Flyers Lose To Devils 2-1 In Exhibition: One Scare to the Next One


Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) against the New Jersey Devils during the first period of preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into their fifth preseason game of the NHL exhibition schedule, the Philadelphia Flyers had received some promising news prior to their bout with the Devils. Coming off the team’s team-bonding excursion to Lake Placid, NY during a lull in their game schedule, team captain and best player Claude Giroux, on the heels of his bizarre golfing-related injury, had made a faster-than-expected recovery and gave fans and media the green light when he announced he would be making his first appearance of the preseason Tuesday night against the Devils at Wells Fargo. 

Having seen most of the returning roster as well as new additions in action already, a peek at what Giroux was capable of coming off his freak injury was really the last thing that had to be seen before the Flyers start regular season action. Squaring off against the Devils, a team that not only Giroux, but a large chunk of the current roster, has had their struggles against, it would be an opportunity for the centerman to be faced with immediate resistance against a team familiar with his style of play. The Flyers would also be getting their first chance at facing off with newly acquired Devils netminder Cory Schneider in his new uniform. The former Vancouver Canuck is the heir-apparent to future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, and he is expected to seamlessly continue the Devils tradition of world-class goaltending.

Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery (29) during a break against the New Jersey Devils in the third period of preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Right from puck-drop, the Flyers, a week removed from their most recent game action, seemed sluggish against the tenacious Devils. Starter Ray Emery was peppered with shots, some at point-blank range, at a staggering clip. The Flyers situation worsened after a pair of penalties: one by Andrej Meszaros and one by Sean Couturier; put them at a five-on-three disadvantage during the first period. The Flyers managed to kill of the 2-man disadvantage and dodged the first major bullet of the contest. However they would not be able to keep New Jersey off the score sheet long, surrendering the first goal of the game a little over 6:30 into the 1st period. Devils veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky received a pass at the top of the offensive zone. The gifted blue liner navigated his way toward the net, and showing great patience glided past Erik Gustafsson and stickhandled past the aggressive Emery before depositing the puck in the net and giving the Devils a 1-0 lead. Gustafsson, who the organization expects a great deal from, seemed a bit overmatched during the goal and with the logjam at defense that the Flyers currently have, more will be expected from the promising defender.

New Jersey dictated the tempo and puck possession in the opening period. Their traditionally strong forecheck put the Flyers puckhandlers in difficult positions throughout the first 20 minutes, and had Emery not made a series of impressive saves, the lead could have been more than just the one goal.

Aided by an early Devils penalty, the Flyers were able to turn over the ice during the 2nd period and direct more pressure towards Schneider, who had not allowed a goal during his previous five periods of preseason action entering Tuesday night. Giroux, who seemed somewhat tentative when he had the puck during the first period, came out much more aggressive out of intermission. Along with gravitating toward the puck as he has become so adept at, Giroux demonstrated his physicality both on the forecheck and in the defensive zone. As the strong play continued for the Flyers throughout the period, the most important play of the game happened just past the seven-minute mark. Jake Voracek gracefully accepted an outlet pass at full speed heading into the offensive zone. Having cleared Devils defender Bryce Salvador, the Flyers leading scorer from a year ago bared down on Schneider. Not conceding the breakaway, Salvador took down the Flyers winger as he made his move and the two sprawled toward the Devils cage. Voracek went hip and back first into the post and came up wincing to the tune of the referee signaling for a penalty shot.

Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador (24) and Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (93) slide into New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) during the second period of preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite clearly being in pain, Voracek decided to stay on the ice and try his luck on the free breakaway. Whether it was the pain getting the best of him, or Jake trying to be a little too cute, his attempt barely tested Schneider. The Devils netminder easily pushed aside the backhand attempt, and the margin stayed at one. It appeared as if Voracek would try to finish off the game, as the Giroux-Hartnell-Voracek line returned to the ice after the failed attempt. Voracek did not remain in the game long though, and the promising winger made his way to the locker room. The teams skated to a scoreless second period, though the Flyers were much more impressive in all three zones. Their chances were highlighted by a late-period power play blast from Giroux that hit the crossbar and seemed to shake the net. Considering the nature of Giroux’s injury on his finger, for him to unleash shots like that in his first action back on the ice is extremely promising.

During the 2nd intermission, it was released that Voracek had suffered an upper-body injury and would not be returning against the Devils. Vincent Lecavalier would finish the game on the team’s top line. Another storyline surrounding the Flyers personnel during their exhibition games is the play of Andrej Meszaros. The defenseman, who has battled injuries and inconsistency the past few seasons, is rumored to be a subject of trade talks considering the team’s surplus of defensemen under contract. Many feel that Meszaros is playing for the sole reason of proving he can remain healthy and play at a level that was more indicative of his play during his first with the Flyers organization. Meszaros was somewhat victimized in the third period though, a play that could not be promising as far as value on the trade market. New Jersey’s Mike Sislo, on a play that was somewhat similar to the Devils first goal, made an impressive move on Meszaros en route to the net, and beat Emery with a low backhand shot to make it a two-goal game.

Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) passes the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Down two goals to a team like the Devils, even in the preseason is a daunting hill to climb. They are a fundamentally solid group of players that does not take many risks or find themselves out of position when they have a lead. This usually is an equation for some very boring hockey, which was the case for most of the third period  as the Flyers tried to mount a comeback. They had very few chances, and were kept to the perimeter in the offensive zone for most of the stanza. With just over two minutes in the contest, the Flyers earned a power play and were finally in position to put one on the board. With Emery pulled, the Flyers worked the puck around the offensive zone and, through a strong Scott Hartnell Screen, Kimmo Timonen blew a shot past Schneider to give the Flyers their first of the contest. With Lecavalier and Giroux tallying the assists, combined with a hopefully healthy Jake Voracek, it would be safe to assume the Flyers should have one of the more dynamic units in the NHL at full strength. Unfortunately, the Flyers were unable to generate any more serious chances down the stretch and would fall to their division foes 2-1.

Outside of the individual plays by Meszaros and Gustafsson, I thought the defense played rather well against the Devils. The team’s spacing between the forwards and defensemen was not sound early in the game and was spotty otherwise. A more offensively geared team would probably be able to take advantage of the issues more than the Devils did, but the Flyers did struggle finding flow in all three zones early on. Coburn looked to play a stronger game than one came accustomed to last season, which would be crucial to any sort of run by the Orange and Black. Coburn has an all-around game to go along with the size, strength, and skating ability to go toe-to-toe with some of the top players in the game. Consistent play and cheap penalties have plagued Coburn in the last few years, and he has even become subject of some trade rumors. I would imagine the Flyers would prefer to keep Coburn, which would only mean he played at a level high enough for them to hitch their wagon to. The confident, assertive game he played against New Jersey is the type of game that could earn him that sort of security with the organization.

There were a fair share of good and bad moments by the forwards. Giroux was the team’s best player, and it wasn’t particularly close. Giroux was 9 of 11 from the face off circle, tallied an assist, and had two shots on goal. After coming out of the gates a bit slow, Giroux really asserted himself in both a physical and playmaking sense over the last two periods. Giroux also drew a penalty on an attempted stretch pass by Mark Streit in the second period. With the stretch pass being such a major part of head coach Peter Laviolette’s plan of attack, one would imagine that Giroux will have more opportunities such as tonight to put pressure on the opposition and make a decision.

Voracek was impressive prior to his injury. His offensive prowess is as unconscious as Giroux’s, and the long, lanky forward’s game has a completely different feel to it. His stickhandling continues to emerge as a strength in the winger’s game, but his knack for the goal and his nose for the goal continues to improve. While nothing is for certain, after some initial post-game scares as far as the severity of his injury, relief came in the form of a secondary vote of confidence by general manager Paul Holmgren to the assembled media in attendance.

"Homer returns. Says Voracek injury is not serious.— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) September 25, 2013"

Voracek looked as if he was on the doorstep to stardom by the end of last season. Any time missed for the young Czech forward would be a blow to the team and the player, so to hear this sort of news about his injury was a welcome relief.

As far as the rest of the forward corps, there was a little good, a little bad, but mostly inconclusive due to the nature of the Devils gameplan. Despite being a -2 in the contest, Lecavalier showed off his playmaking abilities on multiple occasions, including a sensational pass from the half boards to a wide open Brayden Schenn in front for a prime chance on Schneider. Rookie Scott Laughton, who is challenging for one of the team’s two available forward spots, perhaps the fourth line center, is a tenacious, relentless forward who plays all three zones. Laughton’s game carries great value, as he does not need to be scoring to be affecting the game in a positive manner. Laughton already looks as if he will be the type of player who can get under opponent’s skin and force them out of their comfort zone over the course of a contest. He has a tendency of overpursuing at times, but repetition at the NHL level and awareness of not being able to out-talent opponents should help in that department.

Neither Sean Couturier nor Brayden Schenn did much to jump off the screen. Couturier, as has been well-documented, has gained substantial weight and is a much more noticeable presence on the ice. Should they perform to their capability, the line combination of Max Talbot-Couturier-Matt Read has the potential to a be a two-way line with some legitimate scoring pop. Couturier had a penalty on a lazy looking play during a penalty kill that put the team in a five-on-three penalty kill at a time where the Devils had already established control in the offensive zone. Schenn’s game appeared a bit more advanced in the offensive zone compared to Couturier. On a line with Lecavalier and Austrian Michael Raffl, Schenn had opportunities on long offensive zone possessions. While he demonstrates a physical game that is invaluable as a forward, Schenn is expected to contribute more in the scoring department, and needs to be able to deposit when given opportunities in the offensive zone. As far as Raffl goes, the 24-year old is another offensively-geard player with a lot of talent to bring to the roster. He did not seem overmatched playing on the second line, and his confidence seemed to grow throughout the game. Raffl does not fight the puck when he has it. He was knocked off the puck rather easily during a rush early in the game, but he has the speed and stickhandling to move the puck between zones very impressively.

There’s no doubting that the Flyers have a strong collection of proven scorers that they’ve built up. Between Giroux, Voracek, Lecavalier, Matt Read, and Wayne Simmonds (who missed the game with the flu) the team has players who have shown over multiple years the ability to score at a high clip on a rather consistent basis. The key for the Flyers, should they want to return to the postseason, is to have a couple of unexpected players step up and score above expectation much like Couturier, Talbot, and Schenn did during 2011-2012. Whether it is Couturier, Schenn, Raffl, or even Laughton, the Flyers need someone to take the brunt off the scoring load to avoid teams keying in on their top producers.

Ray Emery was very strong during an early flurry against the Devils. The notoriously aggressive netminder took the angles down quickly against the New Jersey shooters, and kept the Flyers from falling into an early hole. On both goals that he let up, Emery’s aggression did seem to get the best of him. Zidlicky’s move was extremely impressive for a defenseman. The Flyers goalie probably should have expected better play from his team in the defensive zone, but credit where credit is due for the New Jersey blue liner. Similar situation with the second goal. A total breakdown in the sense that it was probably a savable goal on a play where the shooter had no business being in a position to score. Neither Emery nor Mason has done anything definitive to take control of the starting job, which will only increase in interest level as the regular season draws closer.

Sep 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette talks to right wing Scott Hartnell (19), center Vincent Lecavalier (40), defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) and center Claude Giroux (28) against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At 1-3-1, the Flyers are nearing the finish of their preseason schedule. With two exhibition games remaining, with only a few questions left to be sorted out, the priority should be on fielding a fully healthy squad come the October 2nd opener against the Maple Leafs. Without anything confirmed as far as a full medical report, at this point, it appears that the Flyers dodged a serious blow as far as any serious injury to Jakub Voracek. With Giroux looking as if he will not miss too much as far as rust goes in his game, it would have been a devastating loss to have his top winger sidelined for the beginning of the season. With the expected competition level for the Metropolitan Division, it will be important for the Flyers to try to get wins and points early and often. The loss of a player with the offensive responsibilities of Voracek would have showed up down the road for certain. With that scare in the rear-view mirror, the team is eight days from their regular season debut. With the disappointment of last season behind them and the expectations surrounding this year’s team, I would expect that Peter Laviolette and his team is very much interested in opening up some meaningful competition.