The Metropolitan Division this year has four teams that are definite locks to reach the postseason, and a fifth that is in the hunt for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, who meet Thursday night at the Prudential Center, neither of those Metropolitan Division teams is in the postseason mix.
The inconsistent Flyers (32-29-8) are closer to the playoff pack then are the last-place Devils (25-31-12), but they still have three teams ahead of them for the second wild card in the East, with just 13 games remaining on their regular-season schedule.
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“We’re playing for our season right now,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux told Philly.com. “We’re playing some good hockey, but, at the end, it’s not good enough.”
The Flyers snapped a three-game losing streak by shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-0, on Wednesday. Goaltender Steve Mason earned his third shutout of the season, Wayne Simmonds scored the 200th goal of his NHL career, Brayden Schenn notched a pair of assists, and Giroux extended his point-scoring streak to five consecutive games by netting his 14th goal.
“We were letting our season slip away, so for us to come up with a big effort and stop the bleeding (was huge),” Mason said to Philly.com after stopping all 23 shots he faced Wednesday. “Hopefully we can build off it.”
Simmonds scored his goal on the power play, tying him with Schenn for the league lead with 15 power-play goals this season. The Flyers were 1-for-4 on the man advantage Wednesday, but still only have three goals in their last 30 power-play opportunities.
This will be the third of four straight games within the division for the Flyers on Thursday. So far this season, the Flyers are just 7-11-2 against Metropolitan Division opponents.
The Devils, who had their home game Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets canceled because of a severe snowstorm, have lost 10 straight games (0-8-2), the last six in regulation. They return home after a winless three-game road trip that culminated with a 5-4 loss to the Coyotes in Arizona, and have not won in nearly a month since a 3-2 home-ice victory over the New York Islanders.
With a fifth straight season out of the playoffs all but mathematically assured, the Devils turn to their top organizational prospects down the stretch of the season, providing NHL experience for the young players, with a chance for the team’s brain trust to evaluate them in the process.
The latest youngster recalled from the minor leagues is 20-year-old John Quenneville, who will play Thursday against the Flyers. Quenneville, the Devils’ first-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, leads Albany of the American Hockey League with 41 points and 29 assists in 53 games. He also is fourth among all AHL rookies in assists and tied for sixth in points.
This is his second recall of the season, having previously played two games in early December.
“I think my game’s at a good place,” Quenneville said to nj.com. “This time around, I want to play my game a little more. I’m an offensive player, and that’s kind of my shtick.”
Quenneville is expected to play on a line with two other important younger players, 19-year-old Pavel Zacha (New Jersey’s top pick in 2015) and 24-year-old Stefan Noesen, a 2011 first-round selection of the Ottawa Senators.
“We’ll give him another opportunity and see if there’s been a big growth in his game, and see if he’s any more ready and prepared to be an impact player,” Devils coach John Hynes said of Quenneville following Wednesday’s practice.
Veterans Michael Cammalleri (shoulder), Jacob Josefson (upper body) and Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body) all will be missing from New Jersey’s lineup Thursday.
Backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid will get the start against the Flyers. He is 6-8-2 with a 2.70 GAA and .915 save percentage in 18 appearances this season, including a solid effort in relief of Cory Schneider in Arizona when he stopped 20 of 21 shots in a span of 35 minutes, 2 seconds of action.
“It’s just another opportunity for him,” Hynes said of Kinkaid. “He’s got to do something with it, the opportunity to play.”
Philadelphia won the first two games played between these teams this season; and after Thursday, the Flyers and Devils have two more games against one another, a home and home set April 1 and 4.