For the third time in less than three weeks, the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils face off against one another in an important Metropolitan Division clash Thursday night at the Prudential Center.
New Jersey is tied for third in the Metro with Philadelphia two points behind.
The Flyers won the first two meetings this season, beating the Devils 5-3 in New Jersey on Jan. 13 and 3-1 in Philadelphia seven days later. Sean Couturier scored twice for the Flyers in the first victory and Travis Konecny scored once in each win.
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However, the Flyers arrive in Newark losers of two straight — one loss before the All-Star break and one after, a 5-3 road loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday evening. The Flyers led 2-0 after one period, but surrendered five straight goals.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth did not finish, replaced by rookie Alex Lyon who stopped all five shots he faced in his NHL debut.
“Mentally it’s tough, you don’t think about hockey for four days and then you have one practice and you have to be ready,” Neuvirth told reporters. “There’s no excuses.”
Neuvirth is the de-facto No. 1 goalie for the Flyers (24-18-8) after starter Brian Elliott landed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. It is expected that Neuvirth will start Thursday in New Jersey.
The Flyers received a goal and an assist from second-overall draft pick Nolan Patrick — his second goal in the past 30 games — and tallies from Konecny and Ivan Provorov. Konecny extended career highs by scoring a goal Wednesday in his fifth consecutive game and recording a point in his sixth straight.
The Flyers have won eight of their last 11 games.
“I think everything tightens up going forward from here on in, and it will continue to do so as everything ramps up,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “It does that on kind of a step by step basis throughout the year and now as you get to post All-Star game time and the last third of the schedule everything ramps up.”
The Devils (25-16-8) returned from the All-Star break Tuesday with a 3-1 road victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Leading scorer Taylor Hall was back in the lineup and scored the eventual game-winning goal in the second period, and winger Kyle Palmieri had a goal and an assist for New Jersey.
Hall missed the All-Star Game and the Devils final three games before the break because of an injured thumb. He now has 18 goals and 49 points this season.
“It felt great for our group, it’s about getting wins down the stretch here,” Hall said. “We feel good about our group right now and now it’s about going on a roll, putting together some solid games and getting ourselves back with a little bit of a cushion.”
Prior to the break, the Devils lost four straight, being outscored 12-3 in the process. They are 3-7-3 in the last 12 games overall and 1-3-1 in their last five games on home ice.
“I think our consistency has to be better,” Devils rookie Nico Hischier said. “When you look at the last 10 games, we beat ourselves a couple of times and probably lost some games we shouldn’t have.”
Hall’s return provided the team a lift Tuesday, as did those of goaltender Keith Kinkaid and defenseman Mirco Mueller, both of whom the Devils activated off injured reserve in time for the win in Buffalo. Kinkaid made 27 saves after missing three games with a groin injury, and Mueller played 13:55 after sitting out 31 games with a fractured clavicle.
Kinkaid will start against the Flyers since the team’s No. 1 goalie, Cory Schneider, remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. Schneider worked out off ice during practice Wednesday as did Marcus Johansson, who is out with a concussion.
“I felt really sharp (Tuesday) so hopefully that’s a good thing (for Thursday),” said Kinkaid, a winner in three of his four previous starts.
After Thursday, the Devils and the Flyers meet once more this season — Feb. 13 in Philadelphia.