Last night, the Devils showed some solid effort against the Philadelphia Flyers. They did drop game one, 2-1, but the team played well defensively and even had a solid penalty kill. But the Devils failed to do one thing: score on the powerplay. And, in this Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup, the Devils need to score with the man advantage to beat their rivals.
One of the biggest turning points of last night’s game one loss came in the third period. The Flyers’ Oskars Bartulis received a four minute double-minor for a high stick that cut David Clarkson. The Devils, down 2-0 at the time, had a golden opportunity. If they could score at least one goal, they’d be right back in the game. The penalty, taken only 2:12 into the period, would also allow the Devils an early opportunity to get into the game.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, the Devils squandered their chance. They couldn’t set up anything, and they recorded only two scoring chances the entire advantage. Their futility on that specific powerplay summed up the Devils man advantage play last night. The Devils routinely struggled to set up any offense, and they weren’t moving the puck quick enough. As a result, the Flyers were able to apply steady pressure to the powerplay unit. The penalty killers got into passing lanes and blocked several shots, frustrating the Devils scorers.
It was the Devils’ powerplay that held them back from a win last night. If it continues to struggle, the powerplay may also cost the Devils the series.
If the special teams will be a deciding factor, the Devils need to get back to basics to make it work. One of the major problems last night was the lack of puck movement. Too many times, the Devils’ powerplay got stuck depending on one man, whether it was Ilya Kovalchuk or Paul Martin at the point or the forwards down low. The team shouldn’t have a “me vs. the entire defense” mentality. If the Devils begin to move the puck, they can get the Flyers defense standing still. When a penalty-killing unit gets flat-footed, they’ll react slower. That’s exactly how the Flyers scored on their second opportunity of the night.
Moving the puck also takes away some of the Flyers’ aggressive play on the penalty kill. As I said above, one of the biggest issues last night was the aggressive play of the Flyers’ penalty killers. They had their sticks in the passing lanes, and they sacrificed the body to take away shot attempts. Their penalty killers also played physical hockey, pinning Devils’ players to the boards and giving them some hard shots. Moving the puck takes away the ability for the penalty killers to successfully pursue like they did. Instead, the Flyers penalty killers would need to stay near in their box or diamond formation. If one decided to pursue, the Devils could make that aggressive player pay with a well-timed pass.
The good news is that the Devils spent the entire practice today working on the powerplay, including how to enter the zone and set up. The extra work will, hopefully, pay off in tomorrow night’s game. The Flyers will give the Devils plenty of man-advantage opportunities. If their powerplay can rise to the occassion, the Devils can use the Flyers’ undisciplined play against them.