Hartnett: Experienced Devils Neutralizing Flyers’ Biggest Strengths
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By Sean Hartnett
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Throughout the regular season and during their opening round series against the Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers thrived by playing a ‘run-and-gun’ style.
Suddenly, their powerplay has been rendered ineffective by a hungry pack of Devils’ penalty killers.
Philadelphia’s powerplay was a scorching-hot 12-for-23 (52.1%) against the Penguins but has cooled off considerably when matched-up against the Devils in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Thus far, through 3 games, the Devils have neutralized Philly’s biggest strength as the Flyers’ powerplay has fallen to an ordinary 2-for-16 (12.5%).
Assistant captain Danny Briere called upon his teammates to rediscover the hunger that made their powerplay such an imposing threat against the Penguins.
“It seems like we just think that they’re going to let us do whatever we want out there. Their penalty-kill unit is out-working us by a mile,” Briere said following Game 3.
“It’s the reason why we lost the last two games. If the power play’s hungry, it’s a different story. We could be up 3-0 instead of down 2-1. The 10 to 12 guys that are on the power play, it’s time to step up here now and want to be out there. It’s an honor to be out there. Right now, we take it for granted,” Briere stated.
Meanwhile, its been business as usual for the Devils. Their regular season penalty kill of 89.6% was the greatest of all NHL teams since the 1968-69 season. They’ve frustrated the Flyers by out-hustling them, playing a more effective physical game and winning battles in the corners.
“We had a great penalty kill all year and we’re confident we’re going to kill it off,” Devils’ captain Zach Parise mentioned after Game 3.
I spoke to Parise about the selfless, high-effort job done by Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov and the Devils’ penalty kill units.
“Both him and Andy have been a very solid d-pairing for us all season. Bryce and Anton do a great job blocking shots and being physical. That’s a huge reason why our PK is so successful. They’re really aggressive down low,” Parise explained.
Outside of the effervescent Briere and checking liners Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, most of the Flyers’ roster has made little impact during the series. Big name stars, particularly Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr need to step up.
That’s not the case for the Devils’ leaders. Parise, Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac have done their part offensively while Patrik Elias has raised his offensive game to match his defensive contributions. I asked Martin Brodeur about Elias’ impact in the second round.
“He’s doing well. He’s part of our offense, he’s part of playing our PK. (Patrik) is really important to our hockey club. He does everything, not just scoring points. He’s a leader in the locker room and guys are looking up to him, Brodeur responded.
Kovalchuk believes the experience of Elias and veterans is a key asset for the Devils. I spoke to Kovalchuk during his post-game media session following Game 3.
“Him, Marty (Brodeur), Sykie (Petr Sykora)… they’re our leaders. They’ve (been) in those situations in the playoffs a lot and they know how to win those games. It was a huge game by (Patrik) and a great shot on the powerplay. It was definitely was a big moment. If he plays the way he can play, we’ll be in good shape,” he stated.
Kovalchuk also credited Ponikarovsky for using his size against a Flyers team known for their physical strength. As a whole, the Devils have won the majority of physical battles against the Flyers.
“He’s a big body. Those guys make a huge difference in those kinds of games. He made a great play when I scored the goal. This guy is a monster. He’s huge, his shot is so good. I told him to shoot the puck more and he got his own rebound,” Kovalchuk said after Game 3.
Devils’ head coach Peter DeBoer expects the Flyers to try to employ feisty tactics in an attempt to throw the Devils off their game in Game 4. He spoke with Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly.
“We know that is part of their identity and we have to stay away from that stuff,” DeBoer explained after Sunday’s morning skate. “At the same time, we haven’t taken a step back physically. I think the puck battles, the board battles and net front battles, that’s the type of fights we’re interested in.”
How important is the Devils’ experience in gaining the edge against the Flyers? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.