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!

Devils Rout Blackhawks 7-1

If there was one team the Devils wanted to be playing going into the NHL’s Christmas break, it was the Chicago Blackhawks. In one of those strange statistical anomalies, the Blackhawks have lost the last six times they played their final game prior to Christmas, as per Steve Cangialosi of MSG Network. The Devils extended that streak to seven games as they routed Chicago 7-1 tonight at United Center.

This was the second meeting of the season between the teams, as Chicago took the last game at Prudential Center in a shootout earlier in December. It would also be the first meeting between Jesper and Adam Boqvist as the younger Adam was in the lineup tonight (he was not for the game in New Jersey). This marked the third time this season a Devil has faced his brother in a game, following Jack Hughes (brother Quinn – Vancouver) and PK Subban (Malcolm – Vegas). Their mother, father and aunt were all in attendance from Sweden. Unfortunately, things did not end well as both brothers got injured in the first period and neither one returned for the rest of the game.

Jesper Boqvist began the game on the Devils’ top line along with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri and Adam Boqvist was on the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing with Duncan Keith, which meant that the two would have matched up a lot had they stayed healthy.

Another Devil with family in attendance was John Hayden. His mother’s family is from the Chicago area and his 82-year-old grandfather was in the building to watch him. He would be good luck for John as we shall see later on. Hayden was playing against his former team in the Hawks and was facing John Quenneville, the player he was traded for. Quenneville was making his Blackhawks debut tonight, having been called up from Rockford of the AHL.

The Devils were back to 12 forwards and six defensemen as Connor Carrick, Kevin Rooney and Michael McLeod were the scratches.

In goal for the Devils was Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped 32 of the 33 shots the Blackhawks fired at him for a .970 save percentage. The Blackhawks started with Corey Crawford who stopped 16 of 20 shots for an .800 save percentage. He was relieved by Robin Lehner who made 21 saves on 24 shots against for a .875 save percentage. The Devils ended the game with a total of 44 shots.

The game began with Jesper Boqvist taking a high-sticking penalty against his brother Adam just 37 seconds into the game. The Devils would kill it off, as they did seven times tonight. Chicago was held to 0-for-7 on the power play with eight shots. The Devils ended the game 0-for-3 with four shots. They also managed three shorthanded shots.

The Hawks got on the board first when Blackwood made two saves on Blackhawks shooters and the puck squibbed behind the net. Zack Smith picked it up and used the wraparound to bury it behind Blackwood and make it 1-0 Chicago. David Kampf and Matthew Highmore had the assists on the goal that came at the 3:21 mark of the first period.

It seemed like the Devils would have their work cut out for them. But, from there, Blackwood settled in and the Devils went to work. The Hawks’ Dennis Gilbert laid big hits on both Jesper Boqvist (resulting in the injury that he left the game for) and Miles Wood and Hayden had seen enough. Gilbert and Hayden went at it 8:22 and Hayden was given the fighting major plus a misconduct and the extra two for instigating. The Devils finished the first period with 25 penalty minutes and the game with 31 total. From here, the Devils comeback was beginning.

It began at the 14:46 mark of the first when Sami Vatanen pushed the puck up ice to Jack Hughes. Hughes lost it just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line and Wayne Simmonds grabbed it. He passed back to Hughes in the near corner. He skated out of the corner, made a nice move around the Chicago defense, and beat Crawford to make it 1-1. This goal also ended an 18-game goal drought for Jack Hughes.

The Devils took the lead on what would be the game-winner just 51 seconds into the second. PK Subban absolutely ripped a shot by Crawford through a few screens that beat the Chicago goaltender cleanly. Jesper Bratt and Palmieri had the assists on the goal that would go down as the clincher.

At the 7:22 mark, Damon Severson made it 3-1 when he came up the left-wing boards, took a pass from Nikita Gusev and cut towards the net. He shot and beat Crawford five-hole. Travis Zajac had the secondary assist on the goal.

The Devils made it 4-1 when Hayden got his first as a Devil and in his hometown against his former team to boot. It came at 10:40 of the second period when Will Butcher took a hit just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line while making a nice behind-the-back pass to Hayden, who was skating up the left-wing side. He beat Crawford to come within an assist of a Gordie Howe hat trick. Pavel Zacha had his other helper.

It was after this goal that Crawford was pulled in favor of Lehner.

And the Devils were not done in the second. Zajac scored shorthanded at 17:22 to make it 5-1. Vatanen had gone off for a hold against Quenneville at 16:47 and on the penalty kill, Zajac and Blake Coleman were off on a two-on-one. Coleman made the smart play and shot at Lehner. Lehner could not handle the rebound and it came right to a crashing Zajac, who put it home to put the Devils further up on top. Andy Greene had the secondary helper.

Blake Coleman would get one of his own just 18 seconds into the third period when Severson used a stretch pass to spring Coleman and Coleman broke in, shooting at Lehner’s five-hole while falling down. The puck went in and the Devils had scored a touchdown, making it 6-1. Nikita Gusev had the other assist.

Midway through the third, Chicago would hit a crossbar. The play was reviewed from Toronto and confirmed to be no goal, a sure sign that what could go wrong did go wrong for the Hawks tonight.

The Devils added the extra point when Gusev came up the right-wing boards, toe dragged around a Blackhawks defender and passed to a trailing Pavel Zacha. Zacha shot and beat Lehner to make it 7-1 which was our final. Severson had the secondary assist on this goal.

In the end, 14 different Devils registered a point with Zajac (2), Coleman (2), Zacha (2), Gusev (3) and Severson (3) all registering multiple points. Coleman (first), Severson (second) and Hayden (third) were the three stars of the game.

In the end, the Devils won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Blackhawks, 38 to 32, had more blocked shots at 22 to 21 and less giveaways at five to the Hawks’ seven.

Severson led the Devils skaters in ice time with 25:12 (ten seconds on the power play and 7:22 shorthanded) while Zacha led the forwards with 18:09 – nine seconds more than Hischier – with 1:48 on the power play and 4:48 on the penalty kill.

Stats-wise, Hayden led the Devils with 17 total penalty minutes. Wood led in shots with six and in hits with six. Mirco Mueller, Vatanen and Subban all led in blocks with three. Takeaways were led by Zajac and Greene, the vets, with two apiece.

Next up, the Devils will enjoy the Christmas break until Friday, the 27th when they will welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to The Rock. We will see you then and, in the meantime, if you are celebrating, have a very merry Christmas!