New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are off to a 2-1-0 start to their season but will have to fight to stay above .500 without Jack Hughes, their star forward, after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in game two versus Seattle. (image from Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New Jersey Devils Recap: Week 1

The New Jersey Devils kicked off their ’21-’22 season last Friday at their home arena, the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In week one, they played three games and went 2-1-0, including an absolute thriller on opening night. All three games were played at home, and their home stand to open the season is a franchise record-tying five games. After a busy offseason, the Devils are ready to compete in the Metropolitan division. Let’s get into the games for the weekly New Jersey Devils recap.

The Games

10/15/21: vs. Chicago Blackhawks [4 – 3 W/OT]

This game was bonkers, and there could not have been a better way to welcome fans back to the Rock at all. The Devils took the win 4-3 in overtime by scoring once in each of the four periods.

Friday’s opener started off with a bang when newly acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton scored just 17 seconds after the initial puck drop. The play came about thanks to Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha pressuring a Chicago breakout attempt and forcing a turnover. Zacha got the lone assist on the goal.

The Blackhawks would answer 51 seconds into the second period, however. While on the powerplay, future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane slung a beautiful cross-ice pass to winger Alex DeBrincat, and he made no mistake by one-timing a shot into Jonathan Bernier’s net to tie the game 1-1. Tyler Johnson also assisted on the goal. Then, late in the second, at the 17:58 mark, Devils centerman Jack Hughes found the back of the net on a broken-down play in the Chicago zone. His line mates Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen both got assists on the play, though Hughes pretty much made everything happen himself.

Andreas Johnsson cleaned up a loose rebound off the post that was lying in the crease behind   Chicago netminder Kevin Lankinen to make it 3-1. The initial shot came from Devils rookie Dawson Mercer, who recorded his first NHL point in his first NHL game. Free agent signing Tomas Tatar added the secondary assist on the play.

Chicago battled back. They scored twice in the final four minutes to force overtime, and both goals came with their net emptied. Kirby Dach scored on a rebound at 16:07. Tyler Johnson and Patrick Kane both assisted again on the play. Dominik Kubalik scored his second of the season with 26 seconds left from Seth Jones and Brandon Hagel. Just like that, it was 3-3 heading into overtime.

Overtime lasted just 57 seconds thanks to Jack Hughes. After Kane failed to make anything happen in the Devils zone, Hughes and Ryan Graves broke out on a 2-on-1 the other way. Hughes patiently waited for defenders to tip their hand, and he weaved around multiple Blackhawk skaters before sliding a backhand shot into a wide-open cage to win it. He got Lankinen to bite badly as he ended up a good 10 feet outside of the crease. Graves was credited with the assist on Hughes’s second of the game, and Hughes and the Devils got to celebrate.

10/19/21: vs. Seattle Kraken [4-2 W]

The Devils scored four goals again in game two. This time, they hosted the newest member of the NHL, the Seattle Kraken. Bernier defended the net again, and Joey Daccord made his first start for Seattle. The Devils got out to an early lead and held on for the 4-2 victory.

Dawson Mercer continued to impress in his second career NHL game. Thanks to a long breakout pass by Ryan Graves, Mercer and Tomas Tatar found themselves on a 2-on-1. Tatar gave Mercer a beautiful saucer pass over the sliding defender, and Mercer smoked home his first NHL goal to give the Devils a 1-0 at the 5:02 mark in the first period. Defenseman Damon Severson made his season debut after missing opening night with an injury but was quickly on the scoresheet Tuesday night. At 6:42, Jack Hughes maneuvered around a few Kraken players before throwing a long shot on net, where Severson cleaned up a sloppy rebound from Daccord. Graves also assisted on the play – his third of the young season.

In the second, the Kraken finally got on the board after Riley Sheahan pounced on a Beriner rebound at 10:05. Former Devil Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn assisted. Then, Jimmy Vesey, who was signed by the New Jersey Devils after a professional tryout at camp, scored his first of the season at 14:48. The play was pretty, and Vesey benefited from some quick puck movement in the Seattle zone. Severson threw a no-look pass to fellow defenseman Colton White. White threw a cross-ice pass to Johnsson. Johnsson put a pass into the slot where Vesey tapped it home. It was a classic tic-tac-toe goal and was also White’s first career NHL point.

Jared McCann scored his third goal of the year on a 5-on-3 powerplay at the 14:41 mark in the third to make it 3-2. Yanni Gourde and captain Mark Giordano assisted. Seattle would add pressure as regulation approached its end, but the Devils were able to add an empty-net goal with 20 seconds remaining to seal the 4-2 win. Zacha scored on the vacated cage from Michael McLeod and captain Nico Hischier.

10/21/21: vs. Washington Capitals [1-4 L]

Devils fans witnessed the first ugly game of the year Thursday against Washington. After sweeping New Jersey in eight games last year, the Capitals won the first meeting this year by a score of 4-1. Washington’s stars made plays, while New Jersey’s stars were kept quiet all night.

Washington took a 2-0 lead at the end of one period thanks to goals from Anthony Mantha and Dmitry Orlov. They also scored the lone goal in the second period, and New Jersey found themselves down 3-0 with just 20 minutes left to play.

The third period was just as sloppy. The Devils just could not generate offense throughout the night, and Evgeny Kuznetsov put the nail in the coffin at the 9:16 mark from Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin. The Devils avoided a shutout when Janne Kuokkanen scored at 13:18 on the powerplay. Sharangovich and Severson were credited with assists. Ultimately, it was too little, too late to New Jersey and they fell 4-1.

Storylines

The largest news from the week revolves around Jack Hughes and a dislocated shoulder he suffered shortly after the Devils second goal against Seattle. Hughes was working in the corner of the Kraken zone when Jeremy Lauzon pinned him into the boards. Hughes lost his footing and was slammed to the ice hard with all the weight coming down on his left shoulder. He exited the game and the New Jersey Devils have been without him since. News broke that Hughes would not require surgery at this time and has started physical therapy. Unfortunately, there is no timetable for his return, and he will be re-evaluated this upcoming week.

Starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood has not played yet this season. He is recovering from a heel injury he suffered in the preseason. Him missing time has prompted Bernier to be the starter for the time being, and then Bernier found himself miss Thursday’s game after reaggravating his preseason injury. Scott Wedgewood was thrown into the fire against Washington, and rookie Nico Daws was called upon to serve as his backup. This is a story worth keeping an eye on as the Devils boasted one of the more solid one-two punches in net going into the season.

Defenseman Ty Smith will make his season debut on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. He was dealing with an undisclosed injury throughout the preseason and first few games. Smith will be in an important role. He racked up 23 points as a rookie last season and should play on the second powerplay unit.

Through three games, the New Jersey Devils have had nine players make their Devils debut. Those nine players have combined for three goals and six assists, while also being 2-0-0 in net with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Three Stars

  1. Week one’s first star is Jack Hughes. A lot of people in the hockey world were predicting him to breakout this season, and he was showing early signs of making those people happy before his injury. He has two goals and on assist through pretty much a game and a half. Let’s hope he’s back on the ice soon for the New Jersey Devils.
  2. Ryan Graves is the second star of week one. Graves is a beast, standing at 6’6”. He uses his long reach to disrupt scoring chances for opponents. Through three games, he has a +4 rating and has averaged 22:47 of ice time per game. As a bonus, he’s contributed three assists despite not being known as a steady offensive contributor.
  3. Dawson Mercer is the third star. As a teenage rookie, Mercer has made a significant impact when on the ice. Head coach Lindy Ruff needs to find ways to get him on the ice more. He’s averaging just 12:09 time on ice so far. Still, he has a goal and an assist while playing on the third line.

Standings Update

The New Jersey Devils sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan division after one week of games. A 2-1-0 record is not bad at all to start a season, but most teams in their division have already played four games. They sit just three points behind the Capitals for first place.

The Week Ahead

The Devils most likely won’t make up much ground in week two. They play just two games in this seven-day stretch. Both will be at home with the first coming against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres was abysmal last season but have gotten off to a surprising 3-0-0 start and boast a +8-goal differential. That game is Saturday, and the Calgary Flames come to town Tuesday. Calgary is 1-1-1, and Devils fans will get to see Blake Coleman for the first time as an opponent. The Devils traded Coleman at the trade deadline two seasons ago.

Read the New Jersey Devils ’21-’22 season preview here.

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