The New Jersey Devils start off the 2017-18 regular season with a bang: a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in their home opener. 80 shots were made on goal, 39 of those belonged to the Devils; Jimmy Hayes and Taylor Hall had seven apiece, while Nico Hischier had six. Both teams won 50% of faceoffs, had 12 penalty minutes, and 30 hits. Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt, and Cory Schneider were the three stars of the game. Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout, and Miles Wood were healthy scratches.
All four Devils goals were scored by special teams. Adam Henrique scored the Devils’ first goal on the power play in the first period off of a really nice deflection; Butcher (his first career NHL point) and Kyle Palmieri picked up the assists. Henrique didn’t score a goal throughout the preseason but has gotten off to a good start.
Hayes then tallied his first goal as a Devil on the power play, again with assists from Butcher and Palmieri. Carl Soderberg cut the Devils’ lead in half with a power play tally for his first goal of the season, but Jesper Bratt quickly restored the two-goal lead (also a power play goal), his first career NHL goal. John Moore added a short-handed tally on an excellent play from Bratt.
Schneider looked phenomenal today. He stopped 40 of 41 shots on goal, posting a .976 save percentage. He stopped all nine shots he faced on the penalty kill and made huge saves throughout the game. He looks like he’s in vintage-Cory Schneider form and should get the start on Monday.
He also had a ton of help from the defense, who may not be as atrocious as fans were expecting. Damon Severson led all skaters with 22:12 of ice time. Mirco Mueller had three blocked shots. Moore had the short-handed goal.
All three Devils rookies looked great in their NHL debuts. Butcher tallied three assists, the first player in franchise history with three points in his NHL debut. He is also the first Devils defenseman with three power play assists since Bruce Driver in 1984 (and for those of you keeping track, he is on pace for 246 assists this season).
Bratt came close with two points, a goal and an assist, but was able to score his first NHL goal in front of his parents. If he continues to play like he has, the Devils will have no choice but to keep him around. Hischier also looked like the talented, skilled hockey player he is. He showed off his puck handling and skating skills in 15:44 of ice time.
Zacha also looked really comfortable on the ice. He had a great game; he had 19:08 of ice time, won 63.6% of faceoffs, and had a pair of shots on goal. But he looked like he belonged on the Devils and in the NHL. He wasn’t as “afraid” to take a shot or hit someone, and if he plays like he is, it’s going to pay off. Zacha’s buddy Stefan Noesen also looked good.
New Jersey did suffer a few injuries. Andy Greene and Drew Stafford left in the first period (Greene later returned to the ice), while Palmieri took a dangerous knee-on-knee hit in the second and did not return to the game. He looked like he was in a ton of pain and Erik Johnson received just a minor penalty. Hischier and Hall jumped in to protect Palmieri (Hischier has said he’d like to bring a more physical to his game) and that was nice to see. Both Stafford and Palmieri were evaluated with lower body injuries, and will be reevaluated tomorrow.
Special teams played a huge role in today’s game. Three of four Devils goals were scored on the man advantage and they killed all six of Colorado’s opportunities (I think; Soderberg’s goal may or may not have happened as the power play expired). They were able to kill off a double minor (awarded to Marcus Johansson for high-sticking). Bratt, Hall, and Hischier all looked excellent on the penalty kill.
The atmosphere at The Rock was infectious. The crowd chanted the entire game, gave the team a standing ovation for the last minute of regulation, and even started the wave. If the crowd can look and sound like that every home game, The Rock will become one of the most difficult places to play in the entire NHL.
And if the Devils play good hockey, the fans will come and they will come in droves. The team is exciting to watch again and has a ton of potential. They were tougher, they played as one cohesive unit, and they had each other’s backs. They looked fast and physical. They weren’t afraid to send pucks to the net and dumped the puck less. And I know it’s only been one regular season game, but these are good signs of things to come.
(I also wanted to take a second to apologize for not posting a game preview; I was out yesterday and this morning, and didn’t have time to schedule a post. Hopefully this makes up for it! I will hopefully be doing game previews from here on out.)
The Devils will be back in action Monday afternoon against the Sabres at the KeyBank Center; puck drops at 3PM.