The Devils had seemingly hit rock bottom in their game versus the Nashville Predators. They had no compete and seemed almost flat.
Thankfully, the NHL schedule makers had a remedy right on tap for New Jersey: a rivalry game against the Philadelphia Flyers. New Jersey is 5-1-1 in their last seven against their rivals. The Devils came away with their first victory in seven games in their final home game before the Christmas break, winning 4-0.
The Devils knew they would have a rough go of it, as Philly is playing well. The always tough Flyers just came off of a ten game winning streak (their longest since 1985) and were 11-1-1 in their last 13. Last season, it took the Flyers until mid-January to get their 20th win. They already have 20 in their rearview mirror right now. So Philly, if you will pardon the pun, has come out flying.
It was the 192nd all-time matchup between the Jersey Turnpike rivals since the Devils moved to New Jersey. And it was a bit of a throwback game, as we shall see.
Devils General Manager Ray Shero told Deb Placey and John MacLean on the pregame show they “showed what we are capable of early” and that with their struggles now, they know what they can do again. The Devils responded to their GM by playing one of their most complete games all year to date. They clicked at both ends of the ice and Cory Schneider was able to hold down the fort and make the big save when needed, in earning his and the team’s first shutout of the season.
Roster-wise, the Devils announced that Jacob Josefson was put on injured reserve retroactive to December 17 with a concussion. Defenseman Seth Helgeson was called up to take his roster spot and would make his season debut tonight. Luke Gazdic was also back in to add some grit to the team. Healthy scratches for New Jersey were Nick Lappin, Kyle Quincey and Devante Smith-Pelly. Sitting for Philly was Boyd Gordon and Nick Schultz.
The goaltending matchup saw Cory Schneider making 16 saves on 16 Flyer shots in getting the shutout victory. Steve Mason actually started the game for Philadelphia. He was 0-7-0 all-time versus the Devils, so it came as a bit of a surprise. After he gave up two goals on the first eight shots he saw, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol switched things up, putting Edison, New Jersey native Anthony Stolarz in in the second period. Stolarz grew up going to Devils games at the Meadowlands and Prudential Center and was a huge Martin Brodeur fan. He made 12 saves on 14 shots faced. The Devils had 22 shots total.
The Devils got on the board in the first period on the power play. Nick Cousins had gone off at 6:18 for high sticking Vernon Fiddler. At 7:40, Damon Severson took the puck at the point. He dished off to Mike Cammalleri at the top of the near faceoff circle. Cammalleri fired and PA Parenteau tipped the puck by Mason to give New Jersey the 1-0 lead. On the night, the Devils were 2-for-6 on the power play while Philly was 0-for-2.
The Devils doubled their lead at 13:26 when Miles Wood powered the puck behind the net. He dropped it off for Adam Henrique, who shot on Mason. Wood was there to pot the rebound and put the Devils up 2-0.
From there, things got very, very chippy to say the least. It began when Sergey Kalinin collided with a Flyer at center ice. The Devils took exception to the play (although it was by no means a dirty hit – the team was just trying to stick up for one another) and a scrum broke out along the benches. In the end, Gazdic and Fiddler went off for roughing for the Devils and Brandon Manning and Nick Cousins went off for the Flyers for the same infraction at 13:48. Things canceled out, but that was not the end of it on the night.
A few minutes later, at 16:30, Helgeson and Dale Weise dropped the mitts in what was an evenly matched fight. In the meantime, near the benches, Radko Gudas took a cheap shot at Taylor Hall that Fiddler took exception to. In the end, Helgeson and Weise each got five for fighting while Fiddler got two for roughing and Gudas took a roughing call against Fiddler (that was served by Travis Konecny) and against Hall. The Devils would be on the power play.
At 18:39, both Claude Giroux and Damon Severson took unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Then, as time expired on a period that took 45 minutes to play in real time, Mike Cammalleri and Cousins fought. Wayne Simmonds took a roughing call on the play against Jon Merrill, which would put the Devils on the power play going into the second period.
Overall, there were 46 penalty minutes handed out in the first frame, 26 of which went to the Flyers. It was like a condensed throwback to the Broad Street Bullies days. But the Devils were staying in it and challenging the Flyers while still maintaining a 2-0 lead.
Things settled down a little bit in the second period, but the physical play continued.
The Devils took a three goal lead at 13:49 when Hall wrapped the puck around the boards to Parenteau. He gave it back to Hall in the corner, who whipped one to Adam Henrique, who was camped out in the slot and fired it by Stolarz (who had come on in relief). The assist for Hall ended his six game point scoring drought. The Devils, as a team, also had their first three goal lead in a game since November 6 against Carolina.
But Philly is one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL and are always dangerous. At 14:13 Toronto reviewed a save that Cory made to see if it was, in fact, a goal. The call on the ice was that it was no goal, as the shot from Jakub Voracek was pulled off the line by Cory’s glove just in the nick of time. Toronto agreed with the call on the ice, which stood and the shutout stayed intact.
The Devils would be tested when Jon Merrill was called for interference against Konecny at 19:14 of the second. The Flyers power play would go to work on fresh ice in the third period.
But the Devils held off that onslaught and would add a power play goal of their own late in the third. That happened after a scrum at 17:41 when Adam Henrique and Wayne Simmonds were given a game misconduct, as was Radko Gudas. Simmonds was also given an extra unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Devils a power play late.
They capitalized when Travis Zajac dug the puck out of the corner and gave to John Moore at the point. He went point to point with Andy Greene, who fired on net. Kyle Palmieri tipped the shot by Stolarz and the Devils had a 4-0 lead. This came at 18:38 of the third.
The game ended, appropriately, with Palmieri and Travis Konecny jawing as the final buzzer sounded.
Next up for the Devils, after that emotional game, they travel to Pittsburgh tomorrow to take on the Stanley Cup champs. The Devils improved to 3-1-2 against the Metropolitan Division with their win tonight. Unfortunately, the Penguins will not be too happy after getting beaten big time by Columbus tonight (the Blue Jackets won their eleventh in a row in that game and took over first place in the division). Hopefully, the Devils can keep up what they started in this game and build on it.
In other NHL news, congratulations go out to former Devil and Flyer Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers. He had an assist in their game tonight, which brought him to 1,888 all time in points. That moved him up to second place on the NHL’s all-time points leader’s list passing Mark Messier and putting him just behind Wayne Gretzky. Congratulations again to NHL legend, the ageless Jaromir Jagr!