A different vibe. A new energy. A team with a jump in its step. It’s one thing to hear the shift in rhetoric from afar and watch from a TV screen nearly three hours away. Yet, to be there and see it and feel it, something has changed with the New Jersey Devils.
After attending all five home games of the AHL Albany Devils, I ventured to Prudential Center for the first time this season, Friday evening. While the Devils were playing a somewhat compromised Chicago Blackhawks squad, sans Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, along with the departed Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad, it was still the defending Stanley Cup champion. A huge test for these young Devils, who were solid on the road in the early going but still having a hard time making the home rink a tough building, as one former coach would opine on occasion.
In front of a sellout crowd of 16,514, New Jersey fed off the energy and came away with a huge 4-2 victory.
New Jersey came out aggressive and relentless in the first. In all the Devils fired off a season best 13-shots, netting a period high three-tallies. There was nothing tentative about it, they attacked, threw pucks on net and good things happened.
All of the Devils’ key performers to this point, were all factors in the decision.
Lee Stempniak was a tone setter, crashing the net and pounding the puck past Corey Crawford. Travis Zajac, who was 52% on draws and recorded his third multiple-point contest of the season, helped the Devils sustain their offensive charge. Kyle Palmieri, right off a Zajac face-off win, ripped one home and doubled the Devils advantage. Then Zajac, who clearly doesn’t want any part of a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater in the early going, knifed in and registered his team leading sixth marker of the campaign. Impressive, considering Zajac totaled eleven tallies all last season.
The Devils leader in point thus far, Mike Cammalleri, with 12, capped off the scoring in the second, besting Scott Darling.
All of those ingredients, coupled with Cory Schneider in his groove, making 27 stops, made for a complete victory. Plus, while buried in the headlines, Adam Larsson logged a season best 27:29 of ice time, Damon Severson dished out two helpers, channeling his breakout play from early last season and Adam Henrique taking one of the team, squaring off in a scrap with Jonathan Toews.
It was a complete, attacking and supportive effort by the Devils, as they improved to 3-3-1 on home ice. Though given their upcoming schedule, the Devils don’t have the afforded time to bask in such a victory but it should serve as an early confidence boost for a young team.
In four of their seven victories, New Jersey has topped playoff teams from a year ago. Having stabilized home ice, the Devils will attempt to carry that confidence into a stretch where they host the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues, travel to Chicago, host the Pittsburgh Penguins and then travel to play the Calgary Flames.
While it may be too early to pinpoint what these Devils will become, there’s something tangibly different thus far. You know it, when you feel it.