Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 10/9/14 vs. NJ; Flyers-Bruins Wrapup and More

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GAMEDAY PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. DEVILS

Coming off a 2-1 opening night regulation loss in Boston, the Philadelphia Flyers (0-1-0) are right back in action on Thursday night. Head coach Craig Berube’s club will take on the New Jersey Devils (0-0-0) in the regular season opener at the Wells Fargo Center.

Game time is 7 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised locally on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the first of four meetings this season between the Metropolitan Division teams. The clubs will meet again in Philadelphia on December 11. The scene shifts to the Prudential Center in Newark on January 3 and March 8.

Tonight’s game is the middle match for the Flyers in a three-in-a-four slate to open the regular season. After an idle night on Friday, the Flyers will host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. FLYERS OUTLOOK

Philadelphia is coming off a reasonably solid performance on opening night in Boston. Ultimately, it was not quite good enough to come away with at least one point. A complete game review follows below.

As of this writing, the Flyers appear likely to stick with the same lineup they used in Boston. The possible exception, given the three-in-four stretch of games, may be to give Ray Emery the start in the home opener. Forward Blair Jones and defenseman Nick Schultz were the healthy scratches in the season opener.

During the preseason, Flyers forward Jakub Voracek noted that the key to beating the Devils is to be the first team on the puck in all three zones and to keep the pace brisk. When they are forced to a standstill and constantly have to try and go 200 feet, they tend to get frustrated against New Jersey. DEVILS OUTLOOK

Even with a few offseason tweaks, the Devils offensive firepower still isn’t going to scare many teams around the NHL. Nevertheless, they remain a tough team to play against. Pete DeBoer’s club usually plays a patient and workmanlike style of hockey.

When New Jersey beats the Flyers, it’s often because they win the games along the walls and force the Flyers expend a lot of energy to get the puck up the ice. It is worth noting that, entering this game, the road team have won each of the last five meetings between the clubs.

With the offseason departure of still-unsigned future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, veteran netminder Cory Schneider has become the Devils’ full-time starting goaltender.

Despite their general lack of offensive depth, the Devils managed to rank ninth in the NHL in power play efficiency last season (19.5 percent). New Jersey also topped the NHL in penalty killing percentage, with 86.4 percent success.

Last season, the number one thing that cost New Jersey a playoff spot was its futility in shootouts. The Devils went 0-13 in shootouts; a death knell for a team involved in so many low-scoring games that were still deadlocked after 65 minutes. With 88 points, the Devils finished five points behind lower wildcard seed Detroit.

Former Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr enters the 2014-15 season with several career milestones in reach. One mark will be reached as soon as the Devils top line right winger steps onto the Wells Fargo Center ice for his first shift of Thursday’s game.

Currently, Jagr is one regular season game behind Doug Gilmour’s 1,474 games played for 19th on the NHL’s all-time list. Jagr needs to appear in 52 games this season to also leapfrog Rod Brind’Amour (1,484), Wayne Gretzky (1,487), Phil Housley (1,495), Mike Modano (1,499), Steve Yzerman (1,514) and Brendan Shanahan (1,524) for sole possession of 13th place on the all-time list.

If Number 68 plays at least 68 games this season, he’ll pass John Bucyk for 12th on the list. Jagr would need to play in 78 of the 82 games to catch and pass Alex Delveccio for sole possession of 11th place.

Jagr is currently seventh on the all-time regular season goal list, with 705 goals. He needs four to surpass Mike Gartner and 13 to pass Phil Esposito for fifth place. It would take a 27-goal season to catch and pass Marcel Dionne this season.

On the all-time assist list, Jagr’s 1,050 regular season assists ranks eighth. He needs 14 this season to bypass Yzerman and 30 to top Adam Oates for sixth place.

In terms of total points, Jagr’s next goal or assist will surpass Yzerman’s 1,755 regular season points for sole possession of sixth place on the all-time leader board. He needs 17 points to top Dionne for fifth place and 44 points to top former Penguins teammate Ron Francis for fourth.

Jagr’s countryman Patrik Elias, a longtime Flyers nemesis, is also closing in on a couple of career milestones. The veteran of 1,155 NHL regular season games (all with New Jersey) is seven goals away from his 400th tally and 17 points away from joining the NHL’s 1,000-point club. PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change, will be updated as needed)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

24 Matt Read – 14 Sean Couturier – 17 Wayne Simmonds

12 Michael Raffl – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 18 R.J. Umberger

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 42 Jason Akeson

47 Andrew MacDonald – 5 Braydon Coburn

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Blair Jones (healthy), Nick Schultz (healthy).

DEVILS

23 Mike Cammalleri – 19 Travis Zajac – 68 Jaromir Jagr

8 Dainius Zubrus – 26 Patrik Elias – 9 Martin Havlat

29 Ryane Clowe – 14 Adam Henrique – 17 Michael Ryder

15 Tuomo Ruutu – 11 Stephen Gionta – 20 Jordin Tootoo

6 Andy Greene – 28 Damon Seversyn

24 Bryce Salvador – 2 Marek Zidlicky

22 Eric Gelinas – 7 Jon Merrill

35 Cory Schneider

[40 Scott Clemmensen]

************** OPENING NIGHT WRAPUP: BRUINS 2 – FLYERS 1

The Flyers opened the 2014-15 regular season on Wednesday with a heartbreaking 2-1 road loss in regulation to the Boston Bruins. The score was tied with under two minutes remaining in the third period until Chris Kelly tapped in a loose rebound in the crease to put Boston ahead to stay.

Boston made a mid first period power play goal by Riley Smith stand up until early in the third period. Finally, a double-deflection in front went into the Bruins net off Flyers center Sean Couturier to knot the score at 1-1.

Steve Mason had a strong opening night in net for Philadelphia in a losing cause. He stopped 31 off 33 Bruins shots, including numerous tough saves. At the other end of the ice, defending Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask was cool, calm and collected in stopping 19 of 20 shots.

Mason had no chance on the first Boston goal. Four Flyers penalty killers got flushed to one side of the ice, with Braydon Coburn abandoning his position guarding the right slot to go behind the net on the other side. Michael Raffl also ended up too far on the left side with Andrew MacDonald, Coburn and R.J. Umberger all caught down low on the same side. Once Carl Söderberg’s pass got past Raffl to a wide open Smith on the other side, the goal was as good as on the board.

The winning Boston goal was a fluttering broken-stick point shot with a lot of bodies around the net, making it tough to control the knuckleball-like initial shot by Adam McQuaid. Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto was not able to tie up his man and Kelly ended up with an easy goal with just 1:51 left in the third period. Söderberg received the secondary assist.

Rask similarly had no chance on the lone Philadelphia goal. Jakub Voracek made a strong move coming around from behind the net, and put the puck at the net. The disc glanced off Boston defensemen and then was deflected by Couturier into the net at 4:19 of the third period.

The Flyers competed hard and kept the game even after getting hemmed in their end of the ice for much of the opening period. Their forechecking game picked up in the second period and they began to win their share of puck battles.

However, Boston once again had the better of play for significant stretches of the third period. There were times in the waning minutes of regulation where the Flyers seemed to be trying just to get the game to overtime.

Taken on the whole, it wasn’t a bad effort by Philly. However, little things mean a lot when playing an elite team like Boston. There isn’t much margin for error when playing a team as good as the Bruins (even without offensive catalyst David Krejci in the lineup).

To identify five reasons why the Flyers came away with zero points on an opening night where they could have grabbed at least one if not two points:

1) The Flyers went 0-for-3 on the power play and didn’t gather momentum from them. At the same time, they paid the price of an undisciplined Zac Rinaldo penalty coupled with the aforementioned penalty killing breakdown that led to the first Boston goal.

2) Philly had several odd-man rushes, including a 2-on-1 with Brayden Schenn carrying the mail, that amounted to little more than routine saves for Rask.

3) Claude Giroux was largely shut down by Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, generating only a partially muted shot on goal on what initially looked line an open shooting lane plus an earlier weak shot that got snuffed out. He created few chances for his linemates. Lastly, he went just 4-for-21 on in the faceoff circle (19 percent). By comparison, Bergeron had six shot attempts (three on goal) and went 18-for-23 on faceoffs. Bergeron also got a secondary assist on the Smith power play goal.

4) Boston has a way of making other teams hurry their shots, and the Flyers were no exception. Most of the 20 shots Philly mustered were not even on their better scoring opportunities. The Flyers had 15 of their shot attempts blocked and missed the net on nine others. By contrast, the Bruins got more than half of their attempted shots net: 33 shots on net, 15 blocked by the Flyers, 10 misses.

5) The Flyers’ most effective line at even strength, at least in several shifts, was the fourth line unit centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Bellemare in particular used his speed effectively against the Bruins. Conversely, apart from needing more out of Giroux, the team really could have used more consistent offensive zone pressure from Vincent Lecavalier’s line.

************ QUICK HITS: OCTOBER 9

* QMJHL: Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin and the Rimouski Oceanic return to action on Thursday night as they host the Shawinigan Cataractes. Game time is 7:30 PM EDT. Throughout the month of October, all live QMJHL games are being streamed for free on the league’s official website.

* Flyers Alumni birthdays: Big-framed defensive defenseman Larry Hale, who played 196 games for the Flyers between 1968-69 and 1971-72, turns 73 years old. Hale later moved on to the World Hockey Association, where he was a teammate of Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe on the championship winning Houston Aeros coached by Bill Dineen.

Gary Peters, an original Flyer, turns 72 today. Selected by the Flyers from the New York Rangers in the 1967 expansion draft, Peters played with Philadelphia as a regular during the first four seasons of the franchise’s existence. Strictly a checking forward who also performed penalty killing duties, he never topped eight goals, 16 points or 69 penalty minutes in a season. However, he registered a pair of goals and four points in eight playoff games.

* Today in Flyers’ History: On Oct. 9, 1987, goaltender Ron Hextall made his NHL regular season debut as the Flyers downed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers at the Spectrum by a 2-1 score. After yielding an early power play goal to Jari Kurri, Hextall went on to stop 20 of 21 shots fired on his net by the power-packed Oilers. In the third period, Ron Sutter and Peter Zezel scored goals to win the game for Philadelphia.

Famously, in the course of Hextall’s rookie season, Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky once asked Hextall, “Who the hell ARE you?” after the ultra-aggressive rookie netminder made an extremely difficult save to keep the Great One from scoring a goal.

Not phased in the least, Hextall stared right back back at Gretzky and retorted, “Who the hell are YOU?!”

By the end of the season, Gretzky and the entire NHL would get to know the third-generation NHL player quite well. The rookie captured both the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the underdog Flyers pushed Edmonton to seven extremely hard-fought games in the Stanley Cup Finals.

After the Finals, Gretzky called Hextall “probably the best goaltender I’ve ever played against.”

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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