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Palmieri, Zajac power Devils past Flyers

by Dan Rosen

PHILADELPHIA -- Wells Fargo Center is becoming a special place for New Jersey Devils forward Kyle Palmieri. He also may want to play the Philadelphia Flyers in their home arena every year on Oct. 29.

Palmieri scored the game-winning goal and had two assists to help the Devils to a 4-1 win against the Flyers on Thursday.

Palmieri's game-winner and three-point night came on the two-year anniversary of his first game in Philadelphia, when he scored two goals, including the winner, for the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 29, 2013.

"That's crazy," Palmieri said. "Sometimes, it's just the luck of the night."

Devils center Travis Zajac scored two power-play goals, each off a pass from Palmieri, giving him seven points (four goals) in the past five games. Zajac had no points in his first four games. He missed a game because of an injury.

"All I had to do was put my stick on the ice," Zajac said. "Great plays by [Palmieri]. He's good back there on the point. He's got his head up and he's smart with the puck."

The key sequence came early in the third period, when Palmieri and Zajac scored 64 seconds apart early in the third period to break open a 1-1 game and give New Jersey a 3-1 lead with 17:28 to play.

Defenseman Andy Greene scored his first goal of the season into an empty net with seven seconds left.

Zajac scored at 18:12 of the second period to answer back after the Flyers took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Luke Schenn's first goal of the season at 15:04.

Goalie Cory Schneider, starting his seventh consecutive game, made 27 saves. New Jersey (5-4-1) has won five of its past six games after starting the season with four straight losses, including three in regulation. Three of the recent wins have come on the road.

More importantly to coach John Hynes, however, is how the Devils responded following their 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, when they allowed 14 shots on goal.

"We talked about that in between the first and second period; we're facing the same test and we have to have a better response than we did the other night," Hynes said. "We did."

New Jersey's power play is a big reason why. It connected twice on five chances and has scored five goals on 15 opportunities in the past four games.

The Devils have scored at least one power-play goal in seven of 10 games. They also had two power play goals in a 5-4 shootout win on the road against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 22.

"They've made good decisions when we've gotten to our sets," Hynes said. "They're not forcing plays, and I think that's important when you have skilled players, they're taking what's given to them and finding a way to get the puck to the net from that. And we've tried to continue to do a good job of getting up the ice, getting in to get to our sets. Once we get there, we're good, but where we have trouble sometimes is when we can't beat the pressure. Tonight we did."

Philadelphia (4-3-2) had its three-game point streak (2-0-1) come to an end. Goalie Steve Mason made 29 saves, but the Flyers never found cohesion, partially a result of chasing the puck for a good portion of the night, coach Dave Hakstol said.

The Flyers won just 29 of 67 faceoffs (43 percent). They managed 68 total shot attempts, but 28 came after Zajac's second power-play goal, when New Jersey started sitting back to protect a two-goal lead.

"We didn't start with the puck very much, that's one area we could look at in the 60 minutes," Hakstol said. "That's the first area of every play. That's an area we've gotta improve."

Hakstol was particularly displeased with the fact that the Flyers had two bench minor penalties for too many men on the ice. The second led to Zajac's second power-play goal.

"I've gotta communicate better on the bench," Hakstol said.

"A lack of focus on those changes, there's no excuse for that," forward Jakub Voracek said. "It should happen twice a year, not twice a game. It came back to bite us in the [butt] in the end, and there's no excuse for that."

Hakstol also was concerned that Zajac's power play goals each came from a pass into the middle of the ice.

Palmieri found him for a redirection goal in the second period with a tape-to-tape diagonal seam pass that eluded two defensemen, Schenn and Nick Schultz. Palmieri also found Zajac alone between the hash marks for a goal on a rising backhanded shot over Mason's blocker in the third.

"Our penalty-killing has been doing a really good job pushing things to the outside, but we've given up three in the last two games from that critical area," Hakstol said. "We'll address that. As a group, I don't think any of us are happy about that."

Zajac's second goal came 64 seconds after Palmieri scored off of an individual rush he created with a blocked shot in the defensive end.

Palmieri blocked Flyers defenseman Evgeny Medvedev's shot, raced to the loose puck and broke down the left side, his off side. He beat Mason with a hard wrist shot from the left circle that went into the top right corner of the net.

"I was able to get a little opening and had a good angle on the shot," Palmieri said. "I tried to beat him to the far side and was lucky enough."

Or maybe there is just something special about Palmieri playing in Philadelphia on Oct. 29.

"Hopefully, we play Philly on Oct. 29 next year here," Palmieri said. "Maybe that's my lucky day."


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