The regular season is finally upon us and with it, the first heartbreak of the season. The Devils blew a 4-0 lead to the Winnipeg Jets, eventually losing in a shootout 5-4 in their season opener.
The day began with the now-annual red carpet arrival for the Devils players. A good crowd showed up on a workday afternoon to welcome the players to the Prudential Center for the new season.
Once that was done, it was on to the business of hockey.
The show began with the annual player on-ice intros and hoopla. With the big additions of the offseason, hope was running high among the sellout crowd on hand.
Once the game began, that hope was quickly rewarded. Nikita Gusev, one of the aforementioned new acquisitions, got the scoring started on the season at 18:00 of the first period. Gusev created a turnover on the forecheck and funneled the puck to Jesper Bratt who whiffed on his initial try and then fed Gusev on the doorstep. He beat goaltender Laurent Brossoit to make it 1-0 Devils going into the first intermission. This was Gusev’s first career NHL goal and point in his debut game.
In the second period, Blake Coleman struck for his first of two on the night when he scored just 1:42 into the second frame. It came when Travis Zajac created a turnover in the neutral zone and passed cross-ice to Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds gathered the puck out of his skates and shot, with the rebound coming back to him. He guided it to Coleman in the slot, who fired, beating Brossoit to make it 2-0. The assist to Simmonds was his first point as a Devil in his debut.
The Devils were building a nice little lead for themselves and it continued at 12:34 of the second when Sami Vatanen notched his first of the season from Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall. It came when Hall took a hit behind the net to get the puck to Palmieri at the far half wall. He dropped it to Vatanen at the point. Vatanen fired with the puck knuckling by Brossoit to make it 3-0 Devils.
Coleman would make it 4-0 with his second of the night in what was a great individual effort 13:52 into the second. Pavel Zacha won a draw in the Devils’ end back to PK Subban who stretched a pass out to Coleman. Coleman then beat the Winnipeg defender, fell to his back, and one-handed the puck by Brossoit while sliding. It was a great highlight reel goal that will likely show up everywhere in the next few days. For Subban, the primary assist was his first point as a Devil in his debut. Coleman would be named the game’s second start by the media.
From there, though, the wheels began to fall off for New Jersey. It began simply enough when Dmitry Kulikov scored from Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele with 11 seconds to go in the second. That made it 4-1.
The Jets got another back just 2:41 into the third period when Jack Roslovic cut the Devils lead in half to 4-2. Neal Pionk and Mathieu Perreault had the assists.
After that goal, seeming disaster struck as Devils starting goalie Cory Schneider went to the bench seeming to favor his right knee. He came out and Mackenzie Blackwood came on in relief. It did not look good for Cory watching live, but hopefully by later on Saturday, there will be an injury update on him.
Blackwood gave up a goal to Perreault at the 7:17 mark to make it 4-3 Devils. Andrew Copp and Patrik Laine had the assists on that one.
Pionk would tie the game at four when he scored at the 12:35 mark from Scheifele and Ville Heinola. The Jets had completed a remarkable comeback all within the space of about ten minutes in the third period.
After a frantic final few minutes of play in regulation and a five minute overtime that settled nothing, we were off to a shootout.
Gusev again gave the Devils hope when he converted on his first try. Kyle Connor evened things for Winnipeg and in the second round, Brossoit stopped Jack Hughes and Blackwood stopped Laine. In the third round, Taylor Hall was stopped for the Devils and Scheifele was turned aside for the Jets. Kyle Palmieri then had the game on his stick for New Jersey, but could not convert in round four. Blake Wheeler finally finished things for the Jets, beating Blackwood in the fourth round.
In goal, Brossoit made 35 saves on 39 Devils shots. Cory stopped 19 of the 21 he faced and Blackwood 7-of-9. The Jets finished with 30 shots after only being held to four in the first period.
As a team, the Jets were 0-for-2 on the power play with no shots on the man advantage while the Devils were also 0-for-2 with eight shots. The Devils also managed a shot while shorthanded.
The Devils won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs and outhit Winnipeg 21 to 13. The Devils also had eight blocked shots to the Jets’ six, but had more giveaways at 12 to the Jets’ three.
Subban led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 26:21 (2:50 on the power play and 1:36 on the penalty kill). Hall led the forwards with 22:48 (2:50 on the PP).
Hall also led in total shots with six. Simmonds, Coleman and Vatanen led in hits with three each. Vatanen also led in blocked shots with two. Nico Hischier registered two takeaways to lead in that category.
Next up, the Devils will need to shake this one off because they next play Saturday night at Buffalo. We will see you here then for coverage of that game.