GAME PREVIEW: Flyers vs. New Jersey Devils

The Game: The Philadelphia Flyers are a team that has hit about as much bad luck as a team should face in a season in the past two weeks. Tonight, they’ll try to put the past behind them as they take on the Atlantic Division leading New Jersey Devils at the Wachovia Center. 

The Flyers have come out with a purpose their last two games, only to be unable to hang on in the later stages as they’ve dropped their last two contests to the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins, and are losers of their last five contests overall.  The Devils are in the midst of a race for the Atlantic Division crown, and are riding an impressive 6-2-2 record in their last ten games that has vaulted them into serious contention for the Atlantic Division title.  The Flyers, on the other hand, haven’t been nearly as solid down the stretch, going a porous 2-6-2 in their last ten games, which has plummeted them all the way to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.  The Flyers will be without top scorer Jeff Carter for the rest of the regular season, have lost starting goaltender Michael Leighton for the remainder of ’09-’10, and now saw another goaltender in the form of Johan Backlund go down with a groin injury yesterday afternoon with a groin injury.  Did I mention Matt Carle is day-to-day with a bone bruise?  It’s safe to say the Flyers are most certainly limping at the present – and it’s at the most inopportune time.

The Story: Tonight will be “Fan Appreciation Night” at the Wachovia Center, but in all seriousness, what do the fans have to be appreciative about given how the past month of play has gone for the Flyers?  They’ve been bitten by the injury bug, hard.  They have been at an extreme loss when it comes to displaying heart on the ice on a consistent basis, and their goaltending has been, in a word, bad.  It won’t get any easier this evening, as the New Jersey Devils come to town and are looking to move closer to a division crown.  The Flyers will be playing the second half of a brutal weekend of back-to-back games against the Devils and other Atlantic Division power, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  If the Flyers have any fight left in them, tonight would be a great time to showcase whatever that fight is.  If not, they are looking at a very realistic possibility – and an increasingly definite possibility – that they will not make the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.  For a franchise like the Flyers’, one that prides itself on history and the legacy of the past superstars that have donned the Flyers uniform, it’s difficult to imagine such a half-hearted group is sporting the Orange and Black this season.  However, so goes this team.  Tonight, they can either take another step out of the playoff picture, or jump right back on in.

Who to Watch on the Devils: Jamie Langenbrunner, Right Wing.

Langenbrunner embodies everything a captain should be in today's NHL

Langenbrunner has been a great presence for the Devils this season, both on the ice and in the dressing room.  He has supplied a calming influence, while also a presence to learn from for young stars Zac Parise and Travis Zajac in New Jersey.  He’s also been helped out offensively by the Devils latest acquisition, some guy named Kovalchuk.  In 51 career games against the Orange and Black, Langenbrunner has been solid, tallying 16 goals and 29 points.  This season, the Devils captain has been strong once again, going for 18 goals and 60 points in 74 games.  He’s also been relatively hot lately as well, tallying a goal and two assists in his last two contests.  A player that loves to crash the net and play physical in front of the goal mouth, Langenbrunner will likely give the Flyers fits tonight.

The Skinny: As good as the Devils have been this season, the Flyers have surprisingly had their number.  The Orange and Black are 4-1-0 against their Atlantic Division rivals, as the Flyers used back-to-back come from behind wins before the Olympic Break to gain the two most recent wins against the Devils.  The Devils are tied with Pittsburgh for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, with 93 points, while the Flyers are tied with Boston for the East’s eighth seed at 80 points.

Notes: With Backlund’s injury, the Flyers have called up Carter Hutton from Adirondack to back-up Brian Boucher tonight on an emergency basis.  Boucher obviously will be in net for the Flyers, and he will be opposed by the legendary Martin Brodeur for New Jersey.  The Devils’ netminder has a league-leading 41 wins this season.  Matt Carle’s status has yet to be announced for today’s game, but if he does not play Lukas Krajicek will likely to continue to hold his spot on the roster until Carle’s ready.

Jim Jackson, Keith Jones, and Steve Coates will have the call for Comcast SportsNet from the Wachovia Center when the puck drops at 7:00 PM EST.

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