By Trevor Jahnke
What’s on tap: The Philadelphia Flyers (2X) and the Montreal Canadiens
Matchup to Watch: Saturday against the Canadiens at 7:00 in Newark, NJ
What’s at stake: After starting the season so well, first in the Eastern Conference, the Devils have fallen to Earth like Icarus all the way to 7th after having the team’s longest losing streak since the 1985-86 season. They are seven points behind the Penguins and only one point ahead of the Rangers.
Pittsburgh Penguins – 18 Wins, 8 Losses, 0 Overtime Losses, 36 Points
New Jersey Devils – 12 Wins, 9 Losses, 5 Overtime Losses, 29 Points
New York Rangers – 13 Wins, 9 Losses, 2 Overtime Losses, 28 Points
New York Islanders – 11 Wins, 12 Losses, 3 Overtime Losses, 25 Points
Philadelphia Flyers – 12 Wins, 14, Losses, 1 Overtime Loss, 25 Points
After winning two games at home last week, the Brick City Brotherhood will have a home and home series against their bitter rivals, the Broad Street Bullies.
As things stand, Jersey’s team is undefeated in the season’s series against the Flyers. The first game the Devils won 3-0 with Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, and Ilya Kovalchuk scoring. That game was also Martin Brodeur’s 120th career shutout, but there’s no word yet if he’ll be ready for either game this week. The second game was a much closer 5-3 showing, where Devils’ scorers, Zajac, Alexei Ponikarovsky (in his first game back in the Red and Black), Patrik Elias, Clarkson, and Steve Bernier, brought a heroic comeback victory to their faithful. The Flyers goals came from Wayne Simmonds, Mike Knuble, and Matt Read; all in the first period.
In the last week, the Flyers have gone 1-3, losing to the Rangers, the Penguins, and a shutout by the Bruins. Their only victory came 3-2 against the Sabres with goals from Maxime Talbot, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek, the first two on the power play. Don’t let the record fool you though, the Flyers have been showing signs of life lately which could leave the Devils caught off guard in this home and home series.
The Flyers biggest threat is easily their 23.2% success rate on the power play that currently has them ranked fifth in the NHL. In the first two games, the Devils have been able to keep Philly’s advantage at bay killing 6 out of the 7 power plays that the Flyers were awarded. Broad Street recorded two PP goals in their last game, but, with all due respect to Buffalo, they’re not the Devils.
If you’re picking out the one man that will have to be on the Devils’ radar, it has to be Voracek. He has quietly had a great season. He has become the team leader in goals and assists, including four assists in a single game against the Islanders on Feb 18th, a three-assist game against the Jets on Feb 23rd, and a hat trick against the Penguins on Feb 20th in Pittsburgh. He’s slowed a bit lately, pointless in his last two games, but he still has four goals and one assist so far this month.
The Red and Black have an opportunity to start a winning streak against a team whom they match up well against. We saw last year in the playoffs how much trouble the Flyers had against the Devils forecheck. This will be the first time the Flyers will play against Johan Hedberg this season and if he plays as well as he did against the Jets and the Sabres last week then he should be fine.
After the two-game series against the Broad Street Bullies, Jersey’s team plays host to the Eastern Conference leaders, the Montreal Canadiens. They are fourth in the league in goals per game, ninth in the league in goals against, and eighth in the league in power play percentage. The amazing thing about their success is they only have one player with more than 10 goals (Tomas Plekanec – 11 goals).
The Canadiens are led by their captain, and former Devil, Brian Gionta, who has provided the Habs nine goals and seven assists. Their point and assist leader is Max Pacioretty (eight goals and 13 assists) which is amazing considering the big hit that Zdeno Chara gave him two seasons ago that was so dangerous the Montreal police wanted to charge him with a crime.
P.K. Subban is their point leading defenseman. He currently has a combined five points in their last three games bringing his season total to 18 points (six goals and 12 assists).
One player that the Devils need to pay attention to is Montreal’s plus/minus leader Brandon Prust (plus- 13). He tallied a goal and two assists in last Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes.
The last time the Devils played the Canadians they lost in overtime when Andrei Markov scored on a power play after Andy Greene got pulled down to the ice in what many (including the media) deemed a horrible call by the refs.
The Devils need to get back on track to secure a playoff spot. In a shortened seasoned like this, it really doesn’t matter what seed they get in the playoffs. They may even have a good chance of facing the Canadiens in the playoffs if these standings remain the same. The team that wins the Cup this year will be the team that plays the best going into the playoffs. The Devs were able to get to Cup Finals last year, why not again this year?
Have a great week Devils fans. Don’t stop believing.