Flyers vs. Devils Preview: The Masochist’s Ideal Hockey Game
The Flyers begin a four-game lineup against the New Jersey Devils today. Spare me the gagging noises, I can already feel your pain. With almost nothing to play except the pride (and even this is questionable) between these two struggling rosters, it will certainly be a messy series that will do little more than bring this season a little closer to its merciful conclusion. Who are the players to watch, what are the scenarios and why should you care? All of this and more below.
New Jersey is a trash fire once again, much to the delight of most Flyers fans, but for next week we’ll be collectively subject to Flyers vs. Devils hockey, so there’s really no winner. here. The Devils have taken smart action under the guidance of new GM Tom Fitzgerald, particularly in their ditching Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac for a good choice package by the deadline. Moving two average players who weren’t going to be part of this team’s competitive window was a quality decision, especially as the young core starts to get in shape this season. Now it’s just a question of whether Fitzgerald and the rest of the Devils front office can build on the crop of talent they have in the system.
The Devils are a team totally driven by the play of their youth, with little depth behind them. Of the top 15 WAR players on their roster, 10 are 23 or younger; Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt are leading the way in terms of player value, which roughly mirrors the team’s production ranking. Also noteworthy is outstanding rookie Yegor Sharangovich, who sits near the top of all Calder-related stats this season. Sharangovich has scored around 40 points, 20 goals this year and is tied for second in goals for the team with Hughes.
The Devils are a team that will win quickly, if at all. With a plethora of slightly more available skaters, New Jersey like to play with the pace and beat defenders with a simple formula: go wide and close a head-to-head gap with a higher cross flurry and more skill. The Flyers are one of the slower teams in the NHL by comparison, so it’s a tough match for them. New Jersey are a top-of-the-line Lucky Generation team, ranking 10th in even-matched xGF / 60, but under new head coach Lindy Ruff those numbers weren’t produced by quality shots as much as by quantity, like the Montreal Canadiens. The Devils are 12th in FF / 60 evenly, so it’s an archetypal volume shooting team.
The main weakness of this team is their lackluster goalkeepers. The Devils are 17th in evenly matched xGA / 60, but 7th in GA / 60, indicating a trend throughout the season of opponents finishing against them above expectations. MacKenzie Blackwood has been a roller coaster this year, posting Vezina-caliber play footage followed by intense episodes of can’t stop a beach ball. In terms of collective GSAx, the Devils are one of the worst teams in the league, only ahead of teams like … Philadelphia. The Flyers will likely face Scott Wedgewood in this week’s opener, so they’d be well advised to hit him in the ass early with some tough shots.
As detailed in an article by a certain student whom many call a wonderful genius (people totally say it, don’t look around), the Flyers are unlikely to secure a top-five selection in this draft, even if they lose all the remaining matches in settlement. The remaining games basically don’t matter anyway; win or lose, Philly will depend on the lottery to add impact talent through the draft, and without a chance to propel them into any of the top three picks, the pick will likely be traded. At this point, the final weeks of the 2020-21 hellish season are going to come in handy for two things: evaluating the pipeline and evaluating the dressing room.
Chuck Fletcher explained that he thinks this team just isn’t the right mix of players, hinting at an offseason where some mainstays could be dropped. While this is mostly speculation at this point, it looks like the franchise is trying to discern who cares and who doesn’t. Those who prove they care are rewarded (extension by Scott Laughton), while those who don’t will be bought off during the offseason if Fletcher cares about keeping his job. The home stretch of the year is going to be revealing in this regard. A lot of people think this team has already thrown in the towel, and to some extent I agree, but there are clearly a few players who still look hungry and efficient night after night.
Wade Allison is clearly the guy to watch, but I hope other in-depth young players like Tanner Laczynski and maybe Cam York will have a legitimate NHL appearance as things wind down. The entire remaining schedule is a chance for the front office to tinker with what they currently have and assess what they’re comfortable moving, and Flyers fans should treat it as such. Do not focus on the results on the ice if possible, but rather focus on the performance of young people and unstablished strengths. Pay special attention to ghosts; Tyson Foerster tears him apart there alongside Wisdom and company.
At net, the Flyers will likely start old man Brian Elliott, whose joints need a fair amount of WD-40. The dude is probably carrying a box in a utility belt like Hank Hill so he can bend down to put on his towels at this point. Elliott has looked squeaky, exhausted and underwhelming in his recent starts, so Philadelphia will struggle to win without keeping him relatively clean. Slowing down the pace of the game and keeping this game low will be crucial to any aspiration for victory.
Three big things
- Watch the game of the attackers with a keen eye and try to see them without any prejudices. Who is executing and who is not? There is a good chance that apart from Claude Giroux, you will notice a myriad of errors. Take note and compile your thoughts as we head into the offseason, keeping the sample size in mind, and use what you’ve gathered to gauge how Chuck Fletcher is changing the roster.
- If Brian Elliott looks pretty competent, it’s a game the Flyers can win. The biggest issues for the veteran have been rebound control and lateral mobility (hey, only two of the biggest things to being an NHL-caliber goalie), so if he swallows shots early and follows the puck well. , there are reasons to be optimistic.
- What are the lower lines like compared to a top-tier Devils squad? This is one of the few openings for guys like Aube-Kubel and Laczynski to totally dominate their competition, and they must take advantage of it. If the third and fourth rows don’t crush New Jersey in xG and Corsi battles alongside the scoresheet, that’s problematic and will need to be addressed in the offseason.
Match day music
It’s a game of the Devils, so we need some proper music. Cue it Eternal destiny soundtrack.
Have a good game day, and as always, go Flyers.