During training camp, the Devils’ team slogan was ‘eNJoy the ride’ with an accent on the NJ logo for t-shirt purposes. As corny as it might have sounded at first blush, there was a very real message in it…this season will be like no other before and hopefully after, with many unique challenges. Enjoy the ride is also an implicit reminder to just be glad hockey is back. Indeed, Opening Night proved to be one wild ride indeed.
Of course that ride was more like a roller coaster valley in the first period, as the Devils were dominated by a frightening margin not inherent in the 1-0 score. Fans and teammates alike had only Mackenzie Blackwood’s performance to thank for the Devils still being in a game after a period where they looked like a high school team playing the ’76 Canadiens. Perhaps some of that was the inevitable rust of not having played competitively – aside from a couple of team scrimmages – in ten months, while the Bruins played two playoff rounds (ten games) plus preliminary games during the bubble postseason. There could also have been a more emotional factor to that first period, as coach Lindy Ruff observed both in the locker room and after the game (per Miles Wood).
Wood himself typified the up-and-down nature of the team’s performance with the down being two goaltender interference penalties which (to his credit) he termed selfish after the game, while the up was a team-leading five shots on goal including a sweet breakaway goal that tied the game in the third period when the Devils were still trailing by that 1-0 deficit. If the Devils had one thing out of last night’s game they clearly need to work on it’s their PK, which gave up both regulation goals to Brad Marchand in the first and Nick Ritchie in the third, the latter coming just a few minutes after Wood’s goal had tied it up.
It was an interesting mix that coach Ruff threw out for the PK at times, which included rookie Yegor Sharangovich – who didn’t disappoint despite failing to get on the scoreboard, he certainly made an impact to the tune of drawing three penalties including one that canceled out an early Bruins power play in the first period. Fellow rookie Ty Smith also made his mark after a shaky opening period, playing 17:09 and finishing with a +2 after his memorable first NHL goal. Not exactly a work of art, as his point shot ricocheted like five different times (I’m not exaggerating) before finally getting past Tuukka Rask to tie it up again the shift right after Ritchie’s goal had put us behind again. As Doc Emrick once observed though, ‘they don’t ask how, they ask how many’.
Eventually the game crept into OT where the Devils at least assured a point. They could have easily had two, but Kyle Palmieri flubbed a breakaway where he also had Jack Hughes as a trailer, while Travis Zajac also just missed a tap in off a rebound with seconds remaining in the three-on-three. For his part Hughes also overcame a shaky first period (this is a theme) to have a strong game overall getting assists on both goals, including some nice body positioning on the first to get the puck to Wood for his breakaway. Of course the dreaded shootout went as so many shootouts have since 2012, where we failed to score at all – even broadcaster Ken Daneyko openly wondered why every shooter was coming in slowly with no speed – and Marchand’s goal in the third round was enough to get the Bruins the extra point and Marchand the post-game interview with Erika Wachter much to my horror. I guess there’s a lot of pooled material each team’s broadcast has to use this year, but still that wasn’t a great visual and I muted it until the next commercial break.
While I stuck with the TV telecast for the most part, I did want to sample the online stuff the Devils were offering up which included their own pregame and postgame as well as some ‘in-stadium jumbotron’ experience during the games, which was mostly just some of the arena stoppage games they put up plus promos. It was nice being able to scroll backward through the live feed and watch the online pregame when the TV one was on commercial, though there wasn’t much to the online pregame other than lineup discussion which was fine. Postgame I actually liked the online one, which included all the interviews with Blackwood, Smith, Wood and coach Ruff whereas the TV one was just analyst-based. So at least they both brought a different element and weren’t redundant.
As will be the case so many times this year, the Devils will play a two-game ‘series’ against the Bruins with the second game being tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be interesting to see how these series turn out since generally teams only play back-to-back when it’s really close travel for a home-and-home, so there’ll be some adjustments made by both teams. Baby steps were the order of the night for the second youngest roster in the league, after the team’s improvement in the last forty-five minutes and with Blackwood and Smith getting the 2nd and 3rd stars (Marchand got the 1st star) – although I should also give some dap to PK Subban for playing a shade over thirty minutes last night. Coach Ruff even joked he was trying to get him in shape, but if you look at our lineup it was inevitable that either he or Damon Severson would be playing big minutes considering Matt Tennyson was our third RD, and thankfully played just ten minutes last night.
Devils Three Stars:
- Mackenzie Blackwood (35 saves including 15 in a tilted first period)
- Jack Hughes (two assists, three SOG in 21:50)
- Ty Smith (first NHL goal, +2 in 17:09)