The Devils were in need of a captain after the retirement of former team leader Bryce Salvador. General Manager Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes played things close to the vest, but in the end the expected (and many believe, the correct) choice was made.
Andy Greene was named the 11th captain in Devils history on Friday prior to the season opener against Winnipeg at the Prudential Center. For many who follow the team on a day-to-day basis, this was the obvious choice. Team legend and current television color analyst Ken Daneyko had been championing Greene as a future team captain for quite a while, saying that he had the leadership skills to wear the “C”. He cited Greene’s role in the development of young defensemen like Adam Larsson, John Merrill and Damon Severson as a main reason. Greene is a soothing presence on the blueline for the team and for the youngsters on the backend.
Daneyko is, of course, a great evaluator of leadership and of defensemen, having patrolled the blueline during the Devils’ Stanley Cup years along with one of the game’s all-time best leaders: Scott Stevens. But others were taking notice of Greene’s leadership abilities within the Devils organization. Coaches, teammates and the GM all know what Greene brings to the team and felt that he was the choice.
The Devils went through most of last season (when Salvador got injured) and the preseason without a captain and there were a lot of outsiders speculating on who would be named to the post. During the Flyers-Devils preseason game in Philly which was simulcast on MSG Network via Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia, the Flyers announcers all but put the “C” back on Patrik Elias’s chest. But Elias has been there and did not want the responsibility again, he has stated. They also speculated that the captaincy might go to someone like Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique. While those two players are fantastic leaders in their own right, and while the Devils’ staff was being coy in whom they were going to name, in the end, there was little doubt that Andy Greene would become the next Devils captain.
While the former Miami of Ohio star (he also captained his team in college his junior and senior years) will wear the “C”, the Devils also named alternate captains. Patrik Elias (when he returns from his knee injury), Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique will wear an “A” on their jerseys “on a rotating basis based on home and away games” according to the press release sent out on Greene.
After the business of naming a captain was taken care of, the Devils had something else to take care of. The opening of the 2015-16 season at home against the Winnipeg Jets at Prudential Center would be a tall order for the Devils. The Jets had just come off of a 6-2 drubbing of the Bruins in Boston (their first win in Beantown since their days as the Atlanta Thrashers) and were looking good.
The Jets are a big, physical team who can also put the puck in the net and the Devils needed to match that physicality and skill.
After a scoreless first, New Jersey fell behind early in the second on a Mark Scheifele goal. Blake Wheeler gave Winnipeg a 2-0 lead about three minutes later. The Devils got on the board with their first of the season at 12:53 of the second when Jiri Tlusty scored his first goal as a Devil. The former Jet got assists on his power play goal from Cammalleri and another former Jet, Lee Stempniak. Andrew Ladd put a bow on the game with a power play goal for Winnipeg at 16:21 of the second, giving the Jets a 3-1 victory.
The game was closely called, with both teams going on the man advantage four times, but the Devils had a tough time with Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson. The Devils outshot Winnipeg 30-21 (Jordin Tootoo and Damon Severson led the team with three shots on goal each) but were only able to notch one goal (which was tipped into the net by a Winnipeg player). They were also 34 for 60 (56.7%) in the faceoff circle, which is a good sign. Sergey Kalinin, a Devils signing from the KHL, was 5 for 8 on faceoffs (62.5%) for the night.
Cory Schneider made 27 saves in the loss, including a huge save on a Winnipeg breakaway in the third that kept the Devils from going down further and in the game at the time. Cory was his usual dependable self and there is no reason to worry about him, barring injury or fatigue. If the Devils can get him goal support, then h will take care of things in his end.
Coach Hynes has been preaching puck possession throughout the preseason and into the opener, which is something the Devils will have to continue to heed in order to win. Winning comes from keeping control of the puck, especially on the power play. If the other team does not have it, they cannot score, right? When they have the puck in the offensive zone, though, they have to have good shot selection and take those shots from high-percentage scoring areas.
New Jersey will have a quick turnaround as they play again tonight (Saturday, October 10) against the high-octane offense of the Washington Capitals down in DC. If the Devils can keep Alex Ovechkin and some of his new supporting cast in check, they should have a better chance to come away with the “W” down in Washington and finish the opening weekend with a split.