The possibility of it may not have been much more than a throwaway line in our preview for tonight's game, but come on. Deep down, tonight's result is probably something that we all should have seen coming.
In what was basically a replay of a game we've all probably watched far, far too many times in the past however many years it's been at this point, Martin Brodeur's likely final start against the Philadelphia Flyers was a low-scoring defensive affair that was frustrating to watch and that was won on a timely goal late in the game and a combination of good play and a little bit of luck from the old guy in net.
We knew what the stakes were going into this game -- either get two crucial points and more or less bury a division rival in the standings, or head into the toughest schedule stretch of the season on a low note while giving said rival new life. Instead, a poor first period saw the Flyers playing from behind, and though they managed to tie it up on maybe the least likely goal they've scored all season, it looked like they spent all night struggling to get high-quality chances and flubbing pucks here and there. Couple that with just a few too many shifts in the defensive zone that lasted way, way too long, a power play that had twelve minutes of ice time and scored no goals, and goaltending that let in a rather inopportune goal at juuuuuust the wrong time, and you get a 2-1 final that leaves a real sour taste in your mouth.
Let's just jump right into the bullet points:
* The dominant story coming right out of the game was the goal that the Flyers had that was disallowed with under a minute remaining in the final period, after Scott Hartnell ran into Martin Brodeur and the loose puck went into the net (which may or may not have happened before a quick whistle by the refs). You can see three views of said goal here. The Flyers, unsurprisingly, were not pleased about it. Flyers fans, as well, were not happy about it, letting the refs hear it as the final seconds ticked down.
Me, personally? In real time I thought it was absurd. Upon replay, I'm still annoyed but also a bit more understanding and could see it either way. You could make the argument that Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov shoved Hartnell into Brodeur despite Hartnell's momentum towards the net (which is the argument that the Flyers were trying to make) and that Hartnell's ensuing contact with Brodeur should be deemed incidental. But at the same time, it looked like Hartnell was headed towards the net (and Brodeur) with a full head of steam no matter what Volchenkov did, and that was what the refs saw. Couple that with the on-ice call of no goal (and the fact that it's, well, Martin Brodeur, who will pretty much never not get the benefit of the doubt on those calls), and there was basically no way that the replay of the call would lead to an overturn. It is what it is.
(Update: Here's the NHL's explanation for the no-goal. Apparently it was never supposed to be reviewable in the first place.)
* Anywho. Back to hockey, because here's the real ugly truth: if you need the refs to help you get to two goals against this goaltender and this Devils team the way they're all playing right now, you've got bigger problems to worry about. After having little trouble putting goals up in really any of the five games since the break, the offense just wasn't in sync at all tonight. Guys were falling down and whiffing on pucks on good chances, trying to make the tough pass to the guy who's already well-covered, and overall just not playing great in the offensive zone. 31 shots on goal against a Devils team that doesn't allow many shots is nice, but it just didn't seem like a ton of those were high-quality chances. In fact ...
* ... the one goal they did manage to get on the board was a Nicklas Grossmann shot immediately following the faceoff. It was a shot from the right-side wall where the top of the circle is, and one on which Brodeur was not screened and sort of just fell back into the net as the puck got there.
The goal was Grossmann's first since another relatively entertaining goal he scored against a division rival, all the way back in last season. Not sure whether I should laugh at that really bad goal allowed or cry at the fact that Nicklas Grossmann was the only Flyer to get a goal tonight ...
* ... especially given that, as mentioned above, the Flyers had six different power plays on the evening and did not manage to score on a single one of them. It was one of those games where they came out flying on their first one and pretty much did everything but score and then from there moving on it got progressively worse. I'll give a pass there given that it's been mostly good since the break ended, but man, we've got to see a better product with the man advantage than that on Saturday against the Penguins.
* Steve Mason, as you may have heard, is in a little bit of a cold streak right now. Ironically enough, his final line tonight (24 saves on 26 shots) was perfectly acceptable despite what I thought was him playing on his heels a bit early on in the game, and you can only pin so much of the game on him when the other guys can only get together to score one goal. But that game-winner by Jaromir Jagr, which squeaked between Mason's pad and the post, is one he's absolutely got to stop. As Charlie mentioned towards the end of BSH Radio last night, even with his struggles of late, Mason's done a good job of stopping the easy ones that have to be stopped. That goal, though, in the third period of a tie game against a division rival? That's a save that your starter needs to make. He did well enough the rest of the night, though, and whether he ends up getting one or both starts this weekend, hopefully he'll be back up to the task.
* They didn't end up on the scoreboard or anything, but I thought Sean Couturier's line with him and Matt Read and Steve Downie was all over the place tonight. Strong in their own defensive zone and did a good job of getting things going the other way, and they even managed to draw three penalties between the three of them. Unfortunately, they -- like everyone else -- had trouble connecting on a lot of those chances, so it was mostly for naught. (Side note: one of those aforementioned penalties was a little bit of a nasty hit by Tuomo Ruutu cutting across the ice and whacking Steve Downie right in the jaw. Doubt it ends up getting looked at further, but who knows?)
* One last thought on the game: as mentioned above, there were way, way too many shifts that saw the Devils holding the puck for way, way too long in the offensive zone, and both of their goals could be described as falling under that category. That's been the Devils' M.O. for most of the season -- keep the puck from the other guys and good things will happen (even if they don't always end up happening) -- and tonight it ended up working out for them, with a bad defensive breakdown by basically everyone wearing orange on the first goal and an unchallenged guy at the post on the second one. When you can't clear the puck out, bad things happen. They happened tonight.
* With tonight's loss, the Flyers drop out of the top-three in the Metropolitan Division (tied with Columbus, who managed a 4-1 win over Detroit and who holds the tiebreaker in the third spot thanks to the tiebreaker) and sit in the final playoff spot in the East. They're two points ahead of both the Red Wings and Devils. On the plus side, if tonight's game leads the Devils to play Marty a bit more down the stretch, maybe it isn't so bad?
Comment of the Night:
My Devils fan roommate apologized to me. I thought it was bad. That makes it really bad.
-- wooder, on the disallowed goal
Three days off, then Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. The fun begins then. Go Flyers.