During the second period with the Devils leading the Flyers 2-0 and seemingly in control Joe Beninati (announcing the game on VERSUS with ex-Flyer Keith Jones) stated how the Devils become like a boa constrictor with a lead and generally praised our defensive work as well as Jacques Lemaire's coaching. Joe, have you watched this team over the last month? In particular the last week where the Devils had blown two two-goal leads?!
Well, make it three now as the Devils piled up yet another embarrassing, ignominious defeat losing 3-2 to the Flyers in Philadelphia in yet another game that shows how this team has had no guts for three straight years now. It wasn't even just blowing the lead which entailed giving up two goals in the final two minutes of the second period and a third-period power play goal where our slow skaters were once again stuck on the ice while the speedy Flyers danced around them all night. It's really become tiresome to bag on the Devils' defense, which clearly isn't any good. And tonight Martin Brodeur couldn't be blamed on any of the goals at all.
Still, what irked me the most about this game was early in the second period. After Zach Parise's fluke power play goal off of Chris Pronger's skate gave the Devils a 1-0 lead in the first period - and more shockingly a power play goal! - the Devils were shorthanded to begin the second period. That proved to be no problem when Anssi Salmela channeled Bobby Orr with a great rush from center ice, deking out Mike Richards and beating Michael Leighton with a wrister at 1:01...just before he got blindsided by the Flyers' Jeff Carter, leaving Salmela prone on the ice for five minutes being taken off on a stretcher, the second Devils' player in the last month to leave a game that way.
Unlike Ryan Wilson's hit on Patrik Elias though, I didn't think this one was totally clean. Yes, I grant that Salmela had his head down but Carter also went out of his way to target it from behind, when Salmela was close to the goal in a situation where you really should be playing the puck or the pass unless your intent is to injure. Plus his elbow moved big-time after the hit though you couldn't actually tell from the replay whether his elbow or shoulder made the contact. I didn't even think it was a particularly late hit even though the puck was in the net by the time Carter clocked the Devils' defenseman (who's been a revelation in his three games back with the team). Still, I thought the Devils should have made Carter answer the bell the way they did Wilson after a totally clean hit when Mark Fraser challenged him. Nobody so much as touched Carter the remainder of the game, even though earlier on Bryce Salvador had no problem dropping them with Daniel Carcillo after hitting the Flyers' winger along the boards.
Makes you wonder about the logic of dressing two supposed fighters (as Lemaire did for a third straight game), when neither actually play hockey or fight. Andrew Peters had a grand total of forty-two seconds of icetime, this time without the excuse of shedding his uniform and getting ejected. Plus without Salmela in the lineup - early word is he fractured his nose and lost several teeth - Lemaire leaned even more on the slow and slower defensive tandem of Colin White and Mike Mottau. The scary part is that Andy Greene was the only mobile defenseman left in the lineup without Salmela, so it's not like he could play all sixty minutes.
Of course, our familiar woes came back to bite us once again. Our ineffective power play was just one for seven, even though the undisciplined Flyers gave us as many opportunities as we usually get in a week. Parise's 26th goal, at 7:00 of the first period was by his own admission pure luck, with Patrik Elias and Greene getting assists. Salmela's shorthanded goal sixty-one seconds into the middle period was assisted by Travis Zajac (who actually led the team in icetime with 25:21) and Jamie Langenbrunner, who again looked like he should have been in a sickbed despite the secondary assist. After that however, the offense fired blanks against the Flyers' second string goaltender and despite giving up their fair share of shots the defense still had control of the game with about two minutes left in the second period.
Then the roof caved in once again. A typically lazy shift by Brian Rolston and Rob Niedermayer (guess it runs in the family, eh?) led to the Flyers getting a chance, with James Van Riemsdyk somehow beating Martin Brodeur one-on-four by using Greene as a screen in front for a wrister that got the Flyers going at 18:24. Just seventy-two seconds later came the tying goal when Scott Hartnell and the aforementioned Carter got a two-on-one with Mottau as the one defenseman. Mismatch much? To add insult to injury, Mottau couldn't prevent Hartnell's pass to Carter and he completed a productive second period with a knockout at the beginning that completely changed our defense and a devastating goal at the end. I said game over at that point.
Indeed it was although it took the Flyers a while to actually get the winning goal in the third, and they had to kill off another power play first which was an easy task against us of course. Having Ilya Kovalchuk play entire power plays doesn't help, especially when he can't rush the puck up ice because he's conserving energy (and when he does carry the puck in he does it very well) although what happened to Lemaire's supposed special teams genius?! His Wild units always were among the top PP and PK units in the league even with mediocre offensive talent overall, but the Devils' PP has been an unmitigated disaster since the New Year, with or without Lou Lamoriello's latest acquisition - who's been pointless in two straight and has actually been outplayed by the less heralded import from the Thrashers...Salmela.
After another ineffective power play came another powerless penalty kill. Or more accurately slow, slower and slowest struck again as the White-Mottau defensive pairing of hell and the just as slow forward tandem of Jay Pandolfo and Niedermayer all looked like they were standing still as the Flyers expertly and quickly passed the puck around, finally resulting in a Richards goal at 12:02. Even after the Flyers finally took the lead, there were still more ignominies to come. Leighton robbed Elias late in the period and after a final boarding penalty by Kimmo Timonen with just 1:52 remaining, the Devils couldn't even get quality chances on that power play. Even after pulling Brodeur with about a minute remaining for an extra attacker, with Kovalchuk narrowly missing the net just before the horn sounded on another head-banging Devils defeat.
I'm getting really tired of these post-mortems. The good news is the Devils go back home Wednesday and I plan on being in attendance. Our home games with me in the stands have been about the only times we've won in the last few weeks (14-1 since early November to be exact). The bad news is we're supposed to get another storm of all storms on Wednesday so me and my friend might get snowed in. And worse, this team has shown almost no signs of life at all over the last month plus now, even after the trade to end all trades. What's next to spark the team? Lemaire's not getting fired, he and Lamoriello are too alike in the way they think although usually a coach firing is the next step for our GM.
Apparently all that's left is to hope the team comes back from the Olympics recharged, but with Brodeur, Parise, Langenbrunner, Elias and Kovalchuk all playing in Vancouver that's a mixed bag. There's no time for Lamoriello to see how the team will gel post-Olympics since the trade deadline is literally days after the players get back in March. If I was going to point to one bright spot? For years I've been complaining how the Devils go balls to the wall in situations where they really don't have to and aside from the usual overplaying of Brodeur, really they've taken off since the end of December for the most part. Even our few wins have been sloppy. Maybe this is our year to coast for a while, like the Pens did until February last year and then turn it on in the playoffs?
Of course I could just be reaching and we're really at Defcon One...
BoNY Three Stars:
- Jeff Carter (goal)
- Mike Richards (goal, -1)
- Martin Brodeur (34/37 saves)