In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I take a look at the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils rival currently hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. But the team has gone through some adversity as of late, losing three goaltenders and their leading scorer, Jeff Carter. Can this team succeed in the playoffs without those integral pieces?
The Flyers have some solid, but not great, forwards on the team. With the injury to Jeff Carter, the team lost their leading scorer and one of their best goal scorers. One of the best forwards on the team is Mike Richards. The young captain has 28 goals and 30 assists through 76 games, and his play on the penalty kill and powerplay are stellar. He’s one of the better two-way forwards in the game today. After Richards, the Flyers have several role players. Simon Gagne, who could be a great goal scorer, has only played 52 games this season. The same can be said for Danny Briere. What I don’t like about the Flyers is the injury risk throughout all of their lines. Gagne usually has one major injury per year, and Briere hasn’t been fully healthy since signing with Philadelphia (8 years, $52 million with a no trade clause). Both of these guys can make plays and put the puck in the net. With one major weapon already down, another injury to a scoring forward would sink this team.
The Flyers first defensive pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle are extremely good. Both defenseman combine for a plus/minus rating of 41. Pronger leads the team in assists, and has chipped in 10 goals during the season. But that has been one of the only bright spots for the Flyers defense this year. They rank near the middle of the pack in goals against, allowing 202 so far this season. They also rank 25th in shots against, with 2,184 shots taken against their goalies. Coming into the season, the team had high hopes for their defense. But so far those expectations haven’t been met, and they have underperformed this season.
Philadephia has dressed four goaltenders this season, and only one of them remains healthy today: Brian Boucher. The first starter, Ray Emery, was enjoying a great comeback season But an abdominal strain – and the resulting surgery from the injury – knocked him out for the season. Next came Michael Leighton, who looked terrible in Carolina. The Flyers got lucky again, as Leighton played exceptionally well with the team. But an ankle injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. They even gave rookie John Backlund an opportunity, but he was injured during his first ever start. Now, their playoff chances rest on Brian Boucher, a goalie who has never started more than 45 games in a season. His career save percentage is under .900. Clearly, goalie is the weakest link of this team. The Flyers cannot depend on Boucher to bring win them a series. He’s the weakest goalie coming into the playoffs. This will, without a doubt, hold back Philadelphia in the playoffs this year.
So, where do the Flyers sit coming into the playoffs? They seem to be one of the weakest teams qualifying for the playoffs. They’re missing their leading scorer, and the defense has been underwhelming all season. Now, they need to depend on a career backup who has never played well in the N.H.L. The Flyers look like the surest bet to be a one and done in the playoffs this year.
Coming into tonight’s game, the New Jersey Devils sat two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division. And the Devils, facing off against the Boston Bruins, were undefeated against the Boston Bruins.
The Devils should have walked away with two points. Instead, Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal to help Boston defeat the Devils, 1-0, in overtime tonight at the Prudential Center.
The Bruins started their game-winning attack at their own blue line off an Ilya Kovalchuk turnover. Bergeron carried the puck into the zone and fired a shot on goalie Martin Brodeur. The puck deflected to the corner, where Bergeron gathered it in. He sent a pass to Mark Stuart, who fired a shot from the blue line. Mark Recchi tipped the shot on Brodeur, and the rebound came to Bergeron. The Bruins center put it into the open net for his 18th goal of the season.
Many of the Devils believe the referees should have penalized the Bruins for hooking Kovalchuk.
“Kovie is getting mugged there in the neutral zone and there’s no call,” Brodeur said to Tom Gulliti of the Bergen Record. “It doesn’t feel good because I think everybody thought we were going to get a call there. All game long, these referees, I don’t know what they were watching, but it was kind of a different game for them than for us. But you have to battle through this. You have to get used to it. In the playoffs, that’s what’s going to be.”
Devils center Patrik Elias received a game misconduct penalty after the game for complaining to the refs. Elias would only say “I voiced my opinion.”
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire thought the refs missed the call.
“When Kovalchuk had the puck, I thought he was hooked twice,” Lemaire said to Gulliti. “But, at the end of game like that, a lot of times they will skip these calls.”
The Bruins controlled play throughout the game, dominating the Devils and outshooting their opponent. By the end of the second period, Boston doubled the Devils shot total, 22-11.
Both teams struggled to get any quality scoring chances. Boston almost struck early in the first period,
when Stuart rang a shot off the post from the point. They threatened again in later in the period, but Brodeur stopped that chance. Defenseman Dennis Wideman took a shot from the point, and the rebound laid loose in the crease. Brodeur dove to his right and covered the puck just as Marco Sturm attempted to put in the rebound.
Brodeur finished with his 33 saves in the loss.
The Devils got their first chance at 13:37 of the first period. Boston goalie Tuukka Rask misplayed a puck in his own zone, and the puck sat near the net. Dean McAmmond tried to get the puck, but he was apparently tripped before he could get a shot on net. No penalty was called.
David Clarkson nearly put the Devils ahead in the third period. Clarkson’s shot from 20 feet went past the glove of Rask, but it hit the crossbar and skittered wide of net.
“It just nicked my glove,” Rask said. “I don’t think they counted it as a save but I did.”
Rask finished the game with 21 saves for his sixth career shutout.
With the win, the Bruins kept a hold of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston stayed two points in front of the Atlanta Thrashes and four points in front of the New York Rangers. Both teams won their games tonight.
The overtime loss guaranteed the Devils one point. They now sit one point behind Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have six games remaining.
The Devils next game is Friday, April 2, against the Blackhawks at the Prudential Center.
There were no penalties called until the third period, when each team received two minors…The Devils, who were undefeated against the Bruins, finished with a 3-1-0 record against them this season…This is the seventh time the Devils were shutout this season.
Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal at 4:42 to defeat the Devils, 1-0, tonight at the Prudential Center.
Mark Stuart took a shot from the point that deflected off of Brodeur. The puck came right to Bergeron, and the center put it home for his 18th goal of the season.
Zajac and Parise had a great opportunity to score at 2:20 of the overtime period. The line kept the puck in, and Parise fired the puck short-side and high. Rask was just able to get a piece of the puck and deflect it away for the save.
The Devils led the shot category in the third, 9-8. Boston leads the overall shots, 30-20.
Both teams will earn a point, which can be a big point for Boston. If the Thrashers win, Boston will still hold eighth place in the conference.
The Devils had a great kill late in the period. Elias was sent to the box for tripping Patrice Bergeron at 17:06 of the third period. The Devils didn’t allow the Bruins many chances, and afterward the Devils had some good chances in the offensive zone.
The Devils had the first powerplay opportunity of the night at 7:03 of the period. They had a few good chances, but didn’t register a goal.
Here are some updates from around the league. The Rangers lead the Islanders, 4-2, in the third period. The Thrashers lead the Maple Leafs, 3-2, in the third period. The Capitals and Senators are tied, 4-4, in the third period.
Brodeur had to make a great save 44 seconds into the first period to keep the Bruins off the board. Michael Ryder brought the puck into the zone and skated around Andy Greene. He took the puck to the net and tried to slip a puck low on the glove side. Brodeur stretched his arm and stoned Ryder.
The Bruins lead the period in shots, 9-6. They lead the game total, 22-11.
While there hasn’t been a goal, the Bruins have the better scoring chances through two periods. Boston has made Brodeur work to keep them off the board through two periods. The Devils, on the other hand, haven’t put much pressure on Rask.
Here are some updates from around the league. The Rangers scored three goals and lead the Islanders, 3-2, in the second period. Atlanta is leading Toronto, 2-1, near the end of the second period. The Capitals scored two goals to pull even with the Senators, 3-3, in the second period.
There hasn’t been much to talk about this period. At 10:26 of the second period, the Bruins lead the shot category, 4-1.
Lemaire reunited the line of Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. Patrik Elias shifted back down and will now center the second line of Kovalchuk and Zharkov.
Here are some updates from around the league. The Islanders lead the Rangers, 2-1, in the second period. Atlanta leads Toronto, 2-0, in the second period. Ottawa leads Washington, 2-1, in the second period.
The Bruins led the shot category, 13-6, in the first period.
That wasn’t a great period at all. The Devils couldn’t breakout, and they never put any pressure on Rask or the Bruins defense. Brodeur had to play well to keep the Bruins off the board.
Here are some updates from around the league. The Islanders are beating the Devils, 2-0, after the first period. Ottawa is currently leading Washington, 3-1, after the first period.
The Bruins once again had a great scoring chance at 17:13 of the first period. Daniel Paille held the puck behind the net, and fed a pass to Steve Begin on the crease. Brodeur stopped the initial shot and a rebound to keep the Bruins scoreless.
The Devils fourth line almost created an empty-net chance for the Devils at 13:37 of the first period. The forecheckers of the Devils forced goalie Tuukka Rask to make a bad pass, and the puck sat in front of an empty net. Dean McAmmond tried to knock the puck home, but the Bruins cleared the zone.
Martin Brodeur made a diving save at 11:21 of the first period to keep Boston off the board. After a turnover by the Devils, the Bruins worked the puck to the point. A Bruins defender shot the puck toward the net, where Brodeur made the initial save. The puck bounced to his right, and Sturm tried to jam the puck home. Brodeur covered the puck with his blocker hand to freeze play.
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire continued to juggle the lines in tonight’s games. He moved rookie winger Vladimir Zharkov to the second line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. Dainius Zubrus spent pre-game warmups with the second line, but he is now on the fourth line with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Dean McAmmond.
Zach Parise blocked a Dennis Seidenberg shot at 4:50 of the first period. Parise immediately went to the ice, but he got up and skated to the bench. He hasn’t missed a shift in the period.
Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart almost gave the Bruins an early lead. He hit the left post with a shot from the point at 1:50 of the first period.
Here were tonight’s starting lineups:
Marco Sturm-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi; Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg; Tuukka Rask.
Zach Parise – Patrik Elias – Jamie Langenbrunner; Martin Skoula – Paul Martin; Martin Brodeur
The Devils come into this game two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Atlantic Division. New Jersey does have a game in hand against their rivals.
The Bruins are currently eighth in the conference, two points ahead of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Martin Brodeur will start in net for the Devils. Tuukka Rask will start for Boston.
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire will dress the same players who played Sunday in Philadelphia. Jay Pandolfo, Rod Pelley, Anssi Salmela and Mark Fraser are tonight’s healthy scratches. There were some line changes, as Dainius Zubrus moved back to right wing on the second line. Brian Rolston moved back down to the third line.
Here are the lines for tonight’s game:
Forwards: Zach Parise – Patrik Elias – Jamie Langebrunner; Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Dainius Zubrus; Brian Rolston – Rob Niedermayer – David Clarkson; Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – Dean McAmmond – Vladimir Zharkov
Defenseman: Bryce Salvador – Andy Greene; Colin White – Mike Mottau; Martin Skoula – Paul Martin
Goalie: Martin Brodeur
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Ottawa Senators, who currently hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Senators, who limped to a 36-35-11record in 2008-2009, have dramatically improved this season. The team, who sits at 41-30-5, have used young talent and rode goalie Brian Elliot to the fifth seed.
After trading Dany Heatley and fifth round draft pick to San Jose, it looked as if the Senators would remain in rebuilding mode. The team received Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, and Cheechoo couldn’t even stick with the team. But the forwards have played well this season, putting away the doubts of many analysts. The team has four 20 goal scorers, with Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza leading the way. Michalek, who rounds out the first line with Alfredsson and Spezza, also has 20 goals. That’s a lot of firepower on the first line for the team. But behind the firepower, the forwards don’t do well defensively. They only have four forwards with a positive plus/minus number. That usually shows the forwards aren’t responsible defensively. Come playoff time, that can hurt the Senators. Two-way hockey grows in importance, because one defensive miscue can cost a team a game and potentially a series. While the forwards can score goals, they also don’t give much help defensively.
The Senators boast a deep and talented blue line. Chris Phillips leads all N.H.L. defenseman with eight goals, and Filip Kuba leads in all points with 28 points. But their offensive talent overshadows the weakness on the blue line. The Senators currently rank 18th in goals against average, and when you factor just 5-on-5 play, that number falls to 28th. That’s a big, ugly number for a playoff team. When facing high-powered offensive teams, that can be a deciding factor. Couple that with the lack of defensive help from the forwards, and the Ottawa defense has more cracks than it shows on the surface. They do own the seventh best penalty kill, which can cover some of those cracks. But the weak play during 5-on-5 will hamper them in any playoff series.
The Senators came into the season riding Pascal Leclaire, an average goalie at best. But since an injury sidelined Leclaire, Brian Elliot has emerged as the team’s number one goalie. He’s been a pleasant surprise for the Senators. The young goalie has a 27-17-3 record with five shutouts. He also has a 2.50 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Those numbers may not knock you over, but he’s brought a stabilizing force in net. The disadvantage, however, is that Elliot is young and inexperienced. That could be a major factor come playoff time. But he’s stabilized a position that has been volatile for the past few seasons, and he’s one of the reasons the Senators sit in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Overall, the Ottawa Senators look to be a good, but not great, playoff team. They do have some scoring depth, including some serious offensive ability on the blue line. But they also have some glaring holes. The offense doesn’t seem to backcheck well or play solid defense, and their blueliners rank middle to bottom of the league in goals against. While the penalty kill is solid, these stats can not be ignored. While Elliot has been solid, he’s relatively unproven in the playoffs. We’ve seen several of these goalies succeed (Semyon Varlamov, for example), but it still needs to be a concern for the Senators. Ottawa is good, but not great.
The Matchup: The Boston Bruins (34-29-12) face off against the New Jersey Devils (44-26-5). This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Devils currently lead the season series, 3-0-0.
The Last Bruins Game: Boston lost to the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, last night in Boston. David Krejci gave the Bruins an early 1-0 lead, but the Sabres responded with three straight goals to take a lead. Bruins coach Claude Jullien pulled Tim Thomas after he gave up three goals on 14 shots. Tuukka Rask stopped 19 shots after coming off the bench. Ryan Miller stopped 40 shots in the victory.
The Last Devils Game: The Flyers thumped the Devils, 5-1, Sunday in Philadelphia. Martin Brodeur allowed four goals on 19 shots and was pulled after the second period. The Devils broke Brian Boucher’s shutout with Ilya Kovalchuk’s 39th goal of the season. Boucher made 32 saves for his sixth win of the season.
The Last Bruins – Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Bruins, 3-2, March 15 in New Jersey. Rob Niedermayer, David Clarkson and Zach Parise scored three goals on 12 shots against Thomas, chasing him from the game in the first period. Blake Wheeler and Patrice Bergeron scored to pull within one, but the Devils held on for the win.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils need to play better than Sunday in Philadelphia.That game was an absolute stinker, and I think it was expected after a playoff-clinching game Saturday against Montreal. But this late in the season isn’t a great time to turn in stinkers. The Devils currently sit two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division title. As I discussed here, the Devils want to be in position to clinch the second seed. The only way to do that is defeat quality opponents, and the team has one in Boston tonight.
It seems like the Devils elevate their game when playing playoff-bound teams. A great example is this weekend’s game. The Devils played a solid game against the Canadiens, going 2-for-3 on the powerplay and dominating play. That’s what they need to do tonight. The Devils will face Rask, one of the best goalies in the league, tonight at the Rock. They need to pressure the Boston defense early and often. If they can jump ahead and control the play, they should do well. Not only that, but Boston is playing in the second game of a back-to-back. The Devils, who had the day off yesterday, should be the fresher and more explosive team in this game. I think the Devils will return to their 60-minute effort tonight and play a solid game against a struggling Bruins team.
Gametime is 7:00 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus and WFAN Radio.
Here are the lineups from today’s practice:
Forwards: Zach Parise – Patrik Elias – Jamie Langenbrunner; Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Brian Rolston; Dainius Zubrus – Rob Niedermayer – David Clarkson; Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – Dean McAmmond – Vladmir Zharkov; Rod Pelley – Jay Pandolfo
Defenseman: Andy Greene – Bryce Salvador; Colin White – Mike Mottau; Martin Skoula – Paul Martin; Mark Fraser – Anssi Salmela
Goalie: Martin Brodeur
Going into tonight’s game, the Devils sit in fourth place, two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead with seven games left. That’s important to note, because the difference in points puts the Devils fourth in the conference, while the Penguins sit in second place. And while two spots might not seem like a huge deal, the Devils road to the Cup may depend on their conference position come playoff time.
There’s no doubt the Devils want the second seed going into the playoffs. It gives them home-ice advantage for the first two series, and they could avoid the Washington Capitals until the conference finals. Also, if the standings remain the same and only New Jersey moves into second, the Devils would play Montreal in the first round. This would be a great matchup. The Devils play well against Montreal, and they play good hockey on the road in the Bell Centre. Not only that, but Martin Brodeur owns his hometown team. The future Hall-of-Famer’s career record against the Canadiens is 38-16-0 with five ties. I think Brodeur’s record alone shows the importance of grabbing the second seed. The Devils can play a team they dominate, and they also earn home-ice advantage.
The most important part of the number two seed is avoiding the Capitals for the first two rounds. The Devils are 3-1-0 against the Capitals this season, and they would probably play well against them. But facing the Capitals early could be trouble. Why not get the higher seed and face them for the chance to win the conference? Their goaltending might not be great, and the defense might be spotty. But the Capitals are the best team in the league, and with the way Jose Theodore is playing right now, they could be a hot team coming into the playoffs. Clinching the second seed allows the Devils to completely avoid them, making the first and second round series potentially easier.
The fourth seed would take away several of the advantages of the second seed. The Devils could only clinch home-ice advantage for one round, and they would probably have to face the Capitals in the second round. The Devils are 3-0-0 against the Senators, currently the fifth place team. While the first-round may not be tough, the second seed increases the chances of seeing the Sabres or the Capitals in the second round. Both teams present a daunting opponent. Not only that, but the second-round matchup would give the other team home-ice advantage.
The second seed is the most desirable position for the Devils. By taking fourth, they’ll miss out on several advantages, including getting home-ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Also, the Devils will be able to avoid a matchup with the Capitals until the conference semifinals, if both teams make it that far. With only seven games left, the Devils need to make a push for the second seed. With a game in hand and only a two point deficit, there is no reason why the team can’t leapfrog Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division crown – and the number two seed.
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Atlantic Division with 95 points. The defending champions have had an up and downseason, including dropping all six games to the Devils. Can the defending champions repeat their performance and hoist Lord Stanley again?
When healthy, the Penguins have arguably the best two lines in the N.H.L. The top two centers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, consistently rank near the top of the league in scoring. As of today, Sidney Crosby leads the scoring race, tallying 47 goals. But it’s not only the top two lines who can score. Jordan Staal continues to improve year in and year out, and has 21 goals on the season. Deadline day acquisition Alex Ponikarovsky can move the puck and set up teammates, leading to his 29 assists. And he plays on the fourth line. This depth is one of the strengths of the Penguins. Good scorers, like Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, fly under the radar because of their depth. I believe that, without a doubt, the Penguins arguably the best depth among their forwards, ranking with Washington atop the conference.
The blueline is where things get interesting. Sergei Gonchar, one of the Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, has only played in 57 games this season. Gonchar, who’s one of the leaders on the powerplay, has far underperformed the team’s expectations. After finishing sixth in goals against last season, they’re currently ranked in the 20th. Kris Letang has taken a backseat this year, and the rest of the defense is underwhelming. They also don’t have a big, physical presence on the blueline. The Penguins lack of depth could hurt them in the playoffs. They’re going to lean on their forwards to succeed, and this strategy isn’t the best.
Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the solid goaltenders in the N.H.L. In 62 games, Fleury is 35-19-6, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Fleury can always make the great save, and his presence in net brings a calming influence to the defensive zone. In the past few years, he’s began to deal with injuries. It seems that Fleury is good for at least one injury per season, which is an added worry in the playoffs. When healthy, Fleury can steal the Penguins a few games. But he needs to remain healthy to give the Penguins an added edge.
So, what can we expect from the Penguins come playoff time? The team is going to play hard, gritty hockey. They’re forwards are clearly the strength, but they do have questions along the blueline. They’ve also struggled against the top teams, losing all six games to the Devils and struggling against the Capitals. Not only that, but significant players have missed time with injury. But they are the defending champions, and the will still be champs until someone knocks them out of the playoffs. Even with their problems, Pittsburgh will be a tough opponent in any playoff series.