I watched the encore replay of the entire pre-season hockey game last night between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
I was interested to see how both of these teams looked following respective busy offseason changes, and how the performance of these teams would impact the New Jersey Devils.
Rangers: Adapting to a new Coach
The Rangers have to adapt to a new coach, Alain Vigneault, and a new system of play. I was very impressed with the Rangers performance, in this their second pre-season game, with this new system.
Coach Vigneault uses a system which features fast passing, puck movement through the neutral zone, puck possession especially in the offensive zone, and precise passes into open ice.
This style is a contrast to the style of play under his predecessor, John Tortorella, where the Rangers played a slower, more physical, and more conservative system. Tortorella did not like pushing his forwards up the ice into open space, he was concerned about giving up a breakaway to the opponent. The Rangers played more “dump and chase” than targeted passing into open ice.
The Rangers players who stood out to me in the game against the Flyers are:
- Derick Brassard – scored a goal and had an assist
- Benoit Pouliot – scored a goal and passed the puck really well
- Dominic Moore – played very well on the penalty kill unit, great passing
- Darroll Powe – scored a goal and made some plays in open ice as well
- Anton Stralman – assist on a goal, but vastly improved on defense vs. last season
Overall, the Rangers looked pretty sharp in this game: crisp and accurate passing, good puck possession, and they killed some penalties against a very strong group of Flyers.
New York could improve on the power play, they got some whistles in this game, and they went 0 for 5 on the man advantage in this game (www.nhl.com).
Flyers: Adapting to new players – new roster
The challenge going into this season for Philadelphia is going to be how they adapt to new players on their roster, and based on their lackluster finish in 2013, the front office had to make some changes to improve the team on the ice.
The first development that struck me in this game from the perspective of the Flyers was how much ice time Vincent Lecavalier had last night. Most teams do not play their star players, in this case one who makes $10 million per year, in a preseason game and risk potential injury.
The only logical rationale I have for this choice is that the Flyers coaching staff felt he needed extended playing time with his new teammates and in this new system for him, as he signed as a free agent this summer.
The Flyers players who stood out in their performances last night are:
- Sean Couturier – scored a goal, looked sharp overall – vastly improved
- Scott Hartnell – played very solid – looked in great shape physically
- Vincent Lecavalier – looked very comfortable in the new system
- Wayne Simmonds – passed well, took some good shots on goal as well
- Mark Streit – looked poised in new system, great defensive play
- Max Talbot – had a goal and also made plays in the neutral zone
- Jakub Voracek – assist on a goal – strong passing, good skating
The biggest concern I viewed from the perspective of the Flyers was their goaltending. Now, it should be noted up front that Philadelphia did not play their presumptive starting goalie, Ray Emery, because it was a preseason game.
However, the goaltender they did start: Steve Mason did not play very well last night. Mason in particular looked lost on some offensive rushes by the Rangers, he was struggling to locate loose pucks and got beaten on shots for 3 goals.
That performance by Mason will not help him as he is trying to win the backup goalie job in a competition with Yann Danis. I also covered this topic in my preview of the Flyers this offseason detailing how the team improved in other areas but decided to go the cheap route with the goaltending. That route in the NHL never ends well.
How this impacts the Devils
The respective play of the Rangers and Flyers in this game presents some potential issues for the Devils when the regular season begins in October. Both teams looked sharp, and the Flyers will have a top notch power play unit featuring Lecavalier, Simmonds, and Streit.
The Rangers will be a different team for the Devils to face with their new system, so the Devils will need to be prepared to defend the quick passing, possession oriented style that the Rangers will bring to those rivalry games.
New Jersey will have to play disciplined hockey on both ends of the ice and on special teams against both of these opponents.
The Devils pre-season games resume tomorrow night versus the New York Islanders at 7 pm from the Prudential Center.