Lately, Flyers games against their bitter rival New Jersey Devils have been rather frustrating, for a lot of reasons. It's tough to get a ton going against a team that plays defensively the way that they do, and they've long been a team that's been able to capitalize on the Flyers mistakes and cash in on them at a rate that is seems impossibly frequent.
So it was nice to see the Flyers beat those rivals on Friday night, in a 4-3 overtime decision, off of one of those very mistakes of their own in the wide-open 3-on-3 ice.
The start to this one was one that could fairly be called a bit concerning, as the Devils' first shot of the game, off the stick of Stefan Matteau almost all the way from the right-side boards, ended up past Neuvirth at a near-impossible angle. One could be forgiven for saying "here we go again" as that one slipped past the goalie, as these are the kinds of things that tend to happen in Flyers-Devils games.
But what could have had a snowballing effect on the defense ended up swinging the other way, as the 40 minutes that ensued were quite possibly the best 40 minutes of defense the Flyers had played all season. Superb efforts on the forecheck in their own offensive zone and in coverage in the the defensive zone made the idea of extended pressure for the team in red a near-foreign concept, as the Devils (per war-on-ice.com) didn't record a single scoring chance again until a power-play chance in the final second of the middle frame.
Still, the goals weren't coming despite some decent pressure at even strength. However, it was a script we've seen so many times in recent years but not one we'd seen many times yet this year: with the even strength scoring having gone dry, the Flyers relied on their power play to make a difference.
A beautiful passing sequence from Giroux to Voracek to the net ended up right at Wayne Simmonds' skate (no kicking motion, don't worry) knotted things up in the first period. And it was some similarly pretty passing in the second period -- with the extra room of a 5-on-3 -- that gave Claude Giroux a yawning net to put one into, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead in that frame.
The Devils, surely frustrated from two periods of near-complete offensive futility, came out firing in the third, with Kyle Palmieri knotting things up just as a Flyers penalty expired and the team keeping the pressure on for most of the earlier part of the period. It was about halfway through the period, then, when an outstanding shift from all five guys on the ice -- including Nick Schultz, Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, all guys who have taken heat from the fanbase here in recent weeks for various reasons -- ended with Bellemare diving to put a Medvedev rebound past Cory Schneider to make it a 3-2 game.
Since good things tend to not happen to the Flyers in games like this, Bellemare would take a penalty with just over two minutes left, and with the extra attacker out for New Jersey, Philadelphia's penalty kill -- for the first time in 17 days -- couldn't get the job done, as a puck that squirted out to Kyle Palmieri just outside the blue paint was fired home to give the home team a tie and at least a point.
But thanks to the efforts of two-thirds of the Flyers' hottest line, one point was all they would get on the night. Matt Read took the puck away from Palmieri right in front of Neuvirth, and Palmieri instantly falling down gave Read and Couturier a 2-on-1 in the open ice. Selling the shot for as long as he possibly could, Read waited before firing one that Schneider got a piece of, only to see it slip through and give the Flyers their fourth straight win.
The win was the team's first against New Jersey in its last four tries, and puts the Flyers above the NHL's strange version of .500 for the first time since the end of October. While not a perfect performance, it was a very solid showing and another win that came via relatively strong defensive play and possession. And in a game against a division rival right above them in the standings, one which was playing on the rough end of a back-to-back, the Flyers did what they had to do to keep things moving in the right direction.
Additional observations to follow tomorrow.
Comment of the Night:
Flyers are practicing for tomorrow. Showing Hartnell how they can score while falling down. 1st G and now PEBS.