By Jeff O’Connor and Dave Turner
New Jersey Devils (8-2-3) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (6-7-1) 7:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
The Devils and Flyers will meet up for the second time this season and the second time in Newark. They last saw each other back on January 22 for the Devils home opener when they beat down the Broad Street Bullies by a 3-0 mark. That sent the Flyers into a tailspin to start the year while the Devils got out of the gates hot.
While the Devils have been hot all year minus a four-game losing streak (earned points in three of them), the Flyers have dug themselves out of their early season hole, recording points in five of their last six games.
Here are some questions/thoughts/etc. for tonight’s contest:
1. No losing trends. This team has gotten off to a great start, but that can all be negated if they get on a slide. They lost to a Hurricanes team that has now won three games in four days. Losses will happen, it’s part of the game, but it’s losing streaks that need to be avoided. If The Devils can beat the Flyers today, they’ll still be on top of the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.
2. The Ponikarovsky factor. Bringing back a big body that knows how to play the system in Alexei Ponikarovsky is big with Dainius Zubrus out. I think the biggest factor he may have is in elevating the game of Travis Zajac. The newly-resigned center has struggled mightily since he scored against the Flyers in the second game of the season. Having a veteran presence and someone who can win pucks in the corners should help that line.
3. Stay out of the box! The Flyers are always dangerous on the penalty kill. If they’re going to score, make them work for it five-on-five. You saw that the Carolina power play was able to bring the Devils PK back down to earth and if you take chances against any team, they can do that. The simple way to avoid that is to play disciplined hockey and not give them a lot of time with the man-advantage.
4. Brodeur consistency. It’s time for the future Hall-of-Famer to turn in some big-time performances. Has he done that at times this year? No doubt. But he needs to get on a hot-streak, however, and put in several games in a row of stellar goaltending. Since the first three games of the year, Martin Brodeur has not posted back-to-back starts of stopping 90 percent (or better) of the pucks that come his away. That needs to change tonight against a rugged Flyers squad.
Prediction: Devils 2 Flyers 1
I get the hunch that this will be a low-scoring game. There will be a fair amount of quality scoring chances on both sides but the goaltenders will come up quite big. The Devils have exposed the Flyers the last few times they have played them. When breaking down the matchup among the two teams, for me, the is really only one question that will decide this game. Can the Flyers handle the forecheck of the Devils? The answer of late has been no. Not only do the Flyers not handle it well, sometimes they have created glaring turnovers in their own zone.
It’s one thing to get knocked off the puck and eventually lose it in a board battle. But give any team TURNOVERS off of hard forechecking and do it on the road? That’s asking for trouble. I think the Flyers will control their mistakes tonight but the difference will once again be Brodeur. Something to the effect of the Flyers scoring first but the Devils outplaying them in the first, a special teams marker for NJ in the second and then a long-shift, cycling style goal midway through the third to give Jersey the victory.
Should be a fun one…Let’s Go Devils!
EXPECTED LINES AND D PAIRINGS