When the Philadelphia Flyers visited New Jersey Thursday night, the second line of Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Ville Leino carried the team in a 4-2 victory.
Saturday, the two teams squared off again; this time in Philadelphia. Although Briere continued his hot scoring streak, James van Riemsdyk’s energy, talent and consistency led the way in the Flyers’ 2-1 win.
The expectations for van Riemsdyk have always been lofty in Philadelphia and for good reason. He was drafted as the second overall draft pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and the player drafted before him [Patrick Kane] was the culprit in the Flyers’ heartbreaking Stanley Cup loss last year. Although van Riemsdyk’s talent has been visible, it has been fleeting.
This season, the young winger has taken a hold of his career like never before. In Saturday’s win over the putrid Devils, van Riemsdyk was far and away the most dominant skater on the ice. Although some of the team looked to be lethargic for stretches, number 21 in orange refused to quit.
Count the team’s leading goal scorer among those impressed.
“The last two games he’s been using his speed and his strength to get in on the forecheck,” Briere explained, “It’s night and day when he shows up and he plays the way he did tonight. He’s tough to stop. As the years come, you’re going to see more and more of him. It’s a big plus for the team.”
“He’s hard to play against right now,” added head coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s probably been our most productive forward.”
For a young player to earn such high praise from a demanding coach certainly speaks volumes.
After the game that van Riemsdyk had dominated, he was rightfully rewarded for it. He was named the game’s first star, with one goal on three shots and a plus-one rating. He was second only to Claude Giroux among Philadelphia’s skaters with 23 shifts, which totaled 18:12 in ice time.
However, the statistics barely do a justice in an effort to illustrate the impact that van Riemsdyk had in the Flyers’ win. He dug pucks when they needed digging. When there was ice around him, he occupied every inch that he could touch. Of the five New Jersey penalties, he drew two of them with his controlled play and puck possession.
In a close game with an Atlantic Division rival, a performance like that can be the difference. Saturday, it most certainly was.
“That’s what I really wanted to focus on this year, being consistent from shift to shift,” JVR said about his effort Saturday. “I’ve gotten a lot better at letting go of the shift before and focus on going out and having a great shift the next time out.”
That is something the Flyers will gladly welcome on their quest for the Stanley Cup.