The arrow appeared to be pointing upward last season for the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils after they each reached the playoffs. But the only race the Flyers and Devils are involved in this season is the one headed for the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers and Devils will each look to avoid falling into the Eastern Conference basement Saturday afternoon, when they face each other at Prudential Center.
Both teams will enter Saturday's game in the midst of extended tailspins. The Devils suffered their third straight defeat and lost for the fourth time in five games Thursday, when they fell to the host Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2. The visiting Flyers snapped an eight-game losing streak Thursday, when they edged the Dallas Stars, 2-1.
The Devils (16-20-7), whose 39 points entering Friday ranked ahead of only the Flyers in the Eastern Conference, fell behind 3-0 in the first period yet looked as if they might snap out of their funk when Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle scored 26 seconds apart late in the second period to pull within 3-2. But Toronto outshot New Jersey 15-3 in the third period and iced the game with an empty net goal in the final minute.
Afterward, the Devils weren't satisfied with coming close against one of the East's elite teams.
"There's no moral victories at this point," Devils right winger Kyle Palmieri said. "We need to start stringing together wins and playing complete games and giving ourselves a shot."
The Flyers (16-22-6) gave themselves a shot more often than not during their 0-6-2 skid, during which they lost six games by two goals or fewer. Philadelphia finally pieced things together Thursday, when Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk scored within an eight-minute span in the second period and rookie goalie Carter Hart (37 saves) carried a shutout into the final three minutes of the game.
"Those are nice," the 20-year-old Hart said when asked if he would have enjoyed recording his first career shutout. "But at the same time, it just feels good to be in the win column and get a win. The last few games, the boys have battled hard and some bounces just haven't gone our way. We deserved a better fate in some of our previous games. Tonight, we just kept chipping away at it."
Hart, who has started eight of the Flyers' 13 games since being recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Dec. 17, is likely to start again on Saturday. He has never faced the Devils.
The Devils' goalie situation is a little more unsettled. Rookie Mackenzie Blackwood, who began solidifying the position by recording back-to-back shutouts in his second and third career wins Dec. 29-31 and by winning four times in five starts from Dec. 27 through Jan. 4, was placed on injured reserve due to a lower body injury Thursday, though he is eligible to return Saturday. With Blackwood out Thursday, former starter Keith Kinkaid stopped 39 of 42 shots in falling to the Maple Leafs.
Blackwood has never faced the Flyers. Kinkaid is 7-2-0 in nine career appearances against Philadelphia.
--Field Level Media