Who would have thought on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January that matchups involving the Devils playing the Flyers and the Rangers playing the Islanders would be a complete afterthought for three of the four teams involved? Honestly even with it being Devils-Flyers on a weekend afternoon, I had no interest in going (or even in watching the game) so I sold my tickets, though I did figure on a better performance against a lesser team. Still, I’ve seen far bigger wins over the Flyers at the Rock anyway. As is the case when results become irrelevant it’s all about the process and who’s playing well.
In that, the Devils’ 3-2 win this afternoon was a success as many of the young guns factored in with Damon Severson, Nico Hischier and Miles Wood getting the goals while Mackenzie Blackwood returned between the pipes off of his groin injury and won his third straight home start. Although they were outshot 34-26 and had their usual foibles (including 0-6 on the power play and a comically stupid second goal allowed late), against an even bigger underachiever in the Flyers it was still a game good enough for the win.
Ironically enough last year this game would have been hyped up as a showdown between the #1 and #2 overall picks, but the Nico-Nolan Patrick rivalry took second billing today compared to the young gun showdown in net between Blackwood and the Flyers’ own boy wonder Carter Hart – who’s also gotten off to a strong start since his callup. Round one went to Blackwood, who kept up his solid pre-injury play while Hart allowed a shortside goal to Severson in the first period, and a soft rebound goal to Wood early in the third. Still, Hart has a bright future in front of him as well and I admit I was with former GM Ron Hextall in thinking it was too soon to call him up. Then again I also thought it was too soon for Blackwood as well. I didn’t even realize how intertwined Blackwood and Hart were till I saw this Tweet from Chris Ryan just now:
While Blackwood and Hart have been almost equally scintillating in their brief debuts, the Nico-Nolan race is a runaway so far – in favor of Nico. If he wasn’t a Flyer I’d feel bad for Patrick, who seems like a nice enough kid and was the consensus #1 pick in the 2017 draft for almost two years before being usurped by the fast-rising Nico. Not only did Patrick ‘fall’ to #2, but he got picked by a team for whom center was a luxury since picking Patrick led the Flyers to trade Brayden Schenn to St. Louis. Oops. While Schenn had 70 points in St. Louis last year, Nico’s outscored Nolan 31-11 in points this year, including a scintillating breakaway goal in the second period after stripping the puck from Travis Sandheim.
Although Wood’s early third-period goal restored the Devils’ two-goal cushion it was by no means an easy finish with the Flyers outshooting New Jersey 13-4 in the final twenty minutes, aided by a late penalty on Severson that led to extended 6-on-4 time. Not to mention a shift earlier in the period where the Devils were trapped in their zone for at least two minutes, with two players losing their sticks, but somehow still not giving up a goal. It took frightening incompetence to finally dent Blackwood again in the dying moments of the game, when an ill-timed line change with under ten seconds remaining led to a breakaway goal by Sean Couturier. Seemingly only the Devils would be braindead enough to actually line change with under ten seconds left. I’m just glad it didn’t actually happen in a one-goal game, which I wouldn’t put past us.
Still, against the Flyers a win is a win – even now. Don’t even talk to me about the stupid lottery till March. It’s way way too early to just root for 0-38 the rest of the season. Although to be fair, as much as I like the fact the rival Flyers are struggling as well (call it the curse of Gritty lol), getting a win over a hapless Flyers team isn’t nearly as satisfying as playing spoiler to one in the playoff hunt would be. Generally that’s when I’ll be more into the games going forward – when we actually can play spoiler to a team like the Isles, Columbus and maybe a couple of other conference rivals. Games like Monday against a Blackhawk team falling on its own hard times or even today, not so much.