The New Jersey Devils earned their first two points of the season last night in their home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. The game was full of excitement and drama as overtime was needed to declare a winner. Plenty went right for the young team, including their core players stepping into the spotlight to provide big moments. As surprising as the team’s first victory was for fans, the atmosphere at Prudential Center may have been even more a surprise.
The Rock was Rocking
Whether fans took the train or drove to Prudential Center, the minute they stepped onto Championship Plaza, they could tell the energy was different. There was an excitement that was carried from the streets of Newark into the arena. The consensus was this could be the start of something new. What exactly this new chapter will bring can only be determined with time, but that impalpable feeling flooded each section of Prudential Center at the Devils’ season opened.
“As a former employee who worked nearly every game from 2012-2017, this is best energy I have felt in the arena in years,” said Jason Reilly who was a supervisor with Legends at Prudential Center.” The fans were excited to be back and there is hope surrounding this emerging team. To win in OT, in this arena, on opening night is giving this fanbase every reason to feel optimistic about this season and the future.”
The new P.A. announcer, Joe Tolentino, introduced the Devils 2021-22 roster to a hungry crowd ready for the puck to drop. Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier were each greeted with thunderous applause that echoed around Prudential Center.
“With the combination of a long-awaited normalized NHL game atmosphere, and the elevated talent that the front office brought in, in the offseason, the atmosphere was very electric,” said Devils fan Jeremy Knoepfler. “That electric atmosphere was compounded when prized free agent Dougie Hamilton scored that opening goal. I haven’t heard the Prudential Center that loud since the Devils 2012 Stanley Cup Final run.”
The Devils opened their season in front of a sold-out crowd and put on a show worthy of the price of admission. Fans were able to celebrate four goals, embrace the drama that accompanies overtime and leave Newark smiling ear to ear. Their next opportunity to attend a Devils game will be Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, as they take on the newest team to join the NHL — the Seattle Kraken.
Hughes & Hamilton Lead the Way
If the Devils want to remain competitive within a very stacked Metropolitan Division, their top players will need to consistently contribute. Last night, nine different players earned a point in their victory. The most exciting goals of the game came within the first minute of the first period and the first minute of the overtime. First-overall pick Hughes and newly acquired Hamilton led the way to the first two points of the season.
The 6-foot-6 defenseman made an immediate impact in his Devils uniform, as it only took 17 seconds for him to get his first in New Jersey. A turnover by Jake McCabe of the Chicago Blackhawks led to Pavel Zacha getting the puck to Hamilton, who quickly got the puck past 26-year-old Kevin Lankinen. The arena erupted with cheer and the chant of “Dougie” immediately followed the Devils’ on-ice goal celebration.
During the press conference after the game, Hamilton said he did not think it was his best shot, but there was a pretty good screen in front of Lankinen. That screen was courtesy of Hischier who managed to get in front of the Blackhawks net before Hamilton shot the puck. His first as a Devil broke Zach Parise’s record of fastest goal to start the season.
During media day, Hughes stood at the podium and stated his game is going to pop, and was expecting to have a good year. It was only the first game, but the 20-year-old delivered. His first goal of the night came in the second period as he was able to spin around and get the puck past Lankinen. The first-overall pick provided the most exciting moment of the night with a beauty of a goal 57 seconds into overtime.
“I think it was a 2-on-1 for most of the rink, so I had a lot of options going through my mind during the skate and Gravy (Ryan Graves) drove the net, so I had the patience and kind of moved the goalie,” Hughes said. “I had an empty net after that.”
His game-winning goal displayed both patience and skill, as he waited to get Lankinen out of position. After the goal horn went off, the 5-foot-11 forward tossed his stick into the crowd as teammates swarmed him to celebrate their first win of the season.
Special Teams Need to Improve
It is always great to get two points at the end of the game, but there are always things to improve upon. Coach Lindy Ruff will continue to focus on his team’s power play and penalty kill. The Devils were awarded two power plays and were unable to convert on either opportunity. The first unit on the ice consisted of Hamilton, Hughes, Hischier, Zacha and Jesper Bratt. It is safe to say they will be working on the the man advantage before facing the Kraken for their second game of the season.
The penalty kill showed faint signs of improvement. The Blackhawks scored two of their three goals on the man advantage. Chicago was awarded five power plays, including four minutes of play near the conclusion of the third period when Dawson Mercer was called for high-sticking against Tyler Johnson. Michael McLeod led all Devils forwards with 3:31 of shorthanded ice time, and will need to become more comfortable being the go-to guy when his team is shorthanded.
Overall it was a great night for the Devils and their fans. Ruff will have things to work on with his team before the next game, but thankfully enough went right last night for the team to build on. For fans, Tuesday can’t come fast enough as the team tries to put together the first winning streak of the season.
I would be remiss to not mention the touching tribute honoring Jimmy Hayes. For warmups the Devils wore jerseys with No. 10 on them, displaying Hayes’ nickname Broadway on the back. The Blackhawks wore Hayes’ No. 39. During the press conference, Ruff told media it was a touching tribute that was set up by Hischier and one of the Devils’ trainers. The Devils will practice today, and begin to prepare for the next task at hand.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.