The Devils kicked off their 2016-17 season where they ended their 2015-16 season: in South Florida against the Panthers. The Panthers are a much improved team over the last few years and are a playoff contender this year out of the Atlantic Division. It would be a tall order for the new look Devils to take two points from them on their home ice.
But the Devils played them tough and came out with one point, only falling in overtime to a speedy and offensive minded Cats team.
The Panthers came out for warmups wearing special jerseys with late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez’ name and number 16 on the back, they will wear stickers with his number on the back of their helmets throughout the season. This is a classy move to pay tribute to an athlete from another sport who was cut down in his prime.
This Devils lineup featured something that has not happened in quite some time. For the first time since 1985, two teenage players would be in the starting lineup on opening night. Back then it was Craig Wolanin and Kirk Muller, in 2016 it is 19 year olds Blake Speers and Pavel Zacha. While those youngsters were just beginning their National Hockey League careers, another milestone saw Travis Zajac playing in his 700th NHL game.
Former Vancouver Canuck crease-mates Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo would faceoff as Schneider made 32 saves on 34 shots seen on the night. Thirty-seven year old Luongo made 23 saves on 24 Devils shots.
Florida got the scoring off to a start when Jonathan Marchessault fired the puck on net. Ben Lovejoy was in front of the net boxing out Jaromir Jagr, making a good defensive play. However, the puck deflected in off of Lovejoy’s body, beating Schneider and giving the Panthers the 1-0 lead at 9:38 of the first period. Aleksander Barkov and Alex Petrovic had the assists on the Panthers’ first goal of the new year.
John Moore would try to get things going when he had a mini scrap with Shane Harper after Harper had hit him from behind as he was finishing his check. It was a bit more of a wrestling match, with Moore coming out on top, but it woke the Devils up as far as getting them moving.
New Jersey trailed until 19:31 of the first, when it appeared Yohann Auvitu had tied things up. Auvitu kept the puck in the zone on a clearing attempt and unleashed a bomb on Luongo. It seemed that the French NHL rookie had scored his first NHL goal. However, the scoring was later changed to give the goal to PA Parenteau, who redirected the shot past the Florida netminder. Auvitu had to settle for his first NHL point, picking up an assist along with Zacha on the goal. The Devils had tied the game at one.
Zacha had actually almost tied the game just prior to the Parenteau goal, hitting the crossbar while falling down and narrowly missing a goal.
One of the bigger disappointments for both teams tonight was the power play. The Devils went 0-for-2 with the man advantage, while the Panthers went 0-for-3. At one point, when the teams were a combined 0-for-4 on the power play, the teams only registered one shot on net with the extra man (a Florida shot).
The Devils dodged a bullet on the penalty front at 13:16 of the third when Kyle Palmieri was trying to get by Aaron Ekblad and clipped him with his stick. Although Palmieri went off for a high-sticking minor, Ekblad was also nabbed for interference on the same play, cancelling out the power play and putting the teams at four-on-four.
That power play for the Panthers would be put to the test when Parenteau took a tripping call with just about four minutes left in the third period. The Devils killed it off, with Vernon Fiddler in particular coming up big early on the penalty kill.
The teams would remain tied at one, necessitating a three-on-three overtime. The Devils had played very well in the three-on-three extra session last season and were expecting big things with Taylor Hall and his speed and skill with more room. And sure enough, Hall nearly connected with Adam Henrique to end things early in the OT, with Henrique just missing the net on a nice feed from Hall.
The game winner, however, would come when Damon Severson was knocked down behind the Devils’ net, giving the puck up to Michael Matheson, who passed to Barkov who sniped the puck right behind Schneider to give Florida the 2-1 victory and the second point.
But the Devils will come right back on Saturday and try to get two points and their first win of the year in Tampa against the Lightning. New Jersey played well with some room for improvement. We will find out if they can build upon this game and finish the Florida road trip on a high note.