For the New Jersey Devils, the month of October ended on a whirlwind of activity. After paying tribute to one of their own in Chico Resch against Dallas on October 24, the Devils took to the road the following night, traveling to Ottawa to take on a Senators team that had not played in exactly one week due to the unfortunate shooting incidents that took place in and around the city of Ottawa on October 22. The incidents led to the NHL canceling that evening’s tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game against the Devils was sure to be an emotional affair with fans in the Canadian capital hoping to use the game to regain a sense of normalcy and reflection as well as refocus.
The pregame ceremonies saw the Devils and Senators players line up alternated while circled around the center faceoff circle. Ottawa’s anthem singer, Lyndon Slewidge, then sang a great rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” before beginning “O Canada.” A few words into the Canadian anthem, he then raised the microphone and allowed a patriotic crowd finish the song for him. The ceremonies, honoring Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was shot and killed while on ceremonial guard at Canada’s National War Memorial and Warrant Officer Patrick Vincent, who was killed in a “targeted hit-and-run” in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec the Monday previous, were also simulcast on the jumbotrons at Air Canada Centre in Toronto before the Leafs game and Bell Centre in Montreal before the Habs game. It was shown nationally across Canada on Hockey Night in Canada. The teams showed unity throughout the entire ceremony despite knowing that they had a game to play afterwards.
The game itself was as exciting as they come for Devils fans. Ottawa took the 1-0 lead 10:09 into the second period on a power play goal from Alex Chiasson (assists to Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan) with Damon Severson scoring his fourth of the season unassisted 1:20 later to tie the game up. A power play goal from Marek Zidlicky gave the Devils their first lead of the night at 16:45 of the second on assists from Severson and Patrik Elias. The game remained in the Devils’ hands until New Jersey native Bobby Ryan scored on the power play on assists from Erik Karlsson and Michalek to tie things up at two apiece. Regulation ended and the Devils would face their third straight overtime game (after losing in OT to the Rangers earlier in the week and falling in a shootout to the Stars the night before). This game seemed destined for a shootout as well until Clarke MacArthur was nabbed for high sticking Marek Zidlicky at 2:37, giving the Devils a power play in OT (which gives them some room to move at 4 on 3). And sure enough, Jaromir Jagr broke in and fired the puck past Sens goaltender Robin Lehner for the game winner. Eric Gelinas (a native of nearby Vanier, Ontario) and Adam Henrique assisted. The win snapped a streak of four games where the Devils took two of a possible eight points, losing to Washington and San Jose in regulation, the Rangers in OT and Dallas by shootout.
The next stop on the Devils itinerary was Pittsburgh’s Consol Engery Center and a date with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the high-flying Penguins. To say this game was ugly is an understatement. It did not start off that way, though, as the Devils got on the board nine seconds into the game on a goal from Dainius Zubrus (assists to Travis Zajac and former Pen Jaromir Jagr). Although this was not a team record (Alexander Semak [1993 versus Vancouver] and Kirk Muller [1988 versus St. Louis] both scored goals eight seconds into games) it did place him second on the all-time Devils list tied with Greg Adams (1985 versus Hartford). Pittsburgh’s Blake Comeau tied things up at 7:17 of the first on an assist from Pascal Dupuis. Once the second period started, the Devils got things going in their favor. After Zajac took a holding penalty fifty seconds into the second stanza, the Devils scored their first short-handed goal of the season when Jacob Josefson scored on a breakaway (assist to Stephen Gionta) at 2:12. Tuomo Ruutu scored at 5:14 from Gionta and Andy Greene to put the Devils up 3-1. From there, however, it was all downhill as the Penguins scored seven unanswered goals including power play goals from Malkin, Dupuis and Steve Downie and two from Crosby. The less said about this game, the better, as the Devils played extremely undisciplined hockey and the 8-3 score showed that. The only silver-lining was that stalwart defenseman Andy Greene was a team best plus-3 for the game.
The Devils returned home to Prudential Center for a contest against the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg got on the score sheet quickly with Blake Wheeler breaking through at 6:56 of the first from Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian. And that was the scoring all the way until Michael Ryder tied things up at 16:33 into the third period from Jon Merrill. An uneventful overtime period put the Devils into the dreaded shootout. The team had not prevailed in a shootout since March 10, 2013 (also against the Jets). From there they went into an NHL-record for futility, losing 18-straight shootouts. In the first round it seemed to be more of the same, as Damien Brunner missed on his chance. Cory Schneider then stopped Wheeler before the unlikely happened: Jacob Josefson converted in the second round. Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd was stopped by Schneider, meaning Patrik Elias could end it with a goal. He was stopped by Jets goaltender and fellow Czech Ondrej Pavelec. The onus was then on Schneider to stop Bryan Little and he did, giving the Devils their first shootout win in almost two seasons. With that shootout win, the Devils also had their first home win of the season.
The Devils upcoming schedule includes the Columbus Blue Jackets, a home-and-home against the St. Louis Blues and a game against the tough Detroit Red Wings. They have gotten off to a relatively consistent start (the Pittsburgh game aside) and have taken away something from their losses too. Although it is a little too early to be talking about it, if they can keep piling on points early in the season (and if they are finally over the hump when it comes to shootouts) then this team may just have what it takes to be a playoff team come April.