The Atlantic Division is always one of the toughest in all of the NHL, and Friday’s battle between bitter rivals the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers will add another chapter to the on-ice saga between these two teams.
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The Devils (8-2-3) are firmly in the top spot in the division, but the Flyers (6-7-1) are starting to play more efficiently despite the number of injuries the team has suffered since the start of the season.
With so much on the line—not only in the Atlantic Division race, but the entire Eastern Conference battle for supremacy—Philadelphia and New Jersey will push each other to the limit and the benefactors will be the fans watching.
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
When: Friday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: CSN (Philly), MSGP (New Jersey)
Live Stream: NHL GameCenter
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Dainius Zubrus, RW, IR
Sean Couturier, C, Questionable
Andrej Meszaros, D, Out until late Feb.
Scott Hartnell, LW, Out indefinitely
Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, Out indefinitely
Chris Pronger, D, Out indefinitely
Michael Leighton, G, IR
Flyers Player To Watch: Claude Giroux, C
The Flyers are 22nd in the NHL in points per game (2.4), and much of that problem stems from the lack of production from top star and new captain Claude Giroux.
It’s hard to tell what is causing the skid, but eight points (three goals and five assists) in 14 games is unacceptable from a player that amassed 93 points in just 77 games last season.
The long offseason, coupled with the lockout-shortened regular season, has thrown off many of the league’s best, but this season is already 14 games old. If Giroux cannot find a rhythm fast and hit his stride, the Flyers are in major trouble.
Devils Player To Watch: Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW
With an injury to forward Dainius Zubrus that will require surgery (h/t ESPN), the New Jersey Devils went out and made a trade to alleviate the loss by acquiring left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Winnipeg Jets.
Ponikarovsky was a Devil last season and helped the team on their road to the Stanley Cup Finals. The former New Jersey star left via free agency, but the organization felt comfortable enough with the skilled forward that a deal was easy to make.
Getting Ponikarovsky adjusted to the Devils' style should be no problem considering he was just using the team’s schemes and game plans a few months ago. If the new winger can play well immediately, New Jersey will be dangerous Friday and moving forward.
Prediction: Philadelphia 4, New Jersey 2
New Jersey has played well coming into Friday’s game (winning five of the team’s last six games), but Philadelphia has been just as impressive, losing just two games in regulation in February.
The Devils have the better record, but as the season has progressed, the teams that started slow—like the Flyers—are starting to hit their stride. Expect a bitter war on the ice of the Prudential Center Friday with the timely scoring of the Flyers finally giving them a win.
There is no questioning how talented starting goalie Martin Brodeur is, but the way Ilya Bryzgalov has been playing for Philadelphia is what they need for the rest of the season. This will be a great game that reminds NHL fans why the Eastern Conference is full of classic rivalries.