The playoff race in the Metropolitan Division is very tight. With the exception of the Washington
Capitals (who have far outpaced all other teams) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (who are only considered contenders by the mathematicians among us), everyone else is in the race. In this environment and at this point in the season, every divisional game is critical. So last night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers had an even greater intensity than the usual malicious rivalry.
The game was really close during the first two periods and the first half of the third. This was a bad sign as the Flyers had given the Devils five power play opportunities–including one 5 minute major and one additional five on three advantage, in the first two periods. New Jersey only converted once, on Tyler Kennedy’s goal at 12:01 of the first period.
It was this failure to take advantage of opportunities that caused New Jersey’s loss last night–that and an off night for Cory Schneider. Philadelphia scored four goals in the third period, including two goals that Schneider certainly wishes that he had back. But had the special teams in front of him scored when they got the opportunities, Schneider never would have been in that situation. And the Flyers would not have gained great confidence by killing off five power plays in the first and second period, and then a final one in the third.
In fact, it was only seconds after Philadelphia killed off that final penalty that Wayne Simmonds tipped in the Flyers’ third goal of the night. And 50 seconds later that Nick Cousins potted his goal and the Phillie onslaught was on.
Even if last night was just one of those nights you put it in your pocket and move on, one thought remains. If New Jersey is going to be a wild card team, it must jump on the advantages that they are given and kill off penalties when they are taken (last night, Phillie was 2 for 4 on the PP). Usually this team does really well on the PP–New Jersey has one of the best power play conversion percentage in the league (21.2%). And, prior to last night, the Devils had converted on 12 of its last PP 28 opportunities.
What remains true is that at 2.21 goals per game average (last in the league), the Devils need to continue to have excellent special teams, and not have off nights if they want to be a post-season team. Although some of their anemic GPG average may be due to the injuries to Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias, Stefan Matteau, Jon Merrill, and Jiri Tlusty, it does not change the fact that New Jersey must play a very tight and opportunistic game every night to move on.
Special teams will be the key against the high scoring Islanders on Friday night. And with five of the next six games against Metropolitan Division rivals, the Devils must play every game during this stretch like it is do or die. Because it is.
–Tyler Kennedy’s goal in the first period of last night’s game was his first as a Devil. Originally signed to a PTO with New Jersey last fall, Kennedy signed a one-year two-way contract in November.
–Last night Kyle Palmieri added to his new career high in goals. He now has 21 for the season.