Correction: this might be rock bottom for the Devils.
The Devils traveled down the Turnpike to face the Philadelphia Flyers for the third time in nine games, the second time in less than a week and to finish off the season series between these longtime rivals.
It did not go well, to put it mildly.
The Devils lost 6-1 as a Cam Atkinson hat trick helped the Flyers put a hurting on New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
These two teams are trending in two very different directions. The Devils have only two wins in their last 11 games – the two wins over the Flyers at Prudential Center in late November and last week.
The Flyers, on the other hand, have now won three in a row (over Vegas, Arizona and the Devils) since their franchise-tying worst ten-game losing streak concluded at the Golden Knights. All three of their wins have come since they replaced Alain Vigneault with Mike Yeo behind the bench.
The Devils have been dealing with illness of late. Christian Jaros was added to COVID Protocol yesterday to join Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves. Marian Studenic and Kevin Bahl were recalled from AHL Utica to fill in roster spots for the players on COVID Protocol.
Studenic would be returning to the Devils lineup while Bahl would be making his season debut with the big club with these callups.
Mason Geertsen and Janne Kuokkanen were the healthy scratches as Nate Bastian returned to the lineup for New Jersey. Yegor Sharangovich was a late game-time decision as he was dealing with a non-COVID illness but traveled with the team and took warmups.
Team reporter Amanda Stein reported via Twitter this morning that neither team had a morning skate, which did raise some eyebrows as to whether the game would actually be played tonight. She followed up, saying that (on the Devils end) the call was made by head coach Lindy Ruff, who knew that some “players [were] feeling under the weather (non-Covid related)” and needed a rest.
One other note on COVID. Flyers forward Morgan Frost left the game in the first period after only playing about 1:12 of ice time. It was confirmed in the MSG postgame by Yeo (and relayed to viewers by Erika Wachter) that he left as he was placed in COVID Protocol. Something to watch out for in relation to both the Devils and the Flyers going forward.
In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood got the start for the Devils and finally faltered in his career versus Philly.
He stopped 17 of Philly’s 22 total shots he faced for a paltry .773 save percentage on the night. He let in the Flyers’ only shorthanded shot as he turned aside 17 of their 21 even strength shots.
Akira Schmid came on in relief in the third period as he played the final 20 minutes. He stopped seven of the eight total Flyer shots he saw for an .875 save percentage in the game. He was equal to the only shorthanded shot he saw (the Flyers had two total) and saved six of the seven shots he saw at five-versus-five.
The Flyers ended up with 30 total shots on Devils goaltending.
For Philly, Carter Hart got the start, making 26 saves on the Devils’ 27 shots total. He had a nightly .963 save percentage. He got all six power play shots the Devils peppered him with and 20 of their 21 shots at five-on-five.
On the power play, the Devils ended the game 0-for-4 while the Flyers did not have a power play opportunity.
The Devils have never swept a season series from the Flyers in their near-40-year divisional rivalry. New Jersey had the chance to do so tonight, as they were (amazingly) wrapping up their 2021-22 matchups tonight – all before the calendar turns to the new year. This is a truncated three-game season series, however, due to Seattle coming into the league and cutting the number of in-division games down. Some divisional matchups had to suffer and this series was cut to three games as a result.
The Flyers did not want to get swept, three games or not.
They scored early and often. Beginning 9:14 into the game.
Rasmus Ristolainen shot wide and the puck wrapped around the boards to a pinching Philly defenseman Travis Sanheim. Sanheim cut in and shot, trying just to get it on net. The puck ended up trickling by Blackwood. James van Riemsdyk had the secondary assist.
The goal was frustrating for the Devils and Blackwood because Blackwood had just made a series of saves before the goal. Philly had the 1-0 lead, their first lead over the Devils this season.
They would double that up prior to the end of the first period.
At the 18:11 mark of the first period, The Devils’ Tomas Tatar was called for roughing Travis Konecny of the Flyers and Konecny went off for roughing Tatar. These coincidental minors set up two minutes of four-on-four hockey, opening up more room on the ice.
On the four-on-four at 19:35, Sanheim took the puck off of a passing play in the Devils end. He relieved pressure by passing to Ristolainen near the Devils’ blue line. Ristolainen moved it to Atkinson, who was down low near the Devils goal line where he was wide open. He put it in from that angle to make it 2-0 Flyers.
That was Atkinson’s first goal of the night, not to be his last.
Early in the first period, at around the 3:11 mark, Atkinson nearly scored again, as he was stopped on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box. Blackwood stopped him on that and the Devils had had a good power play previous to that, getting three shots off and looking like it was something they could build upon.
But the Flyers kept piling it on.
At the 6:07 mark of the second, the Flyers made it 3-0. Oskar Lindblom took a shot that wound around the boards to Justin Braun at the near point. Braun fired a shot, stepping into the puck. Blackwood, with Dougie Hamilton in his way, briefly lost sight of the puck and Braun’s shot beat him high glove side. Ivan Provorov had the secondary assist on the goal.
Things were looking bleak for the Devils. But less than 30 seconds following the Braun goal, the Devils would breakthrough.
At 6:43 gone by in the second, the Devils showed some fire on the forecheck. Michael McLeod kept the Flyers from being able to clear from their zone and channeled the puck to a pinching PK Subban, who was in the middle of the ice. Subban quickly snapped a wrister by Hart as Bastian provided a screen in front.
It was a good effort by the Devils’ forecheck and they seemed to be back into things.
Then came the backbreaker.
At 14:24 of the second, Philly’s Sean Couturier was called for a trip against Jack Hughes, which put the Devils on another power play chance.
How would they respond? By building on their last opportunity?
The correct answer, of course, was to give up their second shorthanded goal in as many games.
At 16:16 of the second, Provorov tipped a pass that was intended for Hamilton at the point to Atkinson instead. Atkinson was off on a 2-on-1. The Devils had Hamilton back to defend. He did well, making Atkinson take the shot himself. Unfortunately for the Devils, the shot was a rocket of a slap shot that beat Blackwood to make it 4-1 Flyers. Atkinson now had two goals on the night.
The period rounded out with Lindblom adding one of his own.
At the 18:20 mark of the second, Tatar tried to start the breakout by passing to Ty Smith. However, the pass never got to Smith.
Instead, it bounced right to Atkinson, who deflected it to Lindblom. Lindblom was right in front of the New Jersey net and walked in, scoring on Blackwood to make it 5-1 Philly.
The Devils were beating themselves in this game. They were gifting goals to the Flyers on more than a few occasions. Kudos to the Flyers for capitalizing on the opportunities they were getting, but the Devils were largely hurting themselves in this game.
Schmid came on in relief for the third period. He would surrender the final Philly goal of the night.
That one came 7:08 into the final frame when the Devils ended up running around in their own end.
Eventually, following a good defensive play by Jonas Siegenthaler, on which the Devils could not clear on, Max Willman got the puck to Claude Giroux at the near side of the Devils net. He made a nice cross-crease pass to Atkinson at the far post of the Devils net. Giroux had drawn two Devils’ defenders towards him to keep Atkinson wide open in a nice play of his own.
Atkinson was all alone at the side of the net and put the puck in on a layup to compete his seventh career NHL hat trick. This was also his second hat trick against the Devils, as he previously had one when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets versus New Jersey.
And with that, we had our final of 6-1.
The Flyers outshot the Devils 30-27. The Devils won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod winning 65-percent of his personal draws to lead the Devils centers in that category.
Philly ended up with ten team penalty minutes to the Devils’ two as the Flyers did not get a power play on the night. The Flyers led the Devils in hits with 24 to New Jersey’s 22. Each team ended up with 12 blocked shots while the Devils had nine team giveaways to Philly’s four.
Hamilton led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 21:07 logged (which included 4:14 of power play time). Jesper Bratt led the forwards with 19:14 (including 4:01 of PP time) while Andreas Johnsson, Pavel Zacha and Jack Hughes led the forwards in power play time with 4:17 logged.
Hamilton led the Devils in shots on goal with four. Bastian, in his return from being a healthy scratch on Long Island, led the Devils with five hits. Siegenthaler led in blocks with five. Damon Severson led in giveaways with three while Dawson Mercer led in takeaways, also with three.
Next up, the Devils will return home to take on the Vegas Golden Knights at 7 PM on Thursday from Newark. That game will be broadcast on MSG+.
And one more piece of business before I wrap things up for tonight. When writing about the “Broadway/Hayesy” Jersey Auction, which kicked off yesterday, I neglected to give the website for the auction.
Bidding can be done at newjerseydevils.com/broadway. I apologize for the confusion and hope everyone has a great week going forward. We will see you following Thursday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.