Hughes Wins it in OT for Devils in Season Opener

The 39th season of Devils hockey in New Jersey finally kicked off tonight after a nine day wait. It resulted in two points for the home team as the Devils defeated the visiting Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, 4-3.

To begin with, some roster news as Tyce Thompson came off of the Injured Reserve list today and was assigned to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.

Mackenzie Blackwood (recovering from a heel injury), Ty Smith (lower body), Damon Severson (lower body) and Miles Wood (lower body) all remain on Injured Reserve. Severson could be back as quickly as Tuesday versus the Seattle Kraken.

It had been 584 days since a full house of fans last witnessed the Devils play. In the ensuing two years or so, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of a season, kept fans out of the building and then restricted the amount of fans that could be in the building.

The Devils wore special jerseys for warmups with “Broadway 10” on the back and the Blackhawks likewise wore ones with “Haysey 39” on the back. Those were nicknames for – and the numbers worn by – Jimmy Hayes. Hayes tragically passed away this past offseason and had spent time playing for both franchises. It was a fitting tribute for a man who was beloved in both locker rooms.

The Devils were kicking off a five-game homestand to begin the season for the first time since 2018-19. Those five games tied a franchise record for longest homestand to begin a season.

In net, the Devils started Jonathan Bernier – one of seven players making his Devils debut tonight, including Dawson Mercer, who was making his NHL debut as well. Bernier stopped 24 of the 27 Hawks shots he saw for an .889 save percentage. Of those 27 shots, he got 18-of-19 at even strength, five of seven power play shots and Chicago’s lone shorthanded shot. Chicago was 2-for-5 on the power play.

The Blackhawks, who have already played a game this season, went to Kevin Lankinen for his first start of the year. He turned aside 25 of the Devils’ 29 shots for an .862 save percentage. He got 21-of-25 at even strength, all three Devils power play shots and their single shorthanded shot. The Devils finished the night 0-for-2 on the man advantage.

With the in-division only games last season, this was the first time the Devils and Blackhawks had played each other since December of 2019, almost two years.

Of note was that linesman Jonathan Deschamps was making his NHL debut tonight.

And the Devils wasted no time in getting things kicked off. Just 17 seconds into the new season, Dougie Hamilton, the highly touted big-time free agent the Devils landed this off-season, made his presence felt. Pavel Zacha created a turnover just inside the Chicago blueline and found Hamilton trailing. Hamilton skated to the slot and snapped off a wrister, beating Lankinen to make it 1-0 Devils. That goal was not only the fastest goal to start a season by a Devil in franchise history (besting Zach Parise, who scored 26 seconds into the 2006-07 season, but also the fastest goal in NHL history by a defenseman making his debut for a new team.

It would remain 1-0 until 51 seconds into the second period. Here, with Janne Kuokkanen going into the box for high sticking at the end of the first period, Alex DeBrincat passed to Tyler Johnson at the far side of the Devils’ net. Johnson passed back to DeBrincat through the slot, where it was tipped by Patrick Kane back to DeBrincat, who got it at the side of the net and laid it in to tie the game up at one.

However, before the end of the second, Jack Hughes would score his first of two on the night to give the Devils back the lead. It came at 17:58 when Hughes cut in on the forecheck and stole the puck from Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy. He attempted to center the puck, but it came back to him, he then grabbed it and skated towards the middle, spinning around and whipping it past Lankinen to score. Yegor Sharangovich had the primary assist on the goal and Kuokkanen had the secondary.

The Devils built on their lead 6:34 into third when Andreas Johnsson scored. Mercer threw the puck towards the net from up high. Johnsson beat Murphy to the puck, which had hit Lankinen in the back of the leg. It came to Johnsson and he put it behind Lankinen to make it 3-1 Devils. Mercer, with the primary assist, had his first NHL point. Congratulations to him on this achievement. Tomas Tatar had the secondary assist – his first point as a Devil.

From there, things got a little bit dicey for the Devils as Chicago began to mount a comeback.

At the 12:49 mark, Mercer took a double minor for high-sticking Tyler Johnson as Johnson was cutting through neutral zone. It was a freak play and one of those where Mercer just needed to be in control of his stick.

With the Devils down a man, Chicago pulled Lankinen for the 6-on-4 advantage. The Devils did a good job of killing the penalty and it was quite a gamble for the Blackhawks to pull the goalie with the Devils on the penalty kill and so much time remaining.

At 16:07, the gamble paid off. Kane went D-to-D with Johnson, who fired off a one-timer. Bernier fought off the initial shot, but it came right to Kirby Dach at the side of the Devils’ net. He put it in to make it 3-2 Devils.

The Hawks would pull Lankinen again with about two minutes to go in regulation. This too would pay off for them as, with 25 seconds left, Seth Jones threw it towards net. It was grabbed in the slot by Brandon Hagel, who passed down low to Dominik Kubalik at the side of the net. He scored to tie the game at three apiece with less than a minute to go.

With that, time expired and both teams had earned a point. It was a bit disappointing for the Devils, but something that they will need to go through on their way towards improving and learning how to win.

And speaking of winning.

Just 57 seconds into the OT period, the Devils recoved the puck in their own end, with Ryan Graves getting it to Hughes and then jumping up with him in a 2-on-1.

Jack decided to use Graves as a decoy, waiting for the Chicago defenseman to go down to his belly, leaving his feet when it was not totally necessary. Hughes simply skated around him, got Lankinen to commit to one side and then cut back, depositing the puck in the open side of the net.

He celebrated by happily throwing his stick into the crowd as the Devils had the 4-3 victory on opening night.

The Devils outshot Chicago 29-27, winning 48-percent of the game’s total faceoffs. Nico Hischier led the centers with a 60-percent personal winning percentage. The Devils also outhit the Blackhawks, 17-15, had double the amount of blocked shots at 14 to the Hawks’ seven, but had 18 giveaways to Chicago’s nine.

The top defensive pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves led the team in ice time – Hamilton with 25:54 of total ice time and Graves with 24:55. Sharangovich led the forwards with 18:50 of TOI. Jack Hughes, Kuokkanen and Hamilton led in power play time with 2:25. Graves led in time killing penalties with 5:55 as the Devils spent a good deal of time in the box.

Hughes led in points with his two goals on the night. Shots on goal was led by Johnsson, Hischier, Michael McLeod, Zacha, Hughes and Hamilton with three each. Hits wee led by Hamilton and Christian Jaros with three each. Blocks were led by PK Subban with four while Subban also led in giveaways with five. Hughes led in takeaways with a whopping six, with Jimmy Vesey coming in second with three.

So, with this great win and two points under their belts, the Devils will next welcome the Seattle Kraken to town in the first meeting between the teams on Tuesday.

Players and coaches interviewed tonight talked about how the fans really showed up for this game and made the atmosphere special. Hopefully, fans can do the same on Tuesday for the second of five home games to kick off the season and the first time we will welcome Seattle to Newark.

See you then!

Preseason: Devils Dealt First Exhibition Loss

The Devils traveled across the Hudson River to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers in the penultimate preseason game of 2021.

This did not go well from a results standpoint as the Rangers exacted revenge for the blowout they suffered in Newark last week. New York won 6-2.

In a roster move, Joseph Gambardella was assigned to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League earlier today as the Devils’ roster continues to be cut down.

In goal for New Jersey, Jonathan Bernier played the who 60 minutes. He made 26 saves on 32 shots against for an .813 save percentage. He got two of the Rangers’ three power play shots and 24-of-29 at even strength. Nico Daws backed him up.

For the Rangers, Igor Shesterkin made 32 saves on 34 shots against for a .941 save percentage including turning aside the Devils’ two shorthanded shots, all four of their power play shots and 26-of-28 shots at even strength.

The Devils were 0-for-2 on the power play while the Rangers were 1-for-3.

The Rangers got on the board at the 3:23 mark of the first period when Mika Zibanejad scored. K’Andre Miller got it from the point to the far half wall to Adam Fox. Fox passed against the grain to Zibanejad at the doorstep and he shoveled it in past Bernier to make it 1-0 New York.

Following that, a play that would go on to define the game. New York’s Ryan Reaves tangled up with the Devils’ PK Subban heading into the corner. Their knees locked together and Reaves kind of fell backwards on it in an ugly fall. He left with an apparent knee injury and Subban became a target all night – particularly for Chris Kreider. Kreider would engage Subban early in the second period, but Subban would not fight. Early in the third, Subban would answer the bell against Kreider in a short scrap.

It did not seem to be an intentional slew foot and, in fact, former Devil-turned-Ranger Kevin Rooney would downplay the incident in an interview in the second intermission on the MSG broadcast. However, Subban would hear it from the fans by the end of the game.

The Rangers took the 1-0 lead into the second period. It was at the 3:58 mark when Kaapo Kakko would make it 2-0 unassisted. Kakko grabbed a loose puck when Michael McLeod mishandled it at the New York blue line. Kakko won a footrace with Subban to the Devils’ zone and scored on a partial breakaway.

At the 5:39 mark of the second, Zibanejad notched his second of the game to make it 3-0. The Devils were down two men with the Rangers on a 5-on-3 power play. Ryan Strome got the puck up to Fox at the point. Fox then found Zibanejad with a slick pass at the side of the Devils’ net. It was a layup for Zibanejad. It was almost similar to the first New York goal.

The Devils finally broke the ice at the 9:57 mark of the second when Pavel Zacha dug the puck out of the far corner and passed to Jesper Bratt at the far side of the Rangers’ net. Bratt passed to Andreas Johnsson at the other side the goal and Johnsson tapped the puck in to make it 3-1.

But the Rangers would have a response for the Johnsson goal when Sammy Blais scored unassisted at 14:28. Blais intercepted the puck and made a nice move around the Devils’ defender, crashing the net and putting it in on the far side. That made it 4-1 New York.

And they were not done. Twenty seconds after the Blais goal, Barclay Goodrow made it 5-1. Blais took a shot from the point that was redirected off of a Devils skate to Goodrow, who scored. Jacob Trouba had the secondary assist.

The scoring did not let up in the third period. At the 10:48 mark, the Devils won a board battle to gain possession of the puck. It was thrown into the slot where Mark Jankowski got it and shot. The rebound came out to a trailing Marian Studenic, who was cruising through the top of the slot. He shot and put his own rebound home to make it 5-2.

The capper came from the Rangers less than one minute later. Ryan Strome went hard on the forecheck at the 11:05 mark of the third. He forced McLeod to turn the puck over behind the Devils’ net. Strome then centered it to Artemi Panarin, who did not miss to give us our final of 6-2.

The Devils won 49-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The two teams combined for 55 penalty minutes (31 for the Rangers, 23 for the Devils). The Rangers outhit the Devils 36 to 31 in what was a physical game. The Devils had 13 blocked shots to the Rangers’ eight and New Jersey had one more giveaway than their opponents at nine to eight.

Subban led the Devils in penalty minutes with 17 while Studenic led in shots on goal with five. Former Ranger Mason Geertsen victimized his old team six times to lead in hits. Ryan Graves led in blocks with four. Bratt led in giveaways with two while Zacha led in takeaways for the Devils with four.

McLeod once again led the Devils centers in faceoff percentage with a 67-percent winning clip.

Time on ice was led by Jonas Siegenthaler with 23:39 total ice. Chase De Leo led the forwards with 17:38 of total time on ice. Zacha led in power play time with 2:01 total time.

Next up, the Devils will play the Islanders at home tomorrow in their final game of the 2021 preseason. This will likely be a dress rehearsal for the regular season, which gets underway a week from today. There is a good chance that we see most of the regulars in the lineup.

Until then!