Will Butcher was a former Colorado Avalanche draft pick who declined to sign in Denver and instead chose the Devils this past summer as a free agent. Likewise, Alexander Kerfoot was a New Jersey Devils draftee who declined to sign in Newark and ended up with the Avs.
They ended up across the ice against each other in their NHL debuts today at Prudential Center and it was Butcher and the Devils who were the story, as New Jersey won the game 4-1 while Butcher came away with three assists. Kerfoot was largely invisible.
It was a big day for Devils hockey. A large crowd was on hand to see the Devils’ red carpet arrival. The players arrived at the arena in police escorted cars and walked an aisle, stopping to have their pictures taken at a special backdrop with contest winners along the way. That began at 11 AM and by the time the puck was about to drop on the 2017-18 season, the 16,514 in attendance were at a fever pitch.
Fans even seemed (if somewhat briefly) satisfied with the new uniforms, with many overheard saying that they look better on the ice in action. Also, many people in the stands were sporting the new Adidas jerseys, lending somewhat of a legitimacy to what was being said.
And it did not take long for the Devils to break the seal on this new season. Just 2:15 into the first period, Colorado’s Anton Lindholm was called for interfering with Taylor Hall. The Devils had their first power play of the season and, at 4:04, Kyle Palmieri would whip take a slap pass from Butcher at the point. He then went around the Colorado net, found nothing and sent it back to Butcher. Butcher fired and the puck was tipped in front by Adam Henrique to quickly give the Devils a 1-0 lead as the huge crowd errupted.
The Devils took that 1-0 lead into the first intermission and then came out of the gates flying. The Devils’ special teams play carried the day and that continued in the second period. Just 59 seconds into the second period, Hall again drew an interference penalty, this time on Nikita Zadorov and the Devils were back to the man advantage. This time it was Jimmy Hayes who connected at 2:52. Butcher took the puck at the far point and went across to Palmieri, whose one-timer missed the net but came hard off the back boards to Hayes. Hayes buried it behind Avalanche netiminder Jonathan Bernier to make it 2-0 Devils.
A lone hiccup when Carl Soderberg scored from Tyson Jost and JT Compher at the 12:04 mark of the second made it 2-1. But the Devils would not back down. A scary moment as Erik Johnson and Kyle Palmieri collided knee-on-knee with Palmieri going off with an apparent injury occurred at 17:44 of the second period. Johnson was called for kneeing and the Devils had another power play. On that man advantage, Jesper Bratt, the rookie, would net his first NHL goal when, at 19:32, Hall dug the puck out of the corner and wrapped it around to Henrique. Henrique dropped the puck for Hall as they traded places along the half wall. Hall gave the puck to Butcher at the blue line and he momentarily juggled it before giving it to Bratt at the far half wall. Bratt pushed the puck quickly back to Butcher, who tic-tac-toed back to Bratt. He gave back to Henrique, who was in the slot, who then passed to Butcher, who faked a slap shot and passed against the grain to Hall. Hall saw Bratt coming in above the far faceoff dot and passed. Bratt then took the pass, hesitated before pulling the trigger and firing, putting the Devils up 3-1.
If that is a lot to digest, it was. The Devils just looked very crisp with their passing and were getting great looks all afternoon.
The final goal of the contest came after Marcus Johansson was assessed a double minor for high sticking Mikko Rantanen. With the Devils killing the four minute Colorado power play, at the 14:00 mark, Jesper Bratt and Blake Coleman burst into the Avalanche zone on a two-on-two. Bratt spied a trailing John Moore, who took a pass from him and toe-dragged before firing over the Avs’ goalie stick side. That made it 4-1 and that was your final.
Overall, the Devils looked good, with a lot of jump and, as stated, very crisp passing. The negative to come out of the night was the fact that Palmieri got hurt and that the Devils struggled a bit at even strength. They went 3-for-4 on the power play (Colorado was 0-for-6) and scored a shorthanded goal, however, to power them past a weaker Avalanche team.
The main positive is that the building was buzzing all afternoon. There is a vibe about this new lineup that has not been felt in New Jersey in some time.
In nets, Cory Schneider made 40 saves on 41 shots faced. Bernier was 35-for-39. Nico Hischier, although kept off of the scoresheet, was a force in the game. He had six shots on goal, two hits and a takeaway.
Cory was the third star of the game while Jesper Bratt (one goal, one assist) was the second star and Butcher, with three assists, was the game’s number one star.
Next up, the Devils go to Buffalo to take on the Sabres on Monday, Columbus Day, which is a 3 PM puck drop.