NEWARK, N.J. – For the Flyers to beat the Devils in New Jersey, they had to become the new Jersey Devils.
Entering play Saturday, in the last 82 games played in New Jersey – the equivalent of a full season – the Flyers had just 20 wins (20-51-11).
So, if they were going to come into the Prudential Center Saturday, coming off an embarrassing shellacking on home ice some 24 hours earlier, the Flyers were going to have to beat the Devils at their own game.
Slow the game down. Simplify the approach. Limit chances. Forecheck relentlessly. Smother the opposition.
|The plan for the Flyers was to smother the Devils. Hal Gill took that to the nth degree. |
It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing brand of hockey. It’s basically the NHL version of the sleeper hold - Unexciting, yet effective.
But it worked to a tee. The offense continued to struggle, but the one goal by Brayden Schenn was enough as Ray Emery only had to make 14 saves to record his 15th career shutout in a 1-0 victory over the Devils.
“It’s been a tough building for us to come in and play,” coach Craig Berube said. “We finally had enough patience to come in and beat them in a game. That’s basically what it boils down to… I knew the guys would be ready to go tonight. They were obviously very frustrated and upset at the game against Washington and I knew the focus was there. We played a strong game.”
So strong in fact that the Flyers put up some incredible numbers.
First, and perhaps most impressive, the team had zero giveaways the entire game. No turnovers in hockey is a hard thing to accomplish, and yet the Flyers did just that, posting their first goose egg in that statistical category since Dec. 12, 2009, also against New Jersey.
“You can’t give the puck away and turn it over at critical times,” said Berube. This after seeing his team cough it up 16 times in a loss to Anaheim Tuesday followed by a seven giveaway performance in the blowout loss to Washington Friday. “There’s got to be a fine line to the game when you try to make plays or when you get it in deep. We’re getting better, but we still have our moments where you turn it over at the wrong time. Tonight was really good though.”
And it was good from a pride standpoint, because the Flyers, after a miserable performance like Friday, the latest in a series of bad games in the young season, could have just folded the tent and gone home for the weekend.
Instead, they decided to play with a purpose and took it to the Devils much in the same way the Devils have often taken it to them.
“There’s a reason the stuff happened in the game last night,” said Berube of the line brawl and goalie fight. “They care and they’re mad. I know what they’re feeling. I’ve been there. I knew they’d be ready tonight.”
The other statistical treasure was holding the Devils to just 14 shots on goal in the game. It was just the eighth time in a decade that a team had 14 shots or fewer against the Flyers in a game, and was one short of the franchise record for fewest allowed in a road game (13 four times).
“It really was a complete team game from start to finish,” said Emery. “Perhaps the most encouraging thing was the third period where we really took it to them and they really didn’t get anything. I think they had [three] shots. We needed that after last night.”
Emery, who had a lot of time to watch the game with not mot action coming his way, was spot on with his assessment. In the third period, the Devils looked like the Flyers looked Friday – where they couldn’t get the puck into the offensive zone.
The Flyers were buzzing and even killed off two third period penalties making them a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill for the game.
Once again, Berube leaned on Sean Couturier for much of the shutdown work. Couturier took 10 third period shifts totaling 8:25 of ice time. His line with Matt Read and Michael Raffl were on the ice a lot, and they played a strong game on the whole. Read took three first period penalties, but aside from that had a much better defensive game. Raffl added to that with equally hard work.
It was just Couturier this time though.
|Claude Giroux still didn't score, but he played an excellent defensive game to help stymie the Devils. |
Claude Giroux played a complete game defensively as well, leading all forwards in ice time at 23:52 of which 9:42 came on 11 shifts in the third period.
Scott Hartnell played well, actually sliding to stop a would-be wraparound goal by Dainius Zubrus on one play in the third period that had Emery caught out of position.
And reunited as the top defensive pairing was Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen who, for one night, looked like the pairing that was so good together in years past.
Speaking of defensive pairs, Berube reinserted Andrej Meszaros into the lineup and gave Hal Gill his first game of the season, removing Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn, both of whom had been struggling with turnovers.
Meszaros and Gill played well together. Meszaros picked up the primary assist on the lone goal and the pair played some key minutes, combining for 8:43 in the third period.
“I tried to be as steady as I could and be composed under pressure,” Gill said. “It’s tough, but that’s the kind of greasy road win we want. We want to play like that, wear them down and battle. We needed that win so it was big to get it.”
The Flyers have now won three of their last five and have a couple days off before a quick trip to Raleigh to take on the scuffling Carolina Hurricanes, who have lost five straight.
“This is something to build off of,” said Brayden Schenn. “You never want to get shelled 7-0 in your own building like we did. It wasn’t just that. It was 7-0 and we had no compete and a lot of things that went wrong. We put that behind us, wiped the slate clean and now we can build off this.”
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