Do not be fooled by New Jersey’s sixth-place standing in last year’s division standings. The Devils were deceitfully better than their 35-29-18 record indicated. Since Philadelphia last saw their foes from Newark, little has changed quantitatively. But is this team the same Devils the Flyers know? Or is the Devil in the details of offseason decisions?
Part V of a seven-part series sheds light on the Flyers and their Metropolitan Division opponent, the New Jersey Devils.
2013-14 Season Series: A Low-Scoring Affair
If the New Jersey Devils never see Brayden Schenn again, it’d be a year too late for the three-time Stanley Cup Champions. While the younger of the two Schenn’s was the only Flyer to score multiple goals in the season series, the 22-year-old forward certainly made them both count.
Schenn’s first goal against the Devils stood to be the lone goal scored in Nov. 2nd’s 1-0 shutout. And his overtime goal on Jan. 7th capped off a 3-2 win on the heels of the Canadian Olympic roster announcement. The overtime game-winner was Schenn’s eighth point in his last seven games, which was one of the high points of his inconsistent season.
“Now in his third season with the Flyers, Schenn is best categorized as an inconsistent contributor. He’s been locked in as a top-nine forward on the roster since day one, and he’ll have weeks or even months where he is consistently one of the top Flyers on the ice. Then, he goes through extended stretches where he is totally invisible, both at even strength and on the power play.” — Charlie O’Connor, Broad Street Hockey
While Schenn tormented the Devils, New Jersey effectively contained Philly’s top scorers by limiting Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek to a combined one goal and three assists. In fact, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur stymied Philadelphia’s fire power, allowing only four different Flyers to score on 102 total shots.
Brodeur finished the season series with a 2-1-1 record against the Flyers, while flashing a .951 save percentage.
“It was a typical Devils-Flyers game,” said Brodeur, after a 31-save performance on Mar. 11th. “Had a good atmosphere, lot of physical play around the net, throwing pucks from everywhere. Enjoyable game. Always nicer when you finish on top, but it was a fun game to play.”
The ageless Brodeur wasn’t the only member of the Over 40 club that gave the Flyers fits. Former Flyer Jaromir Jagr led the entire series with a pair of goals and assists.
“I’ve got to make sure I check him if I’m on the ice against him,” said Voracek of his former teammate. “I’ve just got to make sure I make his life miserable.”
Instead, it was Jagr who danced around his former colleagues, adding a plus-four rating to his series-leading 19:48 of average time on ice among forwards. But Jagr’s scoring parade was only a party of two against Philly. The only other Devil to pot more than one goal was Adam Henrique.
Ray Emery, who was re-signed earlier in July, earned both wins for the Flyers, while Steve Mason’s lone loss dropped his career record against New Jersey to 0-4.
The low-scoring season series against the Flyers was symbolic of New Jersey’s hardship when it came to scoring goals. Ending the season with a 2.40 goals per game average, it’s no surprise the Devils were only able to muster up seven goals against the Flyers last season.
Approaching last season’s trade deadline, New Jersey’s absence of scoring led to talks of a trade for an established forward.
“Their anaemic offense could push GM Lou Lamoriello into the trade market. The Star-Ledger’s Rich Chere says Lamoriello must focus his attention on a top-line left wing by early March and wouldn’t be surprised if the Devils also added an experienced defenseman.” — Lyle Richardson, The Hockey News
Coincidentally, one of the leading names among the rumors was Mike Cammalleri. And although the trade deadline passed by, leaving Cammalleri in Calgary, Lamoriello finally got his man in this year’s free agency period.
“I feel I’m a good fit for the club; the skill set I can bring and teammate I can be at this point might fit in nicely with the group,” said Cammalleri.
Cammalleri, who went 2-6 in shootout attempts for the Flames last season, is an asset the Devils were in dire need of. Not only did the Devils finish 27th in the league in scoring, their 0-13 shootout record possibly cost them a playoff berth. Their 13th shootout loss of the season came against the New York Islanders in April, and extended their current drought to 17 straight.
“New Jersey just can’t win in shootouts. The Devils lost their 13th this season and extended their NHL record for shootout ineptitude to 17 straight over the past two seasons, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Islanders on Friday night.” — The Daily News
While Cammaelleri represents the pinnacle of New Jersey’s free agent shopping, Lamoriello wrapped up the goaltending situation that will be without Martin Brodeur for the first time since 1992. The torch has officially been passed to Cory Schneider, who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal. In determining who will spell Schneider’s relief, Lamoriello reunited Scott Clemmensen with the team that drafted him in 1997.
“Clemmensen is obviously a guy who’s been here and they can trust,” said goalie prospect Scott Wedgewood. “There are no guarantees knowing the future with injuries and situations, so they need someone else who can handle the work load.”
Although Wedgewood is unlikely to see Newark when the games start counting, rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid will vie for the backup role. For the Devils, though, their best case scenario sees Kinkaid blossoming ahead of schedule, much like Anaheim experienced with John Gibson. If the Devils don’t strike oil there, however, they’ll have Clemmensen to rely on, a one-time 25 game-winner with the Devils.
The Flyers will likely see the combo of Schneider and Clemmensen, though. Although Kinkaid is highly touted, his AHL record stands at 38-37-9 over the course of two seasons in Albany of the AHL.
New Jersey’s new goaltending landscape declares the end of an era for the Devils and 42-year-old Martin Brodeur. The future Hall-of-Famer leaves the Devils with a career record of 688-394-105-49. Brodeur, who is now in search of a new team, leaves behind a legacy that boasts 20 NHL records, including most regular season wins (688), most regular season (124) and playoff shutouts (24), and career saves (25,508).
“I’ve had a lot of good conversations with the Devils, but I’m not inclined at going back at this point,” said Brodeur earlier in June. “I just feel that with Schneids (goalie Cory Schneider) the organization has to move on. Me being around might be tough a little bit for them. I don’t completely put it out of the question (returning to New Jersey), but I don’t want to mess up the cards for the Devils.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where I go next, I’m always going to be a Devil. I’m always going to come back to the organization. But I want to play one more year. So I’ll see what’s out there.”
With Schneider’s new massive contract, the Devils are undoubtedly committed to the 28-year-old who hasn’t won 20 games since the 2011-12 season. Schneider was a Canuck that year, so his $6 million cap hit (that kicks in at the start of the 2015-16 season) is a gamble no matter what anyone says.
Schneider will have to get acclimated with the Flyers in a hurry, since his last (and only) appearance against the Orange and Black in the regular season came in a 3-2 loss in 2008.
When the Flyers next see the Devils, the change in net won’t be the only difference they’ll see. That’s because New Jersey’s defensive core became a lot younger at two strokes of a pen. Anton Volchenkov matriculated to greener pastures, after being bought out by the Devils, signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Nashville Predators.
But a bigger blow to the New Jersey blue line was dealt when Mark Fayne chose to sign with the Edmonton Oilers at the tune of four-years, $14 million.
“Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello warned that it was not likely the team would keep Fayne because of the offers he would receive. This deal will pay him $3.5 million per season but does not include a no-trade clause.
“The Devils weren’t able to sign forward Milan Michalek, who agreed to a three-year deal with Ottawa at $4 million per.” — Rich Chere, nj.com
Volchenkov and Fayne contributed little offensively last season. But then again, so did the rest of the team. If the pups on New Jersey do not adapt quickly, it could be open season for the Flyers’ prolific scoring.
The Devils The Flyers Know?
With the exclusion to the previously mentioned departures, the Devils were able to keep their core in place, while adding Cammalleri. The team’s leading scorer, Jaromir Jagr, is back for a final season, and linemates Adam Henrique and Ryan Clowe will have a year of chemistry under their belts.
“They weren’t a playoff team, missing out by five points largely due to a hellacious number of circumstances that converged upon them all at once. They finished the year with a sparkling 54.6 percent possession rate in score-close situations, becoming the first team in the analytics era (since 2007) to fail to make the playoffs despite controlling that large a percentage of shot attempts.” — Dimitri Filipovic, The Sporting News
If the “Devil’s in the details,” though, then what about the other possible scenarios that could play out? What if Jon Merrill struggles, or Peter Harrold gets thrusted into eating up more minutes than planned?
“I will be shocked if there’s not a young defenseman, at least one, in the lineup,” said Lamoriello. “But I’ve been shocked before. Which will really force moves. It’s happened in the past. But they have to be ready to play.”
A greener, less experienced blue line may place more pressure on New Jersey’s unseen “newer” offense. They’ll need Jagr to not only maintain his production, but stay healthy while doing so. And although he has played in all 82 games in three of four full NHL schedules, he is 42 now. The same goes for Patrik Elias, who is 38 himself.
Even with Cammalleri’s likely contributions, some of the scoring burden will now be placed on Jacob Josefson, who was signed to a two-year, $1.6 million deal. Should anything not go according to plan, and it seldom does, the Devils could easily find themselves in trouble. And that’s not just against the Flyers.
“With Josefson under contract, the Devils now have 14 forwards signed to one-way contracts for the 2014-15 campaign. That will make it particularly difficult for top prospects Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher to make the team’s opening game roster.” — Ryan Dadoun, Pro Hockey Talk
The odds are in New Jersey’s favor that they’ll break their shameful 17-game shootout losing streak next season. But the Devils the Flyers know will need more than that to live up to all of the dark horse talk going around.
As for the Flyers? Getting Steve Mason his first career win against New Jersey would be a step in the right direction in the upcoming season series. But then again, Ray Emery’s .944 save percentage saved the series last year. I guess that’s why they play the games.