With their first-round opener loss to a team that struggled all the way to Game 82 just to make it into the playoffs, it doesn’t look like the Devils fixed anything (the power play, losing to lower-seeded teams) like they said they had at the end of the season. They got their first wakeup call of the postseason that all is not well.
The key for the Devils is apparently not in their power play like they hoped it would be. The first step they need to take is to capitalize on five-on-five situations when Flyers defensemen Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are not out on the ice.
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Pronger and Timonen are the key to the Flyers’ penalty kill. With the two out on the ice during most of every power play, that puck is not going to get past them. They are the Flyers’ first line of defense before the puck even gets to goalie Brian Boucher. The Flyers were 100 percent on the penalty kill in their 2-1 Game 1 win.
"Penalty kill is about structure," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
For the Devils, the special teams are what define their game. It’s not a matter of tweaking the power play, it’s a matter of getting the puck around Pronger if they plan on scoring on the power play. The key word there is "around."
"We’ve got to work a little more on the power play," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "You don’t score on the power play, it could cost you the game." The Flyers walked into Prudential Center with the understanding that the Devils power play would be their strongest suit against them. Ergo, their penalty kill would have to be their even bigger weapon against the Devils. With Ilya Kovalchuk and the top line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner struggling to create chances, only Zajac was able to generate any sort of offense, netting a goal late in the third period.
Both teams seemed anxiety-driven throughout the first period. Both played horribly as the nerves of the first game of the postseason struck through both teams. The only exception was the work of the Devils defensemen who created a wall in front of Martin Brodeur throughout the first period.
But that first line of defense disappeared in the second period after a four-minute power play generated nothing for the Devils.
Both Chris Pronger (9:25) and Mike Richards (16:27) scored in the second period for the Flyers. The biggest common denominator on each of the Flyers’ goals had to do with the Devils defense, or lack thereof.
Both Martin Skoula and Bryce Salvador were on the ice for the Devils at the same time when each of the Flyers’ tallies took place. Either the Devils need to split up the two defensemen or bench them, because it’s not working.
"It’s a good team that plays well defensively," Lemaire said.
Another strong point in the Devils game has always been puck possession. The only way they will be able to control the puck more efficiently and minimize on the turnovers is to dump the puck into the Flyers zone. Their defense falls apart when that happens. That would be the first step in the right direction. The key to winning is much simpler than it looks.
The Flyers have been using a similar system to what the Carolina Hurricanes used to shut down the Devils last season. If the Devils do not take notice of that and change their system, they can plan on handing the series over to the Flyers who have now won six of seven contests against the Devils this season.