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5 THINGS: Flyers vs. Devils

Returning to home ice after a three-game road trip, interim head coach Mike Yeo's Philadelphia Flyers (10-12-4) will host Lindy Ruff's New Jersey Devils (10-11-5) on Tuesday evening.

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

GAME NOTES

Returning to home ice after a three-game road trip, interim head coach Mike Yeo's Philadelphia Flyers (10-12-4) will host Lindy Ruff's New Jersey Devils (10-11-5) on Tuesday evening. Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. ET (NBCSP, 97.5 The Fanatic).

This is the third and final meeting of the season between the teams, and the lone game in Philadelphia. The Flyers are 0-2-0 in the two games so far. Philadelphia has yet to play with a lead at any point in the season series.

On Nov. 28 in Newark, the Flyers pushed back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-0 to tie the game at 2-2 in the third period. New Jersey then converted a puck exchange miscue between Rasmus Ristolainen and Ivan Provorov into a 3-2 lead and went on to pull away for a 5-2 final.  

The teams rematched at the Prudential Center on Dec. 8. The Flyers were subpar in every major aspect of the game, and fell by a 3-0 score. 

Jesper Bratt gave the Devils a 1-0 lead early in the second period. Dawson Mercer (7th) added a power play goal midway through the game. Michael McLeod tacked on an empty net goal in the final 30 seconds of the third period. Carter Hart made 24 saves on 26 shots. Mackenzie Blackwood was not tested often and turned back 25 mostly routine shots. The Flyers generated only two high-danger chances all night.

Since the shutout loss in New Jersey last Wednesday, the Flyers ended their 10-game winless streak with a 4-3 win in Vegas on Friday. The next night, the Flyers captured a 5-3 victory in Arizona. Meanwhile, the Devils sustained a 3-2 home loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday and a 4-2 road loss to the New York Islanders the next night.

Here are five things to watch in the Flyers vs. Devils season series finale.

1. Flyers System Tweaks

The Flyers have only had one practice since the coaching change. The team had a 45-minute session at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees on Monday. Beyond that, the team has had a few video sessions and meetings.

Nonetheless, there are no secrets as to the overriding goals in what the Flyers are trying to adjust and improve: smaller gaps between the forwards and defense, executing 5-to-10 foot passes with more frequency and consistency rather than stretching the ice, subtle changes in how the team attempts to exit their own defensive zone, navigate the neutral zone and enter the attack zone.

The team's off-puck structure has been tightened up a bit the last few games although it hasn't been infallible and there's still room to improve. The bigger challenge will be to maintain structure while also making plays with the puck at a quicker pace. 

2. Lineup Continuity

The Flyers are still without Joel Farabee (shoulder), Derick Brassard (hip), Ryan Ellis (lower-body issue, four games played all season) and Nate Thompson (shoulder surgery, out long term). 

Farabee is ahead of schedule and could be back in the lineup right before or right after the leaguewide Christmas break. He practiced with the team on Monday, albeit in a non-contact jersey as an extra skater.

Brassard skated on his own before practice on Monday. He felt much better at practice last week but felt discomfort again in his one-game return to the Flyers lineup. He has been held out again since then for precautionary reasons, according to Yeo.

Ellis is said to be progressing in his rehab but has yet to rejoin the team at practice. He underwent a followup MRI on Monday, and did not skate. Ellis' return is not imminent. 

Early this season, the Flyers had a good deal of lineup continuity, at least at 5-on-5 (power play units were juggled often).However, due to injuries and the team's scoring difficulties over a six-week period, the club rarely had the same starting lineups from period-to-period in November and early December, much less from game-to-game. 

Over the last two games, the Flyers have primarily stuck to the lineup listed below. These combos are likely to hold over entering the Devils game as well:

21 Scott Laughton- 14 Sean Couturier- 11 Travis Konecny
48 Morgan Frost - 28 Claude Giroux-89 Cam Atkinson
71 Max Willman - 13 Kevin Hayes- 25 James van Riemsdyk
23 Oskar Lindblom - 38 Patrick Brown - 17 Zack MacEwen

9 Ivan Provorov - 61 Justin Braun
7 Travis Sanheim - 70 Rasmus Ristolainen
3 Keith Yandle - 8 Kevin Connauton

79 Carter Hart
[35 Martin Jones]

3. Inside the Numbers

The Flyers went from Oct. 28 to Dec. 5 without scoring more than three goals in any game, and managing three goals only three times. Since the coaching change, the Flyers have four or five goals in three of the last four games. 

New Jersey has struggled mightily on the power play this season; as have the Flyers until a surge over the last five games. New Jersey enters this game ranked 31st on the man advantage (12.7 percent) while the Flyers have bumped themselves from the bottom of the league to 24th (16.7 percent) over the course of the last 10 days.

In the two head-to-head meetings this season, the Devils are a combined 1-for-6 on the power play while the Flyers are 0-for-5.

Although the Devils overall record is unimpressive, some of the underlying numbers portend a potential upswing later this season: 

1) The team ranks in the top one-third of the league in shot-attempt differentials at 5-on-5 and are in the middle of the pack (14th overall, 50.1 percent) in Expected Goals share.This does not always translate to wins and losses over a season but the win-loss odds favor teams who are on the positive end of puck possession and shot quality differentials.

2) The Devils have been a solid third period team, holding a cumulative 32-23 goal differential edge.

3) While there's room for the Devils to improve their winning percentage in games where they score first (5-3-3), New Jersey has fared better than average (5-8-2) when opponents score first. It's easier for teams to improve upon the former than the latter. Conversely, the Flyers have done decently when scoring first (8-2-3) but have had a very hard time coming back in games when trailing first (2-10-1).

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers vs. Devils: Goal/Shot differentials by period, Special Teams comparatives, GF/GA by situation. pic.twitter.com/8e7ZWBmHeT

4. Behind Enemy Lines: New Jersey Devils

The Devils are a team with both youth and speed in their favor. They also like to have their defensemen join the attack, led by Dougie Hamilton (6g, 9a including a goal and assist against the Flyers on Nov. 28). 

In New Jersey's two meetings against Philadelphia to date, the Flyers have had problems containing Devils leading scorer Jesper Bratt (8g, 16a including two goals and three assists against the Flyers). Bratt brings a five-game point streak into this tilt and has points in 10 of his last 11 games. 

Bratt's linemate, Andreas Johnsson (9g, 10a) is tied with Pavel Zacha (9g, 6a) for the team goal-scoring lead. Johnsson torched the Flyers for two goals and two assists in the Nov. 28 game. Zacha has been held off the scoresheet in the two games against the Flyers to date.

Twenty-year-old Dawson Mercer, selected by the Devils with the 18th overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, has posted seven goals and eight assists across the first 26 games of his rookie season. 

As is often the case with players his age, Mercer started out hot offensively and then hit the wall a bit: one point in his last seven games (goal vs. Flyers on Dec. 8) and one goal (three points) over the last 10 games. However, he brings a high two-way upside and has been able to remain in the starting lineup.

Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood has had a lot of success in his still-young career against the Flyers. In 10 games, he's 8-0-2 with a 2.07 GAA and .934 save percentage. His shutout last Wednesday was his second against Philadelphia. 

While the Devils have given the Flyers a hard time (6-2-1 over the 2020-21 and 2021-22 season series), most of the rest of the NHL has handled them. New Jersey is 2-6-2 over its last 10 games. Both wins came at the Flyers' expense. 

The Devils have a handful of players who are under the weather. Ruff said on Monday that a couple of players are in COVID-19 protocol and a few others are believed to have non-COVID minor illnesses.

5. Players to Watch: Laughton and Sharangovich

Scott Laughton was instrumental in the Flyers' comeback bid against the Devils in the Nov. 28 game, notching a shorthanded goal and a vital primary assist to almost singlehandedly get the game tied at 1-1 and 2-2. Laughton has points in three of his last four games, including two goals.  

At practice on Monday, he filled in at center for Sean Couturier (maintenance day). Couturier is expected to be fine to play in this game. Laughton will move back to left wing on the line with Travis Konency and Couturier.

Twenty-three Belarusian forward Yegor Sharangovich brings a high-skill game to the table although he can be inconsistent. He has one assist in the two games against the Flyers so far this season. Last season, however, he burned Philadelphia for five goals and two assists in eight games.

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