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 Prevail in Washington

And just like that, the 2021-22 NHL season has gotten underway for the Devils.

First off, I am fully aware of the Mackenzie Blackwood situation. I wanted to reserve comment until someone with some sources identified him, It seems Blackwood beat us to the punch and outed himself. I will see what I want to say (if anything) and will talk about it at a later time.

Instead, we will talk about tonight’s preseason tilt between the Devils and the Washington Capitals in DC.

In goal, we got our first look at at Jonathan Bernier in net. He got the start and played the first two periods. Nico Daws played the third for the Devils. Bernier made 13 saves on 17 shots against (including 12-of-13 at even strength, 0-for-2 on the power play and 1-for-2 shorthanded) for a .765 save percentage.

Daws stopped all ten shots he faced – all at even strength.

For the Caps, Zach Fucale got the start and played the first two periods. He stopped 12-for-15 total (9-for-12 at even strength, 2-for-2 on the power play, 1-for-1 shorthanded) for an .800 save percentage.

Ilya Samsonov relieved him in the third and stopped 6-of-8 total (6-of-7 at 5-on-5 and let in the only power play shot he faced) for a .750 save percentage.

Jack Hughes was wearing an “A” tonight as a sign that management is starting to see potential in his leadership abilities, even if it is a preseason game.

Yegor Sharangovich picked up right where he left off, scoring the first goal of the preseason for the Devils 5:49 into the game. It came when Sharangovich cut in behind the Washington defense, taking a pass from Alexander Holtz and burying it over Fucale’s glove. That made it 1-0 Devils. Nikita Okhotiuk had the secondary assist.

In what would become a tit-for-tat tend throughout the night, the Caps immediately responded with John Carlson scoring at the 9:01 mark to tie the game at one apiece. It came with the Capitals shorthanded and saw Carlson poke the puck away from Nico Hischier just inside his own blueline and was off to the races. He skated in on a 2-on-1 and shot just under the crossbar, beating Bernier shorthanded to tie the game at one heading into the second period.

In the second, Jack Hughes gave the Devils back the lead just 45 seconds in. This came when Hughes picked off an own-zone D-to-D pass by Michal Kempny near the near faceoff dot. He cut in front and beat Fucale just under the crossbar to make it 2-1 Devils. That goal, like the Carlson goal, was unassisted.

But Washington would tie things again at the 3:15 mark. Carlson, this time on the power play, blasted a bomb from the point, with Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding him from the halfwall. The puck hit the post and bounced in off of Bernier’s backside to make it 2-2. Anthony Mantha had the secondary assist – cross ice to Kuznetsov.

But midway through, the Devils would again take the lead. Holtz, at the 12:33 mark, broke into the Washington zone on a 2-on-1. He took the shot himself, absolutely snapping it by Fucale to give the Devils back the 3-2 lead. Damon Severson had the primary assist while Sharangovich helped out with the secondary.

That lead lasted less than 30 seconds, however, as at 13:00, TJ Oshie was sprung behind the Devils’ defense by Hendrix Lapierre and shot under the catching glove of Bernier, beating him to make ti 3-3. Kempny had the secondary assist.

The Caps would take their first lead of the night when Mike Vecchione scored a power play goal with less than a minute to go in the second. Connor McMichael lost the puck on the entry and Lapierre picked it up after it was lost in a scramble in the slot. Vecchione got it and shot, beating Bernier to make it 4-3 Caps. Note that McMichael actually did not get credit for an assist here.

The Caps took the 4-3 lead into the third but it was not to last for them.

Dawson Mercer scored 5:35 into the frame from Andreas Johnsson (complete with new Anglicized last name). Mercer cut near the halfwall on the near side to the top of the near faceoff circle. He then powered towards the goal, shooting from an off angle and scoring – tying the game at four apiece.

This set up the dramatic (as dramatic as a preseason game can actually get) finish. With a little less than two minutes to go in regulation, Hischier gave the Devils the late 5-4 lead.

The Devils won a faceoff deep in the Washington end. Damon Severson ended up with the puck, finding Hischier down low. He kind of drifted unmarked towards the goal mouth and scored what was actually a very fast power play goal. A 4-on-4 had just expired with Nolan Foote coming out of the box and the Devils were on the man advantage for what amounted to three seconds before Hischier scored the goal.

Washington would pull Samsonov for the extra attacker, but time would simply expire on them.

The two teams did a quick shootout practice session, which Holtz “won” for New Jersey.

Holtz, with a goal and an assist and Sharangovich, with a goal and an assist, each tied for the team lead with two points each.

Sharangovich led in shots with four, hits were led by Mark Jankowski, Foote, Severson and Okhotiuk with two each. Jonas Siegenthaler led in blocked shots with three while Hughes had two takeaways, leading there. Kevin Bahl, Christian Jaros, Hughes, Foote and Jankowski each had the distinction of leading in giveaways with one each.

Teamwise, the Devils were outshot, 27-23, only won 34-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were 1-for-5 on the power play, had 18 team hits (just as many as the Capitals), 13 blocks to Washington’s eight and six giveaways to the Caps’ seven.

Next up, the Devils will face the rival New York Rangers on Friday, October 1 at 7 PM at Prudential Center. See you then!