The Flyers have lost five consecutive games, and with back-to-back games against the Avalanche and Lightning approaching, tonight might be one of the best chances for them to end that streak. Against a Devils team that’s hot in pursuit of a Wild Card spot, Philadelphia will need to take care of business on the road. What are the storylines, who are the players to watch, and how can the visitors claim victory? All of this and more below.
New Jersey has been a comedically inconsistent force in the NHL this year. On one night, they’ll demolish great teams like the Panthers or Lightning behind what appears to be a deep, offensively skilled forward group and a defense propelled by the considerable talents of Dougie Hamilton and Ty Smith. On another occasion, they’ll get spanked by the Nashville Predators, who aren’t exactly stellar competition.
So, who are the real Devils? The typical answer would be “something in the middle,” but in reality when looking at the numbers underlying New Jersey’s play it seems that they’re a below average team benefitting from finishing talent, as well as the solid tandem of Jonathan Bernier and Mackenzie Blackwood.
In short, the Devils are very similar to the Flyers, but a bit younger and flashier. That’s balanced out by Philadelphia having advantage in goaltending, but the bottom line is that tonight should be an even matchup between two sides producing results resemblant of each other. This game should be telling of what Philadelphia’s made out of.
The Devils are arguably being led by rookie Dawson Mercer, a favorite player of mine from the 2020 draft. Mercer makes his money close to the net with a blend of remarkable anticipation and hockey IQ. He’s not a spectacular skater by any means, but his combination of skill on the puck and tenacity away from it pairs nicely with his lightning quick processing speed to produce a terrifyingly talented player. With 13 points and six goals in 18 games as a 20-year-old rookie, his breakout is earlier than expected, but expected nonetheless.
This is the best chance for a “get right” game that the Flyers are going to get in the next (checks notes) four games, after which they’ll meet the Devils in Newark yet again. For a group on a five game losing streak, grabbing two points tonight to remain close to the other teams pursuing the Wild Card will be crucial.
With all of Philadelphia’s injuries, the team has lived and died by goaltending and timely finishing. When the shooters have been hot, Carter Hart and Martin Jones’ continual provision of solid or spectacular play has gotten the job done. When they haven’t gotten goal support, as has been the case for the past two weeks or so, it’s losses all the way down.
The Flyers are similar to the Devils in talent and process-driven results, even with Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes missing. The difference in this game will be the Orange & Black’s ability to execute their system and exploit the clear weakness on New Jersey’s roster: a lack of defensive ability.
Three Big Things
- Forechecking will decide this game. If the Flyers can put heavy pressure on the Devils’ iffy back end and win puck battles, they’ll manufacture quality possessions and be rewarded with a win; if they cannot, they will fail. It’s as simple as that.
- Alain Vigneault’s seat has to be getting warm at this point give the team’s “win now” position. People like Jason Myrtetus have been vocally critical of Vigneault’s tendency to play his fourth line in poor situations, which is how you know that folks are beginning to get fed up with the head coach’s lack of adjustments when things go wrong. The Flyers are afloat because Carter Hart and Martin Jones have been strong, and everybody knows it; if the losing streak continues to swell tonight, this might spell the beginning of the end for AV’s tenure in Philly.
- New Jersey is only going to get better when Jack Hughes returns, which might be in the near future. The Flyers have their best shot of defeating them tonight. Grabbing at least a point is the expectation, but getting anything less than both points will be mildly disastrous. This is a sneakily huge game.
Game Day Tunes
Breaking out a classic for tonight.
Happy game day folks, and as always, go Flyers.