The stage was set for New Jersey Devils fans to have an enjoyable Saturday night at Prudential Center. It was the team’s home opener, and captain Nico Hischier was set to make his season debut as well as Vitek Vanecek who was acquired this past summer.
It marked their second game of the 2022-23 campaign, and the club was looking to turn things around after losing their season opener at Wells Fargo Center by a final score of 5-2 on Thursday. Unfortunately, last night’s score was a reflection of Thursday and the Devils lost a second consecutive game 5-2. Jesper Bratt earned another assist now putting his point total at three in two games. Miles Wood scored the team’s second goal, which marked his first since April 27, 2021.
As I sat down last night with all my notes from the night’s activities I realized there was a lot to unpack. Between the play on the ice, the celebrations off of it, and the crowd’s energy that shifted throughout the game, I decided to take a different approach to this article. Instead of providing straight takeaways, I’m going to break down the highs and lows from Prudential Center starting with Fan Fest and the team’s arrival.
High: Fan Fest and Red Carpet Arrivals
I was not exactly sure what to expect when I walked towards Championship Plaza on Saturday afternoon. Fans vocalized their frustrations on social media after the team’s disappointing loss to Philadelphia, and I was intrigued to see how things would shake out by the time the Devils took the ice on Saturday for their home opener at Prudential Center. As I approached the red carpet, I was met by upbeat fans lined up wearing their favorite jerseys waiting for the players to arrive. It appeared the emotions attached to Thursday’s loss had evaporated, and fans were ready to celebrate a win on home ice.
Cum On Feel The Noize by Quiet Riot echoed through the speakers before Glenn “Chico” Resch and Matt Loughlin got on the microphone to introduce the first two players to arrive, which were Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves. Fans cheered, as the defensemen took photos and signed autographs as they made their way into the arena.
High: Honoring Greene’s Career
At 6:00 P.M. former Devils captain Andy Greene was scheduled to meet with the media. The 39-year-old announced his retirement by signing a one-day contract on Wednesday to retire as a Devil. He spoke for around 10 minutes breaking down his decision to call it a career and what his next chapter could potentially look like.
Greene has always been known for being a class act, and concluded his press conference by shaking the hand of each media member before he left the press room. Before the game, he along with his wife Rachel and sons Maddox and Colton took to the ice for a ceremonial puck drop between Hischier and Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin. Chants of “Andy” filled the arena as well as applause and cheers for the former blueliner.
During the second intermission I caught up with him while waiting for the elevator and asked what song best describes his time with the Devils. After a few laughs and thoughtful contemplation, he chose Van Halen’s Runnin’ with the Devil and even sang a chord before walking in.
Low: A Surprising Lineup for New Jersey
After the morning skate, Hischier announced that he would be in the lineup against the Red Wings, which meant a corresponding move would need to occur to take the team’s captain off of injured reserve. That move resulted in Andreas Johnsson being sent down to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. The 27-year-old Swede did not suit up for the Comets game last night, but Mason Geertsen did, playing on the third line with Aarne Talvitie and Brain Halonen.
Related: Devils’ 2022-23 Roster by the Numbers
One decision affecting the lineup that was not overly surprising was the coaching staff’s choice to scratch Nathan Bastian in favor of Fabian Zetterlund. The 6-foot-4 forward was limited to only 8:25 of ice time on Thursday, and sat for a stretch of the third period. Below are the lines that coach Ruff deployed against the Red Wings.
Tomas Tatar – Hischier – Bratt
Ondrej Palat – Jack Hughes – Dawson Mercer
Wood – Erik Haula – Fabian Zetterlund
Yegor Sharangovich – Michael McLeod – Alexander Holtz
Jonas Siegenthaler – Hamilton
Graves – Damon Severson
Brendan Smith – John Marino
After the game, the team’s head coach gave some insight into why he chose to put certain players together including why he utilized Sharangovich and Holtz on the fourth line along with McLeod.
“It wasn’t really [that] they were on the fourth line, they were going to double shift with Jack [Hughes],” he said. “We were going to try and get those top guys to play more of a three line game. We were going to use Michael [McLeod] a lot on special teams, killing penalties, and going to use Holtz on the power play.”
Noticeable Time on Ice
- McLeod: 3:59, he spent 1:56 of that duration on the penalty kill.
- Holtz: 9:20
- Zetterlund: 9:40
- Marino: 23:00, which led all defensemen.
Low: Vanecek’s Devils Debut
One of the biggest questions entering last night’s contest was which goaltender would get the nod to start. There were some that believed Mackenzie Blackwood needed to play in order to re-establish confidence after Thursday’s performance, while others were ready to hand the reins to Vanecek.
The former Washington Capitals goaltender led the team out on the ice and unfortunately did not have the debut he had hoped for. By the end of the game, he made 17 saves on 22 shots and finished the night with a save percentage of .773. The defense in front of him struggled similarly to their first game in Philadelphia, and like Thursday, there were a few goals the Devils’ goaltender would like to have back.
High: The Energy Inside Prudential Center
Before Vanecek led the team out for the game, some of the players, including Hughes, participated in their pregame soccer tradition. The guys sounded loose, laughing and hollering as they kicked the ball back and forth in the tunnel. Upstairs fans lined the glass where the Devils would warm up, holding homemade signs and anxiously chattering about the night ahead.
When the time came for player introductions, the energy within the walls of Prudential Center was at an all-time high. Fans cheered for each member of the Devils with Hischier, Hughes, and Vanecek getting the loudest applause of the bunch. There was a fast pace to the first period and within the first five minutes, Hamilton scored his first goal of the 2022-23 season. Things were going well for the home team, until the second period.
Low: The Energy Inside Prudential Center
Things unraveled rather quickly for New Jersey and by the end of the second period, they were trailing their opponent by a score of 4-2. Fans booed the players and coaching staff as they headed to the locker room for intermission, and by the third period chants of “Fire Lindy!” loudly echoed throughout the arena. For a night that began with so much promise, the game ended the way most had last season; with angry chants, an echo of boos, and fans heading to their cars prior to the final horn.
When I entered the locker room after the game, I was met by various players sitting in silence. The only noise to be heard was the sound of gear being removed. Marino and Smith were sitting at their stalls and their expression of frustration and disappointment told me everything I needed to know. Members of the media flocked towards Hischier and then Smith for their post-game reactions. Here are some of the more notable quotes after last night’s loss.
Lindy Ruff on the “Fire Lindy!” Chants:
“We got passionate fans here. They’re used to winning. I mean, that’s a part of my job. I take full responsibility for when this team loses. Great history here. The fans want W’s up on the board. As simple as that.”
Erik Haula on What Changed from the First to Second Period:
“You know, it’s little things that we do that’s getting us into trouble and that’s why we’re not winning games. It’s consistency in our game, it’s not good enough. It’s too up and down. Until we can sort those things out and play a consistent game it’s gonna be tough.”
Nico Hischier’s Message to His Teammates:
“Don’t get too low, it’s two games. We battled hard, and if you look around here there is definitely frustration. There are 80 more to go and we can’t get too low…We need to look to win the next one, that’s our mindset right now.”
Brendan Smith’s Overall Thoughts:
“I know we are working hard, and I saw it. I thought we did a lot of good things, but the areas that we lost it were because of our own play in our own zone. I thought we were good in the neutral and offensive zone. To me, It was just in our own zone, breaking out pucks and zone coverage. That’s the only area, so if we can clean that, I think we will be very good. Our own end is the only area that we have to get better at. The thing for me that I’m excited about is that’s an area you can fix. The talent, you either have it or you don’t, and we have that…Yeah, it’s frustrating to lose those two points, but I think if we can clean up our end we are right there.”
The Devils are off today and will return to the drawing board on Monday before hosting the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night at Prudential Center. After a difficult and frustrating start, the club will look to regroup quickly, because as Wood said, “If you lose one, you can’t lose two, and you certainly can’t lose three. We have to stop it now.”