Flyers 3, Devils 1
The Flyers celebrate the feel good moment of the season (so far): Nate Prosser scoring in his first NHL game in over two years. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

What TK said! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 3-1, over the New Jersey Devils, sweeping their second two-game series of the season! It didn’t come easy, and it certainly wasn’t convincing. But a win’s a win, as the Flyers came through in another gut check third period to win the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike.

Early on this looked like it could be a really long night for the Flyers. Their first few minutes were overall solid, but the game quickly became a full-on track meet. Defense was optional throughout the early stages, with both teams flying in transition and testing the goaltenders early.

Scott Wedgewood and Carter Hart held down their forts early, but it was only a matter of time before one would blink. Unfortunately for Philly, the Devils were the ones dealing the first blow. A gassed Flyers team tried to get away with a “half clear” to the neutral zone and a quick line change, but Devils defenseman Damon Severson was having none of it.

Forget about activating on the rush, Severson was the rush on this play. He beat Erik Gustafsson to the outside, then ripped a perfectly placed shot that sounded iron and the goal horn. It’s the type of shot where you don’t know whether to credit the shooter or blame the goalie (though the shot may have tipped off Gustafsson’s stick), so you wind up doing both. Either way, it’s 1-0 New Jersey.

The Flyers defense must’ve been hungry to prove they too could provide offense. The whole unit probably had more scoring chances on the rush Thursday than they did in their first six games combined, but their leap onto the scoreboard Saturday was a bit less scripted.

And it wasn’t from the guys you’d expect, either. Alain Vigneault completed changed up his defense before this game. Justin Braun returned to Travis Sanheim’s side, a pairing that had a lot of success last season. Robert Hagg and Mark Friedman became healthy scratches. The guys who replaced them? Erik Gustafsson, who flipped a shot on net after a Hayes face-off win. And the man, no myth, no legend, that poked the rebound home… Nate Prosser?

The odds of Nate Prosser scoring tonight were close to impossible. Prosser hadn’t played an NHL game since January 17, 2019. He hadn’t scored an NHL goal since April 5, 2018. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Who says dreams don’t come true?

The Prosser goal was a feel good moment on a night where the Flyers, unfortunately, took a step back. Yes, they prevailed where it matters most. But Thursday’s game, where the Flyers had more shots on goal and won the expected goals battle for the first time all season, seemed like a potential turning point. Instead, the Flyers fell back into their old, bad habits in the first two periods tonight. Failed exits and lack of chances were the name of the game. It’s genuinely difficult to only put up four shots in each of the first two periods, but the Flyers somehow pulled it off. Yikes.

New Jersey’s top line of Andreas Johnsson, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt took the Flyers, especially the Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun pair, to the cleaners. However, the Devils didn’t have an answer for Carter Hart. Whether it was battling through traffic or robbing Johnsson Curtis Joseph stack-the-pads style, Hart was unflappable after the Severson strike. Considering his nightmare game five days ago in Boston and his horrible road numbers last year, Hart needed to play great in the worst way. He certainly delivered tonight.

Philadelphia’s defense has received more than its fair share of criticism so far. The return of Shayne Gostisbehere Thursday was a step forward. It also sounds like Phil Myers is close to returning, which is great. But tonight might’ve been the worse game of the year for the forwards as a unit.

The forecheck was solid, but didn’t have as much bite as Thursday’s borderline 2019-20 vintage showing. However, their collective effort on the back-check left a lot to be desired. New Jersey had a staggering amount of odd-man rushes, the majority of which were 3-on-2s (don’t forget that one 4-on-1, though!) where the defensemen had no support. Hart bailed them out, but the first two periods were ones to forget for most of the Flyers forwards, especially the top-six.

By second intermission, Alain Vigneault clearly had seen enough. With the Flyers best players not being their best players through 40 minutes, AV leaned on his fourth line early and often in the 3rd period. Why early? They (especially Nic Aube-Kubel) looked effective on the forecheck in the first two periods, and their straightforward chip-and-chase play-style is a great way to counter-attack the sluggishness running rampant across the other lines.

Why often? Because of what they did with that opportunity. After a solid first shift, the trio one-upped themselves their next time out. A perfectly calculated dump-in off the end boards by Michael Raffl started the sequence. Nicolas Aube-Kubel sort of got away with a trip behind the net on the forecheck, but the Flyers had money in the bank with the officials thanks to several sketchy calls early in the game.

Connor Bunnaman retried the puck and nearly buried an incredible power move around Wedgewood, but glanced the post. Thankfully, the puck sat right in the crease with no one around except Michael Raffl, who easily tapped in his first of the year to give Philly their first lead of the night.

While the fourth line performed admiral yeoman’s work all frame, the big boys also worked hard to find the back of the net. Gustafsson once again made good things at the left point, but this time it was more skill than luck. Nolan Patrick kept the play alive at the boards, working it down low to Jake Voracek. He whipped the puck low to high, setting up Gustafsson with all kinds of room. Gustafsson froze Wedgewood with a perfectly disguised slap-pass, and captain Claude Giroux tipped in for his long awaited first goal of the year.

Save for a knuckle puck off the crossbar in the waining moments, the Devils never mounted a serious comeback down the stretch. While the night overall wasn’t the Flyers finest, the third period was close to a masterclass. Pop the champagne, everybody: for the first time this season, the Flyers had more shot attempts and expected goals than an opponent at 5-on-5 in a period! At the very least, the final 20 minutes proved Thursday’s semi-dominance wasn’t a total fluke. There’s still work to be done, but the Flyers now are starting to do it.

Lindies

That first goal is way overdue for Giroux. The captain entered the weekend tied for fifth in the league (with Jake Voracek, among others) with seven assists. Giroux was the only Flyer with at least 50 5-on-5 minutes who the Flyers outshot and out chanced the opposition while he was on the ice. If I’m doing my math right (there’s a very good chance I’m not), Giroux is in the 85th percentile in 5-on-5 xG%. Not too shabby.

Prosser is the first Flyer to score in their team debut since technically Morgan Frost last December. Not counting rookies making their NHL debut, he’s the first to pull off the feat since Valtteri Filppula (2/2/17).

An underrated reason for the Flyers two game sweep? A perfect penalty kill. The refereeing in this game was a little suspect at times, but the Flyers never broke, killing off five out of five penalties across the two contests. Prosser was a big part of the team’s 4/4 effort tonight; only Provorov had more PK time than Prosser’s 4:00, and the 34-year old performed very well in his short-handed ice-time.

Looking for proof the fourth-line played a lot tonight? Connor Bunnaman played a career-high 13:11 tonight. Michael Raffl only played more than his 14:53 tonight six times last season

Looking for proof the fourth-line played well tonight? For the second straight game, the Raffl-Bunnaman-NAK line led the Flyers with offense via defense. They allowed just 0.07 expected goals for combined over the last two games. Their first game together was a rough start, but the trio has quickly found the chemistry that made them so successful last season.

Congratulations to Devils head coach Lindy Ruff on becoming the seventh person to coach 1,500 NHL games tonight.

Jake Voracek has been making a lot of history lately, and he didn’t slow down tonight.

Face-offs aren’t as big of a deal as some people make of them, but it’s better to win them then not. The Flyers are the best face-off team in the league two years running, and they proved their mettle tonight, winning a season-high 74% of their draws. That includes winning three of the four initial face-offs on their penalty kills and the aforementioned win that led to the Prosser goal.

3 Stars

3rd: Erik Gustafsson – 2 Assists (4, 5)

2nd: Claude Giroux – Goal (1)

1st: Carter Hart – 33 Saves/34 Shots, .971 SV%, 1 GA on 2.43 xGA

Next

PHI – 1/30, 7 PM vs. NYI (3-3-0)

NJ – 1/30, 1 PM @ BUF (3-3-1)

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