The New Jersey Devils have surged out of the Olympic break: scoring goals, converting power play opportunities, and winning games in a tight playoff race. Their pace and intensity in the games since NHL play resumed has been, for the most part, very good.
Even in the loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, the team showed stretches of very precise passing and offensive play, having scored 4 goals in a losing effort.
The Devils have also played with an aggressiveness since they returned from the extended break that was seen only in short spurts in the games prior to the Olympics. New Jersey has continued to play well on special teams, despite conceding some goals on the penalty kill recently.
New Jersey is right in the mix for a wild card playoff berth, and that march towards the playoffs continues tonight with the Philadelphia Flyers. The games against Philadelphia are matchups that I mark on my calendar prior to the start of the season, and I know many other fans who do the same. The only other team I plan around for the season are the New York Rangers, and the Devils had some great games against both of their rivals this season.
The Devils nearly blew a huge lead in their most recent game with the Carolina Hurricanes and it felt like a case of history repeating, but New Jersey hung on for a 5-4 victory. New Jersey has been aided by the hot offensive play of Adam Henrique, who has been on fire since the Olympic break, who has scored 9 goals in his last 6 games. Henrique centers a line with Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder on the wings. Henrique definitely has a more attacking mindset since the return from the Olympic break, but he has to focus on getting Ryder involved and out of his goal slump.
The newest Devil, Tuomo Ruutu, who was acquired from the Hurricanes, had the winning goal against his former team. He played well on the line with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Ruutu is a great late season addition by the Devils because he will certainly upgrade the left wing position, and he plays with a lot of aggressiveness which fits the Devils system well.
New Jersey has won four of their six games since the Olympic break, and they have 17 games remaining as they chase the before mentioned Red Wings for the final wild card playoff spot. In a fortunate series of events for the Devils, 10 of those remaining 17 games are at home, where the team has a 16-8-7 record.
The Flyers have played well this season, they have 33 wins, and currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. This is an important game for both teams, but realistically, in a tight Eastern Conference, all the games are important from now until the close of the regular season.
The game the Devils played against Detroit recently which they lost 7-4, the Red Wings used the cycle to wear down the Devils. I think the Devils need to employ the cycle against the Flyers, New Jersey has used this technique well in the past to exhaust the Philadelphia players into conceding goals.
I know that the Devils focus on the forecheck to achieve results offensively, which is important, however against a team like the Flyers who feature players like Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lacavalier, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier the Devils need to focus on backchecking the puck as well. Those players can get pucks in deep and they have the speed to win puck battles down low and center passes toward the opposing net.
If the Devils backcheck the puck and use the cycle as well as pass the puck with precision they will give themselves a very good chance at winning this game. I am also intrigued to see how the Devils line of Clowe, Henrique, and Ryder will match up with the Flyers second line of Schenn, Lacavalier, and Wayne Simmonds which could be the determining factor in this game.
Like Old Times
After all the trade talk, Martin Brodeur remained with the team and will start tonight just like old times for the Devils. Upon seeing Marty in the net tonight it will bring back memories of the Devils teams in the past playing in Philadelphia trying to get the puck past the Flyers long-time goaltender Ron Hextall. I am so happy that Brodeur is still with the Devils, and I look forward to watching him play tonight.
The game preview will come later today from my colleague, and keep checking Pucks & Pitchforks as we continue to cover the Devils march to a wild card playoff berth.