It maybe only preseason. Now, we see what all the hype was all about. Making his first appearance against the big Hudson rival, number one pick Jack Hughes delighted the home crowd in Newark with a magnificent game in a Devils win over the Rangers.
The American center played with former league MVP Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Let’s just say the deadly combo of Hughes and Hall put on a show. Each had a goal and assist in a 4-2 win over the B Team of the Blueshirts.
If not for some outstanding goaltending from Rangers backup Adam Huska in relief of Henrik Lundqvist, it could’ve been more. Hall you may recall missed the remainder of last season from before Christmas on. He hasn’t missed a beat. Playing in a contract year, the ’17-18 Hart winner could’ve had a hat trick. But he settled for a power play goal and assist.
On the game’s opening shift, a Brett Howden pass attempt went awry to cause a clean breakaway for the Devils’ first overall pick. What Hughes did next took an awful lot of skill and patience. He faked out Lundqvist before going five-hole to electrify the Devil fans at The Rock 36 seconds in. Hall was credited with the only assist.
Hall would add a power play goal from who else but a coasting Hughes, who made a breathtaking backhand pass tape to tape for Hall to release a lethal shot high and far side on Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead.
The way he skates, it looks effortless. Hughes can go from Point A to Point B similar to the game’s best player, Connor McDavid. I’m not about to compare the 18-year old kid to the Oilers wunderkind. Hughes is smaller, but has the same game breaking speed that can drive opponents nuts. He also had other superb chances to score. On one, Lundqvist stayed with him from a sharp angle on a tough low wrist shot. On another, he made a great move on Huska, but he did a great job to close it up.
In between all the excitement for both Hughes and Hall, Blake Coleman scored for a 3-0 lead. That came off a big hit causing a turnover behind the Ranger net. He had a strong game. Coleman reminds me a bit of former Devil Cup hero John Madden. A smart checking type center who makes smart plays both defensively and offensively.
There also was a bit of edge to the rivalry with Ryan Lindgren standing up to newest Devil and former Flyer Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds and Lindgren battled all night. It added a nice element that hopefully will continue on October 17 when the Hudson rivals meet for real. Too bad it’s only four regular season meetings and not six. That’s the NHL for you.
The Rangers got one back thanks to some nice work from the trio of Brett Howden, Pavel Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov. Howden was able to beat Hughes on an offensive draw. The puck came to Buchnevich for a quick shot that rebounded off Mackenzie Blackwood right to Namestnikov, who deposited it for a 3-1 deficit.
Howden had a strong game also redirecting home a Joe Morrow shot for a goal that made it a 4-2 margin late in the third period. He had excellent chemistry with Russians Buchnevich and Namestnikov. They were easily the best line for the Blueshirts, creating numerous chances that Blackwood stopped. He had a good night in net going all the way for New Jersey.
Even though they didn’t play Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin (should be ready for opening night), Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, Adam Fox, the Blueshirts responded better the rest of the way. The only mishap was Morrow getting absolutely owned by former Devils first round pick Mike McLeod on their fourth goal. He carried the puck and went outside, inside to beat Huska for the only goal he allowed.
Filip Chytil was awfully quiet in his first appearance. He mostly centered Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. I noticed the other two hard working vets more than the second-year center, who coach David Quinn is hoping can center a second line. Having Kreider and Kakko should help.
Lindgren was solid all game, playing the same hard-nosed physical style we saw when he came up last season. He definitely plays with that necessary edge most of the roster lacks. He should make the team and alternate with higher thought skating D Libor Hajek on the third pair.
Pluggers Micheal Haley, Steven Fogarty, Vinni Lettieri and Gabriel Fontaine all worked hard throughout. Fontaine being the only young player of the four who will be closely watched with the Wolf Pack in his second pro year. Lettieri hustled back to negate a Devils scoring chance. He’s an AHL caliber player who just doesn’t have the scoring touch to make it.
Huska was the story once he took over for Lundqvist, who settled in following a tough start. Huska is the overlooked young goalie, who’ll likely split time with highly rated Russian import Igor Shesterkin at Hartford. He definitely helped himself out with a strong showing.
Marc Staal also made his first appearance of the preseason. He was fine. I wonder once his contract expires if he completes the final two years if he’ll also retire like buddy Dan Girardi. Staal has always battled hard and continues to be a unquestioned leader.
Joey Keane took three minor penalties. He isn’t close to ready. Figure him to be sent down.
Devils power play had a scary look that featured Hughes, Hall, Palmieri, Simmonds and P.K. Subban. Yikes. They were dangerous connecting once on plenty of opportunities. Travis Zajac also got a great pass in the slot that he sent over the net whizzing by Huska.
McLeod scored on a nice power move, beating Morrow to the net to boost his chances of making the New Jersey roster. He and John Hayden have looked good so far. Pavel Zacha didn’t do much because he didn’t play! He’s still having visa issues. Thanks to Hasan for the hot tip.
Devils have to be pleased with how both Blackwood and Cory Schneider have looked. They each have been sharp. It could be a good tandem.
That’s all for now. The Rangers have the Flyers next. I’ll have more tomorrow.
FWIW Zacha hasn’t played yet in the preseason, he’s still had visa issues apparently.
Oops. Sorry for the oversight. I’ll fix it. Thanks Hasan.