Devils Look to Spoil Flyers Home Opener

Zajac lines up against Couturier for a faceoff
Zajac lines up against Couturier for a faceoff. Photo Credit to Bill Streicher of USA Today Sports

Writer’s Twitter: @ChrisMottHockey

Overview

Well, it is certainly safe to say that the New Jersey Devils’ season has not started the way that the Devils organization or fan base wanted through the first two games. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets in their home opener before proceeding to allow 11 goals in the next five periods of play.

The Devils were not expecting to face this level of adversity two games into the season, but that adversity is here and there will be a response one way or another. This team though has the talent, skill, and heart to battle through this adversity and right the ship. The Devils are debatably in the toughest division in the league in the Metropolitan and can not afford to lose many steps on other teams in the division, including the Philadelphia Flyers.

This game against the Flyers is a must-win for the Devils because of the position they are in. While the season is 82 games long, and this is only the third game of the season, history does not favor teams who fall behind in the race to start the season; though, last season’s St. Louis Blues are an obvious outlier to that. It is much easier to dictate how the season will go with a strong and consistent start out of the gate then having to battle uphill all season.

Jack Hughes celebrating a goal against the Rangers. (Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Jack Hughes celebrating a goal against the Rangers. (Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Players to Watch

The Coleman – Hughes – Simmonds Line

With the offense struggling outside of the opening two periods of the season, changes to the lines are not going to be a surprise. This new line of Coleman and Simmonds on the wings with Hughes at center is an interesting line that should be one to watch.

While fans wait for the Hall – Hischier – Gusev and Bratt – Zajac – Palmieri lines to see if that helps generate consistent offense throughout the lineup, Hughes has not yet registered his first point and is a minus-3 to start the season. He’s has struggled to start the season and was being pushed around in the game against the Sabres. The addition of Coleman and Simmonds on the wings adds two players capable of getting open and scoring goals while also providing a gritty and punishing element to the line.

There is potential here for this line to put up some points and set the tone physically. And while this does break up the dynamic duo of Blake Coleman and Zajac for now, this can help the 18-year-old rookie Hughes settle in and adjust to the game at the NHL level.

Simmonds Returns to Philly

Wayne Simmonds signed a one year deal with New Jersey this off-season, and the Devils are counting on him to provide both a physical and offensive presence. This will be the first time Simmonds has gone into the Wells Fargo Center as not only a member of the opposing team but a long-time division rival. Do not be surprised to see Simmonds have an extra pep in his strides in this game against Philly, which will only benefit the Devils and his Hughes and Coleman. Simmonds has made it clear as well what he expects in his return to Philly as a Devil so to anyone worried about it fazing him, do not be.

The Shakeup on Defense

The term shakeup probably may trigger Devils’ fans because of the game against the Jets but I digress. In practice leading up to tonight’s game, the defensive pairings were:

  • Vatanen – Subban
  • Greene – Severson
  • Butcher – Carrick

Personally, I am a fan of the changes as Greene and Severson have familiarity as a previous pairing. Butcher in this scenario is being listed as a third-pairing defenseman but before fans become upset about that, we should probably wait to see what the ice time looks like.

I think moving Carrick into the lineup is a good decision as well, as it seemed like Mueller was having some issues clearing the puck out of the defensive zone which led to goals for opposing teams. The Vatanen – Subban pairing seems designed to help generate offense from the back end.

Personally, I feel as though Subban is going to have a big game against Philadelphia. He’s a competitor and I feel the goal that came directly off a turnover from him will certainly only add to the desire for P.K. to try and help dominate and take over the game. We are more than likely to see different variations of lines and pairings until consistent chemistry is found throughout the lineup. So we will see how the revamp in lines and pairings works out tonight.

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 16: Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his game winning goal at 41 seconds of overtime on a pass from Nikita Gusev #97 against the Boston Bruins during preseason action at the Prudential Center on September 16, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Keys to the Game

Being Ready from Puck Drop

This game will not just be any other game in Philadelphia. Not only will there be the return of Simmonds to Philly for the first time, but this will also be the home opener for Philadelphia. They have only played one game so far, and it was the international game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Czech Republic on October 4th. This means the Flyers will be well-rested and ready to play only their second game of the season in front of a Philadelphia home crowd. They’ll absolutely be fired up, so the Devils will need to either weather the storm or come out firing in the beginning.

Get the Offensive Guns Going

The Devils were very impressive throughout the first two periods of their home opener against the Winnipeg Jets before letting the game slip away. That being said though, the Devils goal scorers through two games are Blake Coleman (2), Nikita Gusev (1), Sami Vatanen (1), Kyle Palmieri (1), and Travis Zajac (1). That list of goal scorers is missing names such as Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, and P.K. Subban.

Personally, I am upset that Jesper Boqvist has been taken out of the lineup after the game against Buffalo as I felt Boqvist was the only Devils’ player with a consistent presence and generating either scoring chances or offensive zone time. Boqvist will become a main piece for the Devils but as of right now, management seems content with easing him in which is almost never a bad decision. The bottom line is that these players will find their way onto the scoresheet in terms of goals. But the sooner that happens the better. Fans saw in the preseason just how dangerous this team can be offensively, so the sooner the Devils can get everyone going, the better for this team.

Schneider Continuing his Return to Form

Cory Schneider has looked great ever since the final stretch of last season. His solid play continued through the World Championships this summer for Team USA and the preseason. Schneider continued this impressive play against the Jets as well and if he does not get hurt on the Jets’ second goal, the Devils more than likely win that game.

Speaking of the injury that had every single fan holding their breath, thank goodness cramping was all it was. Schneider finally seems to be reaching the level of play he possessed before battling through injuries, including major hip injuries. All that said, Schneider is expected to get the start for tonight’s game against Philly and if he continues playing the way he has been, the Devils will have a good chance to get the win.

Lines

Devils

Taylor HallNico HischierNikita Gusev
Jesper BrattTravis ZajacKyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanJack HughesWayne Simmonds
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden
Sami VatanenP.K. Subban
Andy GreeneDamon Severson
Will ButcherConnor Carrick
Cory Schneider
Mackenzie Blackwood

Flyers

Claude GirouxKevin HayesJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
James Van RiemsdykScott LaughtonCarsen Twarynski
Connor BunnamanMichael RafflTyler Pitlick
Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Shayne GostisbehereRobert Hagg
Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

Predictions

I wanted to include some predictions for this game that are completely my opinion and how I feel the game will go. Most importantly, if you agree or disagree, please let me know in the comments! If you have some predictions that are different then mine, let us hear them!

Jack Hughes scores his first point. I will not go as far as to say he scores his first goal, but I feel Hughes will end up with an assist after setting up either Coleman or Simmonds after they generate a solid forecheck on the Flyers. The Devils/Flyers rivalry is always a physical one and this chapter should be no different.

P.K. Subban has a monster game against Philadelphia, showing just why the Devils traded for him. After the embarrassing goal Subban caused by turning the puck over at the offensive blue line from simply losing control of the puck, I expect the fire of competitiveness inside of P.K. to be at an all-time high and for him to want to set the tone of the game from the moment the puck drops.

The Devils will not score a lot, but they will still win the game because Cory Schneider will steal this game for them in Philly and keep the Flyers from lighting up the scoreboard. I would expect Schneider to be a major factor in a Devils win against Philly regardless of what the score is.

The puck will drop in Philadelphia at 7:30 PM ET and can be seen on NBCSN in the States with a familiar old friend, Doc Emrick, calling the game.

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