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Preview: The Devils went down to Philly

Image Courtesy Heather Barry

The Game: 7:00 p.m. EST on NBCSports Philadelphia, ESPN+/Hulu, and 93.3 WMMR

Another night, another hockey game against a Metropolitan Division rival. With tonight’s match against the 10-9-1 New Jersey Devils, the 11-10-1 Flyers are nearing the end of their eight-game Metro tour–and this one could be a doozy.

After a scorching 2022-23 season that saw the Devils explode for 112 points and third in the league, they’ve stumbled out the gate this year. Injuries have been a major factor: Timo Meier, captain Nico Hischier, and superstar Jack Hughes have all missed time over the first two months of the season. The other major element, as with any stacked but struggling team (see: the Oilers; the Wild), is goaltending. The Devils opted to runback the tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid rather than make a splashy goaltending move in the off season, and it has not paid off–they have .884 and .892 save percentages, respectively, and both have GAAs over 3.00. You won’t win championships with those kinds of numbers.

The Devils have a lot of firepower and young talent; last year may’ve been an overperformance in the results, but the underlying roster construction still makes sense. Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, Hughes, and Hischier are all 25 and under, and Alexander Holtz is finally making an impact at the NHL level after dancing the line of “bust” territory. Timo Meier’s in his prime and settling into his new home after last year’s deadline deal that brought him in from the San Jose Sharks–and all that only covers their forwards. On the backend, 20-year old Luke Hughes already looks the part of a top-pair defenseman, with 19-year old Simon Nemec not far behind.

But all the talent in the world–even skilled veteran presences like Dougie Hamilton, Ondrej Palat, and off season addition Tyler Toffoli–won’t make up for the shortcomings of the New Jersey crease. If any expected playoff team’s going to make a major mid-season move to rectify their situation between the pipes, the Devils are top of the list.

The Flyers come into tonight’s game off a tough loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. It wasn’t that they played bad, per se, but the Canes are just a better all-around team; the Flyers don’t have the luxury of coasting and, if they don’t bring their absolute A-game, playoff-caliber teams will walk right over them. New Jersey is, ostensibly, a playoff-caliber team with a lot of firepower up front, so the Flyers will need to bring their all (and some much-needed goals) if they hope to have a chance of winning.

Players to Watch

Scott Laughton

Hoo boy, Laughton’s had a tough go. His failed clear against Carolina led directly to a goal against, and he took a bad penalty that game, too. He’s got one goal so far this year and is in the midst of a point drought. While Laughton’s still a valuable player to Torts, his play the past couple weeks has been…uninspiring, to say the least. Maybe those gaffes in Tuesday’s game will be a wake-up call, and Laughton hits the ice flying tonight.

Morgan Frost

Now that Noah Cates is out for 6-8 weeks with a broken foot, it’s make-or-break for Morgan Frost. I know I (sentient blog) included Frost here in the last preview, but that was before the Cates situation broke. This is it: if Frost can’t show he’s a major point producer by the end of 2023, there really won’t be any place for him in Philadelphia. Add in the fact that a couple of Phantoms (namely Olle Lycksell and Tanner Laczynski) are playing well enough to warrant a call up, and it’s time for Frost to put up or shut up.

Luke Hughes

If Connor Bedard weren’t the default Calder choice for Rookie of the Year, Luke Hughes would have a solid shot at nabbing the trophy. Hughes has 13 points in 20 games, with three points in his last two games alone; his underlying stats are sterling and he’s playing 19:41 a night. He’s 20 years old. It’s so annoying that the Devils have such a stellar pool of young players; they could be a juggernaut for the next decade.

Projected Lineups

Philadelphia Flyers

Cam Atkinson – Sean Couturier – Tyson Foerster
Travis Konecny – Morgan Frost – Owen Tippett
Joel Farabee – Ryan Poehling – Bobby Brink
Nic Deslauriers – Scott Laughton – Garnet Hathaway

Cam York – Travis Sanheim
Nick Seeler – Sean Walker
Egor Zamula – Rasmus Ristolainen

Carter Hart
Sam Ersson

New Jersey Devils

Tyler Toffoli – Jack Hughes – Dawson Mercer
Ondrej Palat – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Alexander Holtz – Michael McLeod – Curtiz Lazar
Brendan Smith – Chris Tierney – Nate Bastian

Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Kevin Bahl – John Marino
Luke Hughes – Colin Miller

Akira Schmid
Vitek Vanecek

Gameday Tunes

“Boys, they just make me mad.” Subpar love interests, or your favorite hockey team? You decide!

Stats via Hockey Reference

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