February 13, 2016
Among hockey fans, the New Jersey Devils have long held the reputation of a team that plays boring, defensive-minded hockey. While the current iteration hasn’t been nearly as successful as New Jersey’s mid-‘90s to mid-‘00s neutral zone trapping clubs, the Devils currently lead the league in fewest goals allowed per game.
And they effectively sucked the life out of the Philadelphia Flyers for the opening 20 minutes on Saturday. After a first period in which it took the Flyers 18 minutes to record a shot on goal at even strength, the Devils held an important 1-0 lead.
“They were just quicker, a little bit quicker to everything than we were to everything in the first period,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after the game. “I thought we made the adjustment as we went through the second and third and got a little better in all areas.”
Like Hakstol said, the Flyers were able to rebound and drive their fair share of the play throughout the rest of the game — Shots were 29-12 Flyers and 5v5 Corsi was virtually even in the next two periods — but the Devils won 2-1 in overtime on Adam Henrique’s power-play goal:
In the standings, it was a key loss for the Flyers. Coming into today, the Orange and Black had a chance to cut the Devils’ four-point lead in the wild card race in half with two games in hand on their division rivals. Despite the missed opportunity, they aren’t pressing the panic button yet.
“It wasn't crushing,” Wayne Simmonds said (when asked if the loss was crushing). “We have a lot more games in the season.”
“Crushing” might be the best way to describe Shayne Gostisbehere’s slap shot. The rookie defenseman has been the team’s major bright spot in another down season, and he beat Cory Schneider in the third period with this blast that tied the game up:
That deserves another angle (nice hops on Simmer, by the way):
“He’s got that ability to find a lane and make sure his shot doesn’t get blocked,” Claude Giroux said. “To have that skill at that age is pretty impressive. I remember Kimmo and Pronger were pretty good at getting those shots through, Streit too.”
It was an important shot, especially because coming into today’s game, the Devils were 16-0-1 after leading through two periods. New Jersey is a team that knows how to protect a lead.
And what a great rookie season that Gostisbehere is putting together. Today’s goal extended his point streak to 11 games, which set a couple of records:
• Longest point streak by a rookie in Flyers history (Mikael Renberg).
• Longest point streak by a rookie defenseman in NHL history.
Gostisbehere certainly didn’t think he would set both of those marks.
“Yeah, absolutely not,” Gostisbehere said. “Just sticking with your process mentally, remembering what got you here, staying humble, I think that’s the most important.”
Michael Neuvirth returned to the net for the the Flyers after a two-week absence, and he stopped all but two of the 24 shots he faced. While the first period goal scored by Joseph Blandisi was an excellent move, it was definitely one that Neuvirth will want back:
“I’d say it’s a goal I gotta have,” Neuvirth said.
The final score didn’t end up being the Flyers’ biggest loss of the day. To add injury to insult, they are going to be without their top defenseman for the foreseeable future. Michael Del Zotto left the game at 12:30 in the third period after crashing into Michael Neuvirth and didn’t return.
After the game, general manager Ron Hextall announced that Del Zotto is out with an upper-body injury (that is thought to be his left wrist).
“At this point it looks like he’s going to be out long term,” Hextall said after the game. “We don’t know for sure yet so we will get back to you when we have something more definitive.”
Del Zotto leads the Flyers with an average time on ice of 23:28.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann