The Devils shouldn't have won Thursday's game against the Flyers, but they still found a way to win. New Jersey has given away points too often this season, but this time was different. The offense was as strong as always, but the defense continues to be the destruction of this year's team. Unlike past games, the goaltending was outstanding, as Akira Schmid deserved the star of the game.
In this game, the Devils dominated the first period. They held the Philadelphia Flyers to eight shots on goal as the defense kept most of the Flyers' offense to the outside of the blue line. On the other side, Alexander Holtz continues his streak of scoring the first goal and taking the Devils to a 1-0 lead. Building on a solid chemistry with center Micheal McLeod, the young sniper put the Devils on the board with a beautiful shot past Flyers goaltender Carter Hart.
Jack Hughes, pushing his way to the Hart Trophy consideration, added a second goal on a 2-on-1. Dawson Mercer, who had picked up his game since being reunited with Hughes on the top line, fed a beautiful clearing pass out of the defensive zone to a breaking Tyler Toffoli, who passed to Hughes. Jack made it look easy with a wrister shot past Hart.
Though the Devils held the lead, a late icing whistle by the refs and a questionable hit by the Flyers' Garnet Hathaway sent Luke Hughes hard into the boards. He remained on the ice and then quickly skated to the locker room. Already down Dougie Hamilton on defense, losing another top offensive defensive man sent chills down most Devil fan's spines. Hughes would return to start the second period, but with injuries piling up on the Devils this season, it seemed destined to be bad. Hathaway was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Unfortunately, the Devils failed to convert on the major. Although they moved the puck well between the end of the first and the beginning of the second period, they couldn't get past Hart.
In the second period, the Devils played a different game. They allowed the more physical Flyers to take control of the game. The Devils were trapped in their zone for long periods by the Flyers. The Devils were outshot 25-10 in the second period. The Devils consistently failed to clear the puck out of the zone, and instead of moving the puck out, they made too many attempts and were sloppy with the clears. The Devils also took too many penalties in the second period. Nico Hischier and Hughes, usually the more disciplined players, found themselves in the box. Hischier took two penalties. The Flyers' Morgan Frost would take advantage of the man advantage and move Philly up on the scoreboard.
Schmid found some of his Rangers playoff series skills in this one, as he was in the zone all game. The goals that did pass him were high-danger chances that he had little chance of stopping. He kept the Devils in this game and rescued a chaotic defensive play by the Devils.
The Devils' NHL-leading power play allowed the team to take a 3-1 lead off a beautiful goal by Toffoli. Hughes, with his second point of the game, shot it towards the net where Hishcier and Toffoli were net front. After a scramble, Toffoli was able to bury the puck, but the play also cost the team Nico Hischier for much of the middle frame of the period. The Flyers kept the Devils pinned in their zone. Too many failed attempts to clear and bad giveaways in the defensive zone allowed Walker to get the Flyers back within one goal off assists by Scott Laughton and Bobby Brink.
The Devils failed to control the final minutes of the game where there were too many missed clearing attempts and failed passes that allowed the Flyers to dominate the final frame. Hughes, a Lady Bing finalist, collected his second penalty of the game with 4:14 seconds left in the third period. With Hischier's return to the bench, the Devils were close to surviving the penalty kill when Brandon Smith took a slashing penalty with 3:10 remaining. Smith, who had an amazing two games as a winger but moved back to defense with Hamilton's injury, played a great game, but a retaliation penalty allowed the Flyers to score. After killing the Hughes penalty, the Flyers pulled Hart, and Tyson Foerster was able to score with less than a minute remaining.
The game would head to overtime, allowing the Flyers to at least stay ahead in the wild card race regardless of the outcome. The overtime started, and just 28 seconds into the period, Hischier would send a pass to the flying Hughes brothers. JHughes took the pass from Hischier and quickly passed it over to LHughes, who buried the puck for the win. Taking a celebratory bow, the Devils won a dirty game they needed to this season.
There are still glaring issues on defense. Missing the shot-blocking of Ryan Graves, who led the team last year, along with departed Damon Severson, the Devils have struggled on their end. The lack of physical play, bad clears, bad passes, and leaving the slot and net front unguarded have cost this team points. Unlike games in the past, this season, Schmid was up to the task and played like a 1A goaltender. He kept the Devils in this game. If he can improve on this performance, the Devils can move further in the standings. The team offense is one of the top in the NHL. This team is always dangerous on the ice but needs to adjust quickly.
This is a very talented team with firepower and skill. The injuries have cost this team several points, and with key players still missing, they need to rely on a team game to push forward. But they are on a three-game heater and face the visiting Sharks tomorrow night. Walking away with 6 points this week will do wonders for their confidence for next week's road trip.