By Jeff O’Connor
New Jersey Devils (12-9-5) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (12-14-1) 7:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
The Devils finally look like their old selves again. Solid goaltending, paired with aggressive and smart defense, to go along with enough scoring. That’s the recipe for success for the modern-day Devils. We’ve seen that now in two of the last three games.
To go along with that, they play their division rivals twice in the next three days. That will be sure to keep the effort high as well as the adrenaline. Several teams are starting to fall out of contention in the East. Philadelphia is on the precipice of becoming one of those teams. They are 11th in the conference with a pair of teams right on their tails. Certainly, they need this next two games against Jersey. If they don’t, that may be all she wrote. If they get ’em, they’re right back in it. The Flyers know this, the Devils know this. Expect a war out there tonight.
Let’s go over some thoughts/points for tonight’s contest:
1) Will someone please show up besides the CBGB members? Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter scored the only goals on Sunday, in what felt like a must-win game. Pete DeBoer often mentions that others are doing little things well to help them win games. While I wholeheartedly agree with that, there needs to be SOME type of production. David Clarkson, where have you gone? Alexei Ponikarovsky is without a point in his last six games. I’m not saying all the top gunners need to score a goal a game, but there needs to be some a few more marks on the scoring sheet.
2) More pinch-ins? The Devils defensemen were the most aggressive they’ve been all year, stepping up to keep pucks in the zone. Will we see that tonight? Perhaps a big reason they did that was their very early 2-0 lead. That shouldn’t matter. If they are up a goal or down a goal, the defense needs to step up more in the offensive zone to create more attack time. The centers on each unit did a great job backchecking to cover the defensemen. Is this going to show up in the stat sheet? No, but it makes the Devils a very different and more effective squad.
3) More shots please. That goes for individuals and the team as a whole. Take a look at the stat below.
Stat to back up DeBoer's desire to see Clarkson shoot more: He had 60 shots/10 goals in 1st 14 games, has 32 shots, no goals in last 12.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) March 13, 2013
That says it all. Is there a direct correlation to David Clarkson’s scoreless slump and how many shuts he’s put on net? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s hard to ignore it. More pucks to the net = more scoring chances = more rebounds = higher chance of scoring a goal.
4) Jekyll Hedberg or Johan Hyde? The Devils goaltender had been really shaky before the team won two of its last three. Even with his solid performances against Buffalo and Winnipeg, his production in the Carolina game was frightening. The Devils need him to at least be reliable. The team can’t afford to let in four or five goals; they’re not built to come back from that deficit. He’s got to keep it to a pair of goals or less on most nights. Some games he MIGHT be able to get away with allowing three.
5) Frustrate Simmonds but don’t engage him. Wayne Simmonds is a talented hockey player, but also a hot head. He often tries to start fights and sometimes takes foolish penalties. I would love to see Steve Bernier or Tom Kostopolous rock him into the boards and force him to take a dumb retaliation penalty. Bump the troll around, but don’t feed him.
Prediction: Devils 3 Flyers 1
It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row, but I think the Devils do that tonight. Expect the Flyers to score early in the first period and catch the Devils off guard. The fans will be probably be a bit frustrated, but come the end of the first period the Devils will find their rhythm and cash in for a pair of goals in the second period. They’ll get a putaway goal midway through the third period to ice it.
The hockey season is past its midway point and it’s going to start to get late, early. Would it be nice if the Devils played a crisp, clean 60 minutes? Of course, but don’t expect it. All that matters is getting two points and getting into the playoffs, where the schedule and days of rest are a little more staggered and set in stone. Just win!
Let’s Go Devils!!