Devils’ Hughes has Strong Game Despite Loss to Jets

On Thursday night, the New Jersey Devils suffered the first loss of their current homestand. The Winnipeg Jets left Prudential Center with two points after securing a 2-1 victory against head coach Lindy Ruff’s team. For a second straight game, the Devils were without their captain Nico Hischier, who is dealing with a lower-body issue, which meant Pavel Zacha once again played center on the second line. After the game, Zacha told the media he thought his team outplayed the Jets but could not capitalize on their chances – a reoccurring theme for the team this season. Still, the Devils’ offense was led by youngster Jack Hughes who was hard to ignore.

Jack Hughes’ Impressive Performance

The Orlando, Florida native scored the Devils’ lone goal on the power play in the first period. He received a seeing-eye pass from Jesper Bratt and blasted a one-timer past Jets goaltender Eric Comrie. Hughes led the Devils with five shots on goal and had a humorous exchange with Comrie, who played one game for New Jersey last season.

“Hughes came over to me after I made a save on him and just said, ‘Hey, you keep making saves on all my good shots,'” Comrie said after the game. “I said, ‘Well, you scored one already. That’s enough for you tonight.'”

For the sixth time this season, Hughes finds himself on a multiple-game point streak with five points (one goal, four assists) in his last three games. Last night, he led all forwards on both teams with 21:45 of ice time. However, he did not take a faceoff against Winnipeg. His linemate Yegor Sharangovich had that task and did well with a win percentage of 57.

In the second period alone, it seemed like Hughes had the puck on his stick for the full twenty minutes, and coach Ruff agreed. “He had the puck a lot,” Ruff said. “I love Jack’s game. In the second period, it was one of those where if you’re playing street hockey, they’d say, ‘Give the puck back. We still want to play.’ It was like he wanted to take the puck and go home.”

Hughes has 44 points in 38 games. This is his third season, and if you want to compare his career to a video game, it’s like the 20-year-old has just unlocked a new level. As enjoyable as it is for fans to watch him dazzle on the ice, his teammates are also enjoying his progress.

“He’s great to watch,” said Zacha. “He’s really good at slowing the game down for himself and finding guys. He’s strong on the puck now too. That’s one of the biggest things. He’s winning 1-on-1 battles and creating space for other players. It’s just great to see him getting better every game.”

Daws Still Looking to Improve

Goaltender Nico Daws has started the Devil’s last six games and seems to be gaining the confidence of the coaching staff. He has found a bit of stability in net and is slowly finding a rhythm. Against the Jets, he made 28 saves on 30 shots and finished with a save percentage of .933. He gave his team a chance to win and played a perfect third period.

Related: Devils & Fans Ready to Honor Travis Zajac’s Career

“He has played a couple of games now in a row, and he is playing really well, keeping us in the game,” said Zacha. “It’s great, and it is really all you’re looking for in a goalie. He kept us in the game until the end. It was a great game from him.”

The Jets’ game-winning goal was scored with less than a minute left in the second period. Kyle Connor used his speed on a breakaway and got the puck past Daws, but the referee immediately waved it off. As a result, Winnipeg didn’t celebrate the goal, and the jumbotron did not immediately change the score. After the game, Daws told the media, “I think I might have been the only one in the building that knew he scored.”

A Game of Missed Chances and Opportunities

It’s a tale as old as time, isn’t it? The Devils had multiple chances, especially early in the game, but could not capitalize. They had 34 shots on goal and three power-play opportunities to tie the game and eventually take the lead but were unable to take advantage.

Lindy Ruff New Jersey Devils
Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils (Kristy Flannery / The Hockey Writers)

“It’s an old theme for us,” said Ruff. “We missed too many opportunities.”

He also mentioned the second power-play unit after the game and said Dawson Mercer had an unbelievable chance in front of the net. He continued to say they needed to be a little bit quicker because they had a couple of opportunities. The Devils played a good game except for a first period mistake that led to their opponent’s first goal in the first five minutes of the game.

Zajac Finally Gets His Moment

Before making my way up to the press box, I took a lap around the concourse and was elated to find many fans sporting Travis Zajac jerseys and excitedly sharing their favorite stories about him. When the organization was finally ready to honor the Winnipeg native’s career with the Devils, 12,377 fans were in their seats with signs to welcome him back to the ice for a proper send-off – he signed a one-day contract in September to retire a Devil.

PA Announcer Joe Tolentino asked fans to welcome Zajac to the ice for one final time, as everyone in the building lept to their feet to cheer and chant as he skated to center ice, saluting the crowd. His wife and children dropped the puck for Zajac’s final faceoff at Prudential Center against Jets captain Blake Wheeler.

Travis Zajac Fan Sign
Travis Zajac Fan Sign (Kristy Flannery / The Hockey Writers)

After yesterday’s morning skate, Ruff summed it best when asked his opinion about Zajac’s ceremony: “I don’t know if there is a better guy or a more fitting guy for playing the game both sides of the puck. He’s a consummate pro and a real good teammate. In the little bit of time I spent with him, he was one of the easiest guys to coach and be around.”

The Devils are scheduled for a noon practice on Friday and will host the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow at 7:00 P.M. It marks the return of Adam Henrique and the Prudential Center debut for Trevor Zegras.

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