In life, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
In the case of Taylor Hall, it was a memorable one that he and Devils fans won’t soon forget. With the red carpet rolled out, Prudential Center turned into Boardwalk Hall as a new era of New Jersey Devils hockey got underway.
Fire. On ice. pic.twitter.com/lq1Kca6yOu
— Dan Rice (@DRdiabloTHW) October 19, 2016
Special Teams a Specialty
A hallmark of Devils’ success in previous seasons has been its ability to play like a cohesive unit up or down a man. Fortunately for New Jersey, the Devils returned to form just in time for its season-opener against the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night.
But what made the Devils’ 2-1 victory over Anaheim a special one, aside from the fact it got both goals from Taylor Hall, was its emphasis on shoring up their special teams. New Jersey ranked ninth with the man-advantage and eighth overall shorthanded last season.
A slow start with consecutive losses to the Lightning and Panthers in the Sunshine State saw the Devils begin 2016-17 a disappointing 0-for-5 with the man-advantage.
In the first game back in the Garden State, it looked like more of the same bedeviling for the home squad. The Devils offense was full of near misses and close calls, unable to cash in on opportunities it was afforded.
But the Devils fortunes changed when their star left wing, acquired from Edmonton in a trade for Adam Larsson this past summer, was in the right place at the right time to record his first-career goal as a member of the New Jersey Devils.
It came in the second stanza as Hall capitalized on a rebound, burying it past Ducks’ goaltender John Gibson to square the contest at one apiece. In the same period, the Calgary native tipped home a Damon Severson drive, again on the power play, for his second goal in the red and black. It marked Hall’s first multi-goal game Dec. 11, 2015 against the New York Rangers.
Devils fans could get used to this.
The tally proved decisive and the game-winner. Hall’s pair of power-play goals made the Devils 2-for-7 on the night.
Through three games Hall hasn’t shied away from the spotlight. Hall is tied for the team lead in shots (ten), and shooting percentage (20%), and leads the squad in goals (two) and power play tallies (two). Hall’s Corsi for (40) and Fenwick for (32) at even-strength tops all New Jersey forwards. The young left wing is clearly paying early dividends.
Hall Heeding History
With his impressive home debut, the Devils’ newest weapon joins some heralded names in Devils history where home openers are concerned. Hall joins John MacLean (1995), Alexander Mogilny (2000), Sergei Brylin (2005), John Madden (2006), and Brian Gionta (2006), as New Jersey players with multi-goal home openers. Only Gionta (who also potted a pair of power-play tallies) and his natural hat trick, notched more markers than the rest. Plus, if you’re a numerology buff, another No.9 scored his first Devils goal in a home opener, that being Zach Parise in 2005.
New Jersey was also able to fend off Anaheim with a solid penalty killing unit which saw the Ducks convert just 1-for-4 in the game. Defensively, the Devils penalty killing has been stout so far this campaign, effectively shutting down the opposition which is just 1-for-10 in 2016-17.
When assessing his new star forward, Devils’ coach John Hynes was impressed beyond the box score, as he told NHL.com:
“[Hall] competes in all areas; he’s hard on the puck, he checks when he doesn’t have it, he’s not timid in confrontations and he’s responsible in the defensive zone. He brings energy to your team and plays with passion. It’s easy to coach a guy like that because, while he’s a high-end offensive player, he’s also a reliable guy every shift.”
When asked what he felt was the key ingredient in New Jersey’s victory, Hall emphasized the Devils’ special teams play: “Sometimes special teams can really affect the game and tonight was definitely the case,” Hall said. “We’ve been working on our power play a lot and it came through tonight so it was a lot of fun.”
On his first night in front of the home crowd, Hall also gave his first impression of the fans: “They were awesome,” he said. “It was a really good experience for my first game, our home opener. Hopefully, they can be like that the whole year if we give them reasons to.”
If first impressions hold true, Taylor Hall and the Devils’ special teams should give fans plenty to look forward to this season.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.