yet again, but he always helped out by a defensive group that played one of its more effective and solid games all season. Even Peter Harrold looked solid. ... There was one screwup on the Flyers' first goal in which the Devils again were mesmerized by the puck and overloaded the zone, thereby allowing Jakub Voracek to slip into scoring position unnoticed and unguarded. It looked like Voracek was Kovy's man and Kovy decided to drift a little bit trying to keep a guard over two Flyers on that side of the ice while Bryce Salvador covered the slot. Gotta be more communication there. ... I'll be very interested to see if Ryan Carter gets a call from Brendan Shanahan for that knee-on-knee hit on Zac Rinaldo. On the replay it certainly looked like he stuck his leg out, whether it was intentional or reflex doesn't matter. ... How many short-handed goals is Kovy gonna score this season? Over/under at 10.5. Anyone wanna guess? ... The Devils' defensemen put a ton of pucks on net tonight. Sure, I wish some of them would've been lower to the ice, but it was good to see them be aggressive again. ... The neutral zone belonged to New Jersey tonight. There was no concern or worry about the Flyers taking pucks from them or putting a body on them. ... Bryzgalov is one of the problems, but he got hung out to dry at least twice tonight. ... I know Devils fans don't like Scott Hartnell, but he looked like the only Flyer out there that gave a crap all night. You have to admire that.