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Entering tonight’s game 4-4-1, the New Jersey Devils play their first game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils will come out of tonight’s matchup over, under, or remain at .500 and I’m sure they’re aiming high despite being in the early stages of the season. After winning four consecutive games, New Jersey is looking to rebound from a frustrating 3-1 loss to John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets, which made them 1-3-1 at home this year, while they’ve gone 3-1-0 on the road. Coincidently, the Flyers have been solid at home, going 3-1-1. They’ve been on an upswing as of late, going 4-1-1 in their last six and seeing their last three games go beyond regulation time (a trend we saw in the first four of New Jersey’s last six games).
While the Flyers are currently 26th amongst teams in scoring (19 goals), they’re only separated by a differential of two goals from the 20th-ranked New Jersey Devils. Brayden Schenn is coming off a two-goal performance and has three goals in his last five games. He shares the scoring lead amongst Flyers forwards with team captain Claude Giroux, who hasn’t scored in his last two games but had three goals in his last three beforehand and four points in his last five games. Wayne Simmonds was the closest the Flyers had to a Devil killer last year with three goals and four points (all at home) in four games against them last year. Although Simmonds also has four points in his last five games, he only has one goal for the entire year and could see tonight as an opportunity for him to break out of his slow start to the year.
The Flyers have one of the most consistent yet underrated defensemen on their team in Mark Streit. The 37-year old Switzerland native currently leads the team in scoring with two goals and six points, and is second on the team in ice time (23:01) behind former Ranger Michael Del Zotto (23:51). Neither Del Zotto nor Streit scored against New Jersey last year, and like Simmonds, MDZ is hoping to break out of his scoreless slump sooner rather than later. Despite having three points in four games this year, Luke Schenn has found himself in a press box more often than not this year, and like the rest of the Flyers defense (except Mark Streit), is still looking for his first goal of the year.
With Michal Neuvirth slated to come off injured reserve today, Jason LaBarbera will be relegated to Philadelphia’s AHL affiliate. Neuvirth’s two wins of the season were back-to-back shutouts and despite appearing in four games this year, he’s currently undefeated (2-0-0) with a 1.55 GAA and .947 SV%. Steve Mason has held his own between the pipes for the Flyers, despite dropping his first three games. Mason is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, but has given up three or more goals in three of his six starts this year. Despite having a 3.43 GAA and .899 SV%, Mason has a 2.66 GAA and a .912 SV% in his last three starts.
Who to watch
Vincent Lecavlier…After being a healthy scratch for the first eight games of the year, the former first overall pick will make his season debut tonight, with injuries keeping Sean Couturier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare out of tonight’s matchup. Lecavlier had two goals and three points in two games against New Jersey last season, and despite being projected to start tonight’s game as Philadelphia’s fourth line left wing, he’ll be looking to give the coaching staff a reason to keep him in the lineup moving forward with a strong performance against a familiar opponent.
Sergey Kalinin…He’s one of four Devils forwards still looking to score his first goal of the season. After playing a season-high 11:25 in Tuesday’s game and registering his first NHL point in last Saturday’s matchup against the Sabres, the 24-year old center’s gameplay has noticeably improved. He currently has the second-best face-off percentage on the team and could continue to build on his recent stretch of formidable play tonight. Considering Philadelphia’s well-documented shortcomings on defense and in goal, Kalinin is in an opportune position to add to his NHL point total tonight if he keeps his up-tempo play up.
What to watch
Physicality…No matter what the team looks like, the Philadelphia Flyers have always made hitting an integral part of their game. The Flyers are currently fourth amongst NHL teams in hits (270), while the Devils sit at 19th (202). New Jersey has undoubtedly gotten faster up front, but sacrificed a lot of size as a result, which might not bode well if the Flyers turn up their hitting game a notch or two tonight.
First period scoring…The Devils scored in the first period three out of their first nine games. They’ve gone 2-3-1 in games where they failed to score in the first period, and are 2-0-1 when they have. It’s too early to say the team’s first period performance will be a primary determinant in the outcomes of their games, but there’s no denying how a correlative trend is slowly forming based on their scoring output in over the first third of their games.
Where to watch
When to watch