The New Jersey Devils kicked off the 2014-15 preseason, the start of their 33rd season in the Garden State this week with a few activities.
Training camp actually began last week, as veterans returned to the rink on September 18; they followed the rookies who reported a few days earlier. While the start of training camp is always a nice way for hockey fans to know that the real season is right around the corner, the preseason schedule actually got underway for the Devils on Monday, September 22 as they visited Madison Square Garden for a meeting with their cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers. The Devils also played an intrasquad scrimmage on Monday, the annual “Red vs. White” game at AmeriHealth Pavilion with the Red team defeating White 6 to 5 in a shootout. It is perhaps appropriate that the game between two squads of Devils came down to a shootout after the team’s historic futility last season in the “skills competition.” Ryane Clowe had the shootout goal for team Red while Tuomo Ruutu, Kelly Zajac (2), Reece Scarlett and Stephen Gionta added the other five. Jaromir Jagr, Paul Thompson, Brandon Burlon, Graham Black and offseason free-agent acquisition Mike Cammalleri were among the goal scorers for the White team. Hopefully for frustrated fans and players, this will get some of the guys off to a good start in shootouts once the season begins next month. Goaltenders for the game were: Maxime Clermont for team Red and Cory Schneider for team White.
In the game at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” the Devils edged the Blueshirts 5-4 in a see-saw contest. The Devils struck early with two goals from Reid Boucher and Michael Ryder. The Rangers tied it before the end of the first period as Carl Hagelin scored and then Ryan Malone added a power play goal to knot things at two. Michael Ryder scored his second of the preseason to give the Devils a 3-2 lead in the second. In the third, Eric Gelinas unleashed a howitzer from the blueline to give the Devils a 4-2 lead on a power play goal. New York would grab the next two as Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tied it at four apiece. Adam Henrique would put things away at 19:08 of the third period with the game winner, giving New Jersey the 5-4 win. It did not quite equal the excitement of “Henrique! It’s over!” from the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, but any win over the Rangers is a good one. Scott Clemmensen started in net against Henrik Lundqvist with Keith Kinkaid taking over halfway through for the Devils and Cam Talbot relieving for the Rangers. The Devils will faceoff with Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, September 25 in their next preseason NHL game.
Speaking of the Flyers, the Devils hosted Philly’s team in an AHL scrimmage on Tuesday at AmeriHealth Pavilion. The game was a showcase of each team’s top talent from the Albany Devils (New Jersey’s AHL team) and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia’s AHL affiliation). In a game pitting goaltenders Maxime Clermont of the Devils against the tandem of Connor Knapp and Martin Ouellette of the Flyers, the Flyers drew first blood on Taylor Leier’s power play goal just 7:17 into the first. However, Paul Thompson tied it up for the Devils with a power play goal at 16:04 of the first. Petr Straka gave Philly the lead again at 7:38 of the second. Shayne Gostisbehere added another one on a bomb just inside the blueline at 14:53 to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead. Ben Johnson pulled the Devils a little bit closer at 16:05 of the third but Taylor Leier scored on an empty net short-handed to give the Flyers a 4-2 victory.
Another item of note during the time leading up to the start of training camp and the preseason was the announcing of Ken Daneyko as the official successor to Glenn “Chico” Resch as the Devils color commentator on MSG Network. “Mr. Devil” spoke to Al Trautwig during intermission of the Rangers-Devils telecast but did not do any actual commentary, as it was a Rangers broadcast with their announcers. Daneyko will join Steve Cangialosi in the booth for Devils games on MSG Plus and MSG. Deb Placey will return as the pre- and post-game host and ice level reporter.
It was an eventful week for the Devils as they began training camp and then immediately jumped into the preseason schedule. The team showed a lot against the defending Eastern Conference Champions in the Rangers and, though it might show little, and means even less, were victorious. The preseason is basically guys busting their butts to try to win a spot on the team and be in the lineup come October 9 when the Devils start the season in Philadelphia. It is not going to show how a team is jelling or coming together. The guys who know they have a roster spot are just trying to get into game shape and the younger guys on the bubble are trying to make the team. Nothing more, nothing less. Hopefully, though, the Devils can right the ship when it comes to the shootout and make some tweaks on the power play, which has often struggled for them (although bringing in guys like Gelinas to man the point could be a way to alleviate that). Otherwise, the only real problem the team had was the issue of the shootout. By not gaining the extra point in all of those shootout losses, the Devils left points on the table and that ultimately cost them a playoff spot. This team is good enough to hang with the big boys in their division; it is all up to how they perform in the “skills competition.”
With just a few changes here and there, the Devils and their newest acquisitions along with some familiar faces can make a real run at a playoff spot. Coach Peter DeBoer will have his troops ready when the regular season comes around. For Devils fans everywhere, the only question is: Is it October yet?