In a rare Saturday afternoon start the New Jersey Devils will play their storied Philadelphia Flyer rivals in the first of two games this weekend. Today’s matchup will be the first of six coming up against Metropolitan Division opponents over the Devils’ next seven contests. With the third to sixth slots in the Metropolitan Division separated by six points (Devils are fifth), it goes without saying how important these upcoming games are for New Jersey’s playoff hopes. This is the third time the Devils and Flyers are squaring off this season. New Jersey is 1-0-1 against Philadelphia, suffering their only overtime loss of the season against the Flyers in their last matchup. Four points separate these teams in the standings and with both squads looking to put together consecutive wins, this game is important for the Devils if they want to maintain their three-point cushion above the teams nipping at their heels in the standings.
Coach Hynes will start Cory Schneider in goal this afternoon. Although Cory’s started in four of the Devils’ five games since the all-star break, he’s coming off three day’s rest. The Devils are 2-1-2 in that span, and are right behind Pittsburgh for the final wildcard spot. Between the points they left on the table and teams close to them in the standings playing their games in hand, the Devils’ inconsistencies are catching up to them. They haven’t scored much the past five games, but out of the ten goals they tallied, six of them were on the power play. They scored five-on-five three times this month, and have consequently gone down to the very wire in every game against their five opponents, winning or losing every contest by one goal. They’ve scored seven times against the Flyers this season, making them one of the few teams the Devils have averaged three or more goals against. Simply put, the Flyers are an ideal opponent the Devils can aim to set a new monthly high for goals in a game against.
The Flyers gained some ground in the standings and like the Devils, are at a point in the season right now where every game is more important than the last. The Flyers are 3-2-1 this February, keeping pace with a relatively successful January month, where they went 6-4-1. As of writing this, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol hasn’t committed to his starting goaltender for this afternoon’s matchup. As other writers have already noted, it would make sense for Hakstol to go with Michal Neuvirth, who is 5-2-4 all-time against the Devils, while Mason has never defeated them. Neuvirth is coming off a 7-10 day sidelining, but has been the better goalie out of the two, going 8-3-1 in his last 12 starts. While the Devils have mostly relied on special team scoring this month, the Flyers have struggled mightily in this category. They’re respectively 23rd and 22nd on the power play and penalty kill. In February, the Flyers have gone 4/26 on the power play and killed 22 of 27 penalties.
Who to watch
Jordin Tootoo…Did you know that Tootoo has the 10th-most penalty minutes (76) in the NHL going into today’s game? The Devils are also 5-3-0 in games where he drops the gloves, which he hasn’t done in ten games, so he’s certainly due to throw down if the opportunity presents itself. He’s also one of many Devils players that’s due to get marked in the goal section of the score sheet. Can’t think of a better team for Tootoo to aim for a Gordie Howe hat trick against.
Wayne Simmonds…He certainly has bigger problems ahead of him in tomorrow’s game against the Rangers, but he’s been a scoring machine for the Flyers in February. He has six goals in as many games, and scored in his last two going into tonight. He undoubtedly benefited from the play of teammates Jakub Voracek, the only Flyer averaging over a point per game this month (seven in six games), all of which are assists, and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who’s riding a ten-game point streak. Simmonds has always been a thorn in the Devils’ side and as much as it’s hard to admit, the 27-year old forward can be a game-changer if he’s allowed to be.
What to watch
Special teams…It was implied earlier in the article, but it still warrants its own section. While the Devils are respectively 7th and 8th in the power play and penalty kill amongst teams, the Flyers rank 23rd and 22nd in these categories. Between the undisciplined tendencies the Devils have and the chippy playing style the Flyers implement, we might not see much five-on-five time for stretches in this afternoon’s game, which could benefit the Devils greatly.
What shooting squad will the Devils bring…? As I’ve reiterated throughout the season, the Devils average the least amount of shots per game (24.5), and have a 15-shot differential between the two games they’ve played against the Flyers this season. As expected, they registered 33 shots in their initial victory, but only 18 in their last matchup (overtime loss). This is also an indicator of how much better team the Devils would be if they shot the puck a little more.
Where to watch
When to watch