Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers at New Jersey Devils

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After being swept on the road by the Boston Bruins, can the Philadelphia Flyers rebound against the New Jersey Devils?

After the Boston Bruins swept them in their first road trip, the Philadelphia Flyers hope to bounce back. Early on, the New Jersey Devils have been playing surprisingly good hockey. The Bruins are the only common opponent between the Devils and Flyers after six games. New Jersey battled Boston into overtime in both games, winning the three-on-three overtime play and losing in a shootout. Philadelphia must come out of the locker room ready to beat the brakes off the Devils.

For the second time this season, the Flyers lost by five goals. Tension boiled over as Carter Hart broke his stick over the crossbar. Currently, Philadelphia is in a three-way tie for third place in the Mass Mutual Division. A team they’ve swept, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are ahead in second place. Tonight, the Flyers need to find their identity: are they a team unfit for a playoff push, or are they underachieving and better than what they’ve shown?

New Jersey Devils – Forward Spotlight

Jack Hughes is one of many promising young players on New Jersey’s roster. During the shutout victory versus the New York Islanders, Hughes was one of the best players on the ice. He played well on the top line but produced on the powerplay unit. With three minutes left in the first period, he scored the game-winning powerplay goal. A wrist shot from the slot, burning Ilya Sorokin.

His game-winning powerplay goal was the only shot taken by Hughes in the 2-0 victory. So far, Hughes leads the Devils in scoring. He’s only shot the puck eight times in 2020-2021 but has converted three goals (37.5%.) Philadelphia cannot afford to give him any high percentage looks. Limiting Hughes would mean playing a disciplined brand of hockey.

New Jersey Devils – Defenseman Spotlight

As dangerous as Hughes was in the 2-0 victory versus the Islanders, Ty Smith was even better. Smith was the best skater on the ice for New Jersey. Not only did he contribute to a defensive shutout performance, but he tallied an assist on each of the Devils scoring plays. When Smith wasn’t setting up a scoring play, he was playing the body of oncoming forwards. He gets the job done on special teams and during even-strength.

Smith most often begins with a feed to the top of the slot, presenting a high percentage shot. It is how Hughes scored that powerplay goal and how Nikita Gusev achieved a scoring chance. Most of his scoring happens during even-strength hockey. That is a credit to Smith’s ability to make a decision quickly with his passing. He is second on New Jersey in scoring, only trailing Hughes.

New Jersey Devils – Goaltender Spotlight

MacKenzie Blackwood remains unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols. In all likelihood, the Devils will start Scott Wedgewood tonight versus the Flyers. Last time out, Wedgewood was the goaltender who blanked the Islanders. He turned away 28 shots during that performance. Over two starts in 2020-2021, Wedgewood is 1-1-0 with a 93.7% save percentage while averaging two goals-against.

Philadelphia Flyers’ Phlight Deck

Shayne Gostisbehere returns to the lineup tonight for Philadelphia. His return brings back a little bit of stability, considering he was the original plan on the top pair with Ivan Provorov. That will likely relegate Justin Braun back to the third pair with Robert Hagg and perhaps Mark Friedman with Travis Sanheim. The idea here is that Erik Gustafsson would become the seventh defenseman. He and Gostisbehere are similar players, so the powerplay should still carry a buzz.

Brian Elliott earns a second start this season. The first time out, he denied forty shots during his shutout victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Elliott has always provided stability while Hart struggled in the net. He’s relieving Hart, once again following a 6-1 loss, to get the Flyers right. A victory tonight for Philadelphia means they are not out of the early playoff race.

Connor Bunnaman and Samuel Morin were recalled from the taxi squad. In all fairness, who grasps the attention is Morin. If he is inserted into the lineup tonight, Alain Vigneault is employing his “get physical” strategy for the first time in 2020-2021. Morin is his ace when he is playing to knock bodies into boards and bully the opposition. The risk in playing Morin at LW while in a two-game losing streak could pay defensive dividends, resulting in a victory.

Prediction

Not since Dave Hakstol was the head coach did it feel that the Flyers were underdogs against New Jersey. With the way the defense has been performing, it is hard not to feel slighted. Not too long ago, Gostisbehere was a guy everyone wanted to trade to wherever, but now he’s an upgrade to a depleted defense. I trust Elliott, who tends to be effective away from home. Picking the away team tonight feels right; 3-2 in favor of Philadelphia.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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