Tonight's Tilt Against the Devils is a Must-Win for the Flyers >

by Michael DeNicola

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 -

Philly is one of four Clubs that have started their abbreviated 2013 season with two consecutive regulation losses and no wins, which has stuck them in the basement at 28th place. 

C'mon, it's just two games. There shouldn't be any attention given to the League standings this early, right? Well, yes and no. In the wake of defeat to Pittsburgh and Buffalo, our Flyers stand as the third worst penalty-killers in the NHL, but rank 8th best in 5-on-5 goals for/against scenarios. It may only be two contests into the schedule, but Philly's lack of discipline and effective special teams play have cost them the most out of any aspect of the game. 

Tonight we roll into Newark, NJ, trying to do two things: 1) Not getting shot, and 2) Getting on the scoreboard first. So far this season, the Flyers have yet to pot the puck in the first frame of contention. 

In the 2011-12 season, our Broad Street Bullies had a winning percentage of .867 when lighting the game's first lamp. That was good enough for second best in the League, right behind Beantown. With the amount of firepower our roster berths each shift, we're bound to score first in one of these tilts sooner than later. 

But speaking of putting the puck on net -- The Flyers have been out-shot 68 to 56 through six periods of hockey. We're either on our heels in our zone too much, or there are some forwards not pulling their weight. 

Sean Couturier has sent the puck packing only once in the last 120-minutes. Sure, that one shot lifted Ryan Miller's twine on Sunday, but Cooter's been filling in for the injured Danny Briere on the second line. No team can afford an enormous lack of offense from their second line center. If his play on Saturday and Sunday are any indication of his production through the next 46-games, then Couturier may have one of those haunting sophomore slumps. But I'm overreacting way, way too much. 

Like I said before, it's just two games. No concrete assessment can be made in that amount of time. Adjustments will certainly need to be initiated on a broad stroke, but they're only minor tweaks. 

Last year, (unsurprisingly) Claude Giroux led the Flyers in goals-scored against the Devils (4G), while Simmonds scored the second-highest (3G) in six regular season games. So far this season, Giroux leads the team in twine-ticklers (2G), but Simmonds hasn't found the back of the net yet. However, the Wayne Train has played some magnificent hockey in the 39:43 of ice time he's received.

I believe our front attack (Hartnell - Giroux - B. Schenn) could wind up becoming an incredible force one day, but right now, given our overpopulated loss column, I think it'd be best if Laviolette bumps Simmonds up to right-wing with Harts and 'Roo, while Brayden takes a backseat on the third line with Scott Laughton and Matt Read. 

This is strictly a wake-up move I'm suggesting. I haven't punched the panic button, nor am I even close to doing so. But the Devils employ some heavy duty energy players on their front two assaults, and Simmonds simply plays to their game and has the better track record. We need this win tonight, and it's got to start at the drop of the puck. 

Tonight's contest is New Jersey's home opener. I'm not too worried about a loud crowd given the Devils struggle to fill 75% of their barn in a contending season. But it's their 16-8-5 all-time record in home openers that burdens me. 

Though there are a handful of factors that lean in our favor. For one, Martin Brodeur is another year older. The 40-year old netminder was tending goal when most of our stars were getting their pictures taken on an ultrasound. Another note to keep in mind is that these 2012 Eastern Conference Champions are without Zach Parise who, in the offseason, did Jersey dirty by signing a gargantuan contract with the Minnesota Wild. 

On a personal note, I'm finally able to get a Parise sweater I can actually wear with pride, other than his Olympic, Team USA sweater. You'll have to pardon me, I fell in love with the kid in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Then again, who didn't?

Getting back to Bryz'ness, our franchise puck-stopper is steaming into Newark with a .909 SV% after neutralizing 60 of the 66-shots put on his net. That save-percentage doesn't do Bryzgalov any justice. 

The 32-year old Russian goalie has started building a comeback year. Usually numbers don't lie, but in the case of GAA and SV%, they most certainly do. Ilya's been one of our best players thus far into the 2013 season. In Sunday's loss to Buffalo alone, Bryz saved 37-shots on his cage. I don't care how many goals you allow through three frames, when you stop had a great goddamn performance.

If anyone has the gall to set blame on Bryzgalov these past two tilts, then they ought to give their heads a shake. They're either still butthurt over his depressing 2011-12 year, or they're having difficulty removing their hollowed heads from their asses. 

I don't need to tell any of you that our boys were ousted by the Devils in our postseason series last year. They did so with virtually no contesting against their carnage. New Jersey's most effective weapon was their possession in our zone, otherwise known as their cycling game

The Devils are a nuisance. But a competent nuisance, I'll give 'em that. Their cycling game consisted of effective forechecking, keeping the puck in our end, smart shift changing, and taking advantage of our lack of right-handed sticks. 

This season, Paul Holmgren's added three new defensemen with right-handed shots -- Kurtis Foster, Bruno Gervais, and Luke Schenn. 

Bruno has yet to suit up for the Orange & Black, but Foster and Schenn have made their presence known already. Foster has performed admirably from the third pairing, but Luke Schenn has cost the Flyers more than he has paid dividends. 

I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Luke. I can really see him and Timonen becoming quite the productive blue line pair. But Luke's got to step it up. He's already put himself out of position and took a trip to the penalty box, both situations cost us a goal against. 

Tonight is Luke's opportunity for redemption. He's got to show us that he deserves to be a #4 d-man. I've given him some slack because our defense has been struggling as a whole. Mixed with piss poor possession and passing, we're on the backcheck and defensive much too often to get any offense generated. In order to cancel out New Jersey's cycling game, the Flyers will need to see immediate improvement from every corner of the team's array. 

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