Flyers, Devils match up with no shot at playoffs
NEWARK, N.J. — Welcome to a meaningless NHL game.
The New Jersey Devils have been playing out the string for a while now, but when they host Philadelphia on Tuesday night, it will mark the first game for the Flyers since they were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.
The Flyers are the first team in NHL history to win 10 straight games and not qualify for the postseason. Since going 10-0 in November and December, the Flyers are 19-23-5 and will be home during the playoffs for the second time in three years.
“I said it at that time it was going to be a battle all the way through,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said to Philly.com. “I don’t think anybody in our room got too far ahead of themselves.
“You just know things are too tight when you look throughout the conference. You look at a couple key points — three or four games where you look at different outcomes — (because) it’s that close.
“But the reality is, we’re on the outside looking in.”
The Flyers showed fight in their loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday. They fought back late to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 4-3 nailbiter, only to fall just short in the final seconds.
“We never quit,” Flyers rookie Travis Konecny said to Philly.com. “We’re a character team that’s going to push to the end.”
That character will be tested as they play the first of three inconsequential games to finish the season against a Devils team that is looking to see what they have for the future on defense.
The Devils have a slew of young blue liners that could be in their plans for 2017-18. the final four games could help John Hynes make tough decisions.
Jon Merrill, Steven Santini, Michael Kapla and Dalton Prout, who will be serving the first game of a two-game suspension Tuesday for a hit on Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas when these teams met Saturday, are the players under the microscope.
“Johnny played well for a while. His game did slip a little bit,” Hynes said to NJ.com. “It didn’t slip enough to be out every game or labeled an eighth defenseman like we have now. He did come out of the lineup for those reasons, but we have eight guys and we’re trying to take a look at different guys, and Johnny’s in that mix.”
The newest face is Kapla, who signed an entry-level contract out of UMass-Lowell last week and made his NHL debut Saturday. He had three goals and 30 points in 41 games as a senior and should be given a chance to impress down the stretch.
“In talking with him, the speed of the game, the pace of play, the strength and size of the players is a big difference,” Hynes said to NJ.com about Kapla’s first game. “There’s so many guys who know how to play the game. It’s little things, angle, body position, stick position, how quick guys close on you. Those things are at the highest level here. In college, you might be on the ice with three or four guys who understand that, but at this level every time you come over the boards, you’re playing guys at that level of play.
“That was an adjustment, but even going back to the video, he’s got some good puck poise and what we think of him as a player, we were able to (against the Flyers) he was probably a little nervous finding his way.”