This was expected to be a physical game before the puck dropped. After all, New Jersey eliminated Philadelphia from last year’s postseason en-route to the Stanley Cup Finals. Plus, the Flyers came into this game winless on the very young season. One would expect their play to pick up.
And they did. The Devils, though, answered each blow with a counter blow.
Martin Brodeur made 24 saves while the Devils received goals from three different players, as New Jersey took a 3-0 victory over Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t our best effort from system point of view, but we got enough individual efforts, starting with our goalie.” said head coach Peter DeBoer.
The Devils improved to 2-0 while the Flyers, playing their third game in four nights, fell to 0-3 for the first time since the 1994-1995 shortened season. (Fun Fact: they would win the division that year. Oh the irony)
The 40 year old Brodeur recorded his 120th career shutout, a league record. He earned it tonight as he was called on to keep his team in the game in the first period. That, despite the Devils leading 1-0, even 2-0, by the first intermission.
“Obviously he’s the key to this team,” Zajac said of Brodeur. “He’s our best PKer [penalty killer]. I don’t think there’s another goalie that does what he does.”
In front of an electrified sellout crowd at the Prudential Center, New Jersey got on the board only 1:07 into the game. Dainius Zubrus skated behind the net with the puck, passed it to the left point for Bryce Salvador, who shot it on net. Ilya Bryzgalov made the initial save, but Zajac, alone in front of the net, gathered up the rebound and put it behind the goaltender.
It seemed to wake up the Flyers because they took control of the game for the rest of the period. Philadelphia would outshoot the Devils 9-3, but Brodeur was the difference in stemming the onslaught. Towards the end of the period, the Flyers were penalized, sending New Jersey to the powerplay. At 19:35 David Clarkson cashed in on a loose puck on the left side of the net and wrapped it in past Bryzgalov (23 saves).
Yet despite the score, DeBoer felt his team was outplayed for the most part.
“We got a couple of breaks around the net, but they were a much better team early in that game.”
The second period would tell a similar tale, but the Devils evened up the ice by gaining more possession and pushing the Flyers back. At 2:44 in, while New Jersey was shorthanded, Ilya Kovalchuk had a breakaway, but was hooked from behind on the shot, resulting in a penalty shot. Kovalchuk was 11-14 in the shootout last year. He continued to show why he’s one of the best shooters one on one. He moved in on Bryzgalov, got him to go down, then pulled it to his backhand and roofed it. It was the wingers first goal of the season.
From that point on, the Flyers lost their discipline and never recovered.
Captain Claude Giroux received two minors (abuse of officials and a lazy slash on Kovalchuk), Wayne Simmonds shoved Brodeur in the second period after a save, which led to a big scramble in front with red jerseys jumping the power forward. Clarkson fought Simmonds in the third, along with Steve Bernier and Brayden Schenn dropping the gloves before the final horn.
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” said Clarkson, who now has two goals in the first two games of the season. “It’s two games in, but we’re happy with the last two games. We’ve got to continue that confidence and continue that the next game.
Special teams factored into the result. New Jersey finished 1-8 on the powerplay, but it was their penalty kill that deterred any Flyer momentum. They staved off all five opportunities. Philadelphia was 0-5 man up, gave up a shorthanded goal, and surrendered another powerplay goal. That’s six in their first three games. Not good in any stretch of the imagination.
Observations: The team said after the game they played better against the Islanders. They are correct. The Flyers did not play a bad game. They controlled good parts of this contest with offensive zone pressure and getting shots on the net. It would have been a different had they scored on one of their chances early in the game. New Jersey was opportunistic, capitalizing on the Flyers mistakes, which were many as frustration grew. What impressed me about today’s home opener was the Devils playing to defend their ice. They ignored the Flyers attempts to antagonize, but punched back when they tried to throw their game off. The Rock was also rocking. Devils Army made it loud the whole night, hopefully a good sign for the season ahead.
Obviously teams are struggling to play consistent hockey due to the work stoppage. But as Brodeur pointed out after the game, a team like New Jersey may find it easier to get their rhythm going:
“You’ll see more and more cohesiveness with teams getting their new systems in place. We’re fortunate we’re playing the same way we played last year. I think the transition might be a little easier for us than for teams that are trying to change some stuff,” said Brodeur.
I thought Stefan Matteau had a better game today than Saturday. He played 10:37 in 13 shifts, took three shots, and delivered two hits. He almost had his first goal of the season fighting for loose pucks in front of the net. There was a different comfort level today than we saw against the Isles. He has three more games before the team decides to send him back down to juniors.
After the first period, New Jersey’s defense made it difficult for the Flyers to get quality opportunities. Brodeur saw the puck, mostly from the outside, and most rebounds were cleared to safety. Credit Jacob Josefson for good defensive work. He was good on the penalty kill, as well as defending the slot during even strength. New Jersey hopes Josefson is able to go through this season without suffering an injury.
NOTES: Peter DeBoer said after the game he shortened his bench to three lines. Matias Tedenby only played the final 38 seconds of the third…Brodeur now has ten shutouts against the Flyers, which is the most against a single team alongside the Islanders…Zajac and Clarkson were the lone goal scorers in the season opener, and were the same contributors last night…
Filed Under: NHL
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia