It certainly wasn’t the ideal opening to the season, but New Jersey Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen isn’t about to push the panic button just yet. And rightfully so. It’s just one game. But the Devils were cruising along with a 4-0 lead in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets who looked like they had played a game the night before. Spoiler alert: they did.
The Jets got a goal with eleven seconds left in the second period, and then three more in the first 12 minutes of the third period. After a scoreless overtime and a five-round shootout, Winnipeg escaped New Jersey with a 5-4 victory after dropping a 6-4 contest at MSG the night before.
“I think in the first and second (periods) we played okay, had the lead and I don’t know what happened in the third,” Vatanen told The Hockey Writers following the game. “Those are pretty tough bounces. If you’re leading by four goals, you should always win the game but we couldn’t do that.”
Tough Pill to Swallow
“But we just have to learn from it and never let that happen again.” The good news is that it is in fact just one game, and the Devils have 81 more games to never let that happen again. Despite the sour ending, there were plenty of positives to take from the opening game of the season. Vatanen scored his first goal of the season, fan-favorite Nikita Gusev scored his first career NHL goal, and Blake Coleman scored twice — including one on a ridiculous one-handed shot while being knocked off the puck.
While this game may be a good learning experience for this group, Vatanen isn’t buying that they lost this game because the team has had an influx of youth over the summer. In addition to adding Gusev and fellow rookies Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist, they also added veterans like PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and John Hayden.
“I don’t think we have that young of a team, you know we have older guys who can lead the team and I think we should have finished the game right there, but we couldn’t tonight,” said the Finnish defender, lamenting the lost point.
Although it won’t be used as an excuse goaltender Cory Schneider had to leave the game after the second Winnipeg goal when he started experiencing cramps and Mackenzie Blackwood was pressed into action cold from the bench. “It’s on the players. It’s on us,” Vatanen said. “We can’t let that happen, but it happened.”
It is just one game of 82 and fortunately, New Jersey has another game today so they can quickly squash the memory of Friday’s debacle and Saturday’s tilt with the Sabres in Buffalo. “The best part of the National Hockey League is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad you were in the last game because the next match is coming so fast,” added Vatanen. “You have to focus on that one.”
Coach John Hynes was disappointed for sure with the result, but unlike the fan base, he isn’t about to hit the panic button after just one game. “There are some valuable lessons to come out of it for sure,” said the Devils coach.
“I think offensively we did some good things in generating a lot of shots, a lot of scoring chances. From that aspect of our game, I thought we did a good job. We got the 4-0 lead and we didn’t play smart enough when we had it. When we had the lead, in key moments and key situations, we didn’t make the right decisions.”
Let’s not forget that the Jets are a really good team, one of the contenders in the Western Conference, and they weren’t going to just roll over easily; this is the NHL. Let’s also not forget that it is just one game, and a week from now if the Devils are 3-0-1 this will be a distant memory. Don’t hit the panic button or overreact just yet.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.