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The New Jersey Devils make their first trip to the city of brotherly love for their first matchup against one of their most storied rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Since their last game against the Rangers, the Devils have trimmed their training camp roster down to 27 players. This Devils team is coming to form, and is vastly different than the squad that coming out of last year’s training camp. Already in the preseason, they have showcased a brand of speed, puck play, and physicality that hasn’t been part of Devils hockey for a few years now. They have a prime opportunity to build on an encouraging preseason against a Flyers team that they’ve had a lot of success against in recent years.
The Flyers have always been a top-heavy team as long as I can remember. Although they’ve struggled to make the playoffs the past few seasons, offense has always, and will continue to be this team’s forte. Although the Flyers will be without Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl, the Devils still have to deal with Philly’s dynamic duo of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, along with the likes Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read. This is one of New Jersey’s biggest challenges of the preseason, one that should give us some insight on how this revamped Devils team fares against a top-quality offense.
I was disappointed we weren’t going to see Ivan Provorov suit up for the Flyers. The seventh overall pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft was returned to his junior team last week, but will probably find a permanent spot on the Flyers roster some time in the near future. The Flyers defense corps will feature some notable names that could impact the outcome of tonight’s game if they aren’t accounted for. Mark Streit is still going strong at 37-years of age and has averaged 46 points over his first two seasons with Philadelphia, making him one of the team’s top defensemen. He anchors a blue line with offensive defensemen like Michael Del Zotto, which gives the Flyers defense a slight one-two punch from the points. Defenders Nick Schultz, and Evgeny Medvedev are more defense-oriented, but like Streit, are into their 30s, and gives the Flyers a more tenured, but much older defense corps that may have to account for Del Zotto and Streit’s defensive mishaps.
Neuvirth has had a good preseason for the most part and is starting to emerge as the Flyers starter going into the season. He’s been mostly relegated to a backup role since breaking into the league with Washington, and has had suspect numbers over the seven seasons he’s played. Neuvirth’s numbers put his ability to be a starting goaltender into question. He has a career 2.73 GAA and .912 SV%. Over the three seasons he’s had the most playing time (a total of 118 games), Neuvirth has a 47-45-20 record with a 2.80 GAA and .904 SV%. He played against the Devils only once last year, losing to them post-regulation, and only had two wins against the entire Metropolitan Division last season. With the Flyers roster coming to form, tonight will strongly indicate Neuvirth’s capability to become a starting goaltender for a Flyers team looking to get back into the playoff race.
Who to watch
Reid Boucher…Boucher has scored in each of his last two games. With Mike Cammalleri being held out of tonight’s preseason game, Boucher is going to take his spot and have another game where his play as a top-six forward will be evaluated thoroughly. He is most likely going to play with Travis Zajac as his center and Kyle Palmieri or Tuomo Ruutu on the other wing. These players are going to start the season as the team’s most counted upon forwards. A strong game by Boucher tonight will show he belongs in the Devils top two lines and could possibly make coach Hynes re-think his opening night lineup.
Michael Del Zotto…New Jersey isn’t an unfamiliar opponent to Del Zotto, who has played in the Metropolitan Division for the majority of his career. He appears to have found a good spot in Philadelphia, as his skillset adheres to Philly’s offensive-oriented style of play. Like I mentioned earlier, Del Zotto has been a complimentary asset to Mark Streit on the Flyers defense. With Streit getting older, Del Zotto will be looked upon more by the coaching staff as the organization waits for their young defensive prospects to become more NHL-ready. He was finally awarded a multi-year contract this offseason and has to play up to it by having a strong showing at the beginning of the season.
What to watch
Manning the point…Coach Hynes has tried some interesting players on the points this preseason. Among the most notable are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Jacob Josefson (who has been one of the more pleasant surprises coming out of training camp). While the obvious staples of the Devils power play point will likely consist of Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, and Adam Larsson, he’s clearly looking for other options he can resort to. The power play has been one of New Jersey’s biggest pluses of the preseason, so it’ll be interesting to see who quarterbacks the man-advantage the final two games.
Three-on-three…Regardless of the score of regulation, there will be another mandatory three-on-three overtime period. The Devils have won both overtime sessions they participated in, and have adapted nicely to the open ice and utilization of speed and movement in this new post-regulation scenario. Philadelphia’s offensive arsenal makes them a very formidable three-on-three opponent, especially when you take their offensive depth into consideration. Between suspect goaltending and a juggernaut offense on the Flyers end, the Devils have a testy but achievable obstacle before themif they want to go three-for-three.
Where to watch
When to watch