Devils Draw the Division Winning Flyers
The Devils squeaked into the playoffs on a three game winning streak including a last ditch, game 82 win over the Buffalo Sabres. While dodging a couple great teams in the vault to 6th place in the conference, the team instead drew the 107 point Philadelphia Flyers, an amazing team in their own right. The Flyers pretty quietly had a great all around season, giving up the second fewest shots a game and goals per game in the league. Not to be pushed aside, their offense was also solid with their top 3 rank in terms of putting shots on net but finished middle of the pack in terms of goals.
The most obvious player the team has to match up against is Pavel Datsyuk who managed an astounding 70 assists in 77 games while leading the team with 89 points and a +31. Flanking him up front were three impressive wingers including Marian Hossa, Blake Wheeler and the youngster Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher could be dangerous this postseason as he had a potential Calder Trophy winning season with 25 goals, 55 points and was a +19. Leading their D was, surprisingly, Jeff Petry, as he managed 41 points and was a +21 on the year. Clearly jamie saw something special in him and he rewarded that faith with a great season. Chris Phillips also had a reliably good season putting up 37 points while finishing 2nd on the team behind Datsyuk at +30.
The real story of the club, as pointed out above, is the team defense which is clearly led by their goalie duo of Devan Dubnyk and Corey Crawford. While Dubnyk had 9 more games played and 5 shutouts to Crawfords 1, Crawford had a better GAA (2.21 vs 2.30) and sv% (.909 v .905). So even if the Devils somehow manage to get one of the goalies tired, the "backup" in this case is merely a label. Both goalies could have guided separate teams to the playoffs with those numbers.
Overall, I don't think the Devils plan will change much against the Flyers compared to how we ended the year. We got bulldozed by the Flyers in the season series 5-1 while giving up 21 goals and scoring 13. Not a lot of great results to look back on and try and see a path to victory. So with that being known, like I said, the best course of action is to keep running the team like I did towards the end of the year and hope Miller can come up with huge saves and Kane can pile on the points. I think the Flyers are going to show that the depth on the Devils this year is really shallow and take advantage of that with their depth up front and on D.
Game 2 starts tonight after a 4-2 victory for the Flyers that cost the Devils their top D, Alex Edler. However, the Flyers also lost their top D, Jeff Petry, as well as the 89 point Datsyuk (who had 4 points in game 1). Even without Edler, the team will slide Wisniewski into an important role and hope he can fill in the offense like he was down the stretch. With those two out for at least game 2, and Datsyuk longer, the Devils think this is a must win before coming home. If the Flyers managed a victory without their top guys up front and on the backend then that just shows why they won the Division this year.
Potential lineup for tonight with the injury to Edler:
David Backes-Patrick Kane-David Clarkson
Charlie Coyle-Colin Wilson-Aaron Palushaj
Nick Bonino-Matt Fraser-David Clarkson
Brooks Laich-Bobby Ryan-Teddy Purcell
Mark Giordano-Michael Stone
Adam McQuaid-James Wisniewski
Dmitry Kulikov-Anton Stralman
Anton Stralman-Mark Giordano
*Stone moves to the top pairing despite the low EN
*Wisniewski continues his climb up he depth chart, slotting in the 2nd pairing
*Jordan Caron called up but David Clarkson will doubleshift while Fraser slots in at the 4th line LW.