(Andy Greene / @NHLDevils)
The New Jersey Devils are entering a season of change, one they hope will be the start of a new era of excellence.
Ray Shero took over as General Manager in the offseason, succeeding Lou Lamoriello, who moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shero, who was formerly the Pittsburgh Penguins GM, brought in John Hynes from that organization to be the Devils’ new Head Coach.
The Devils’ roster has had some major turnover as well, with seven new players – Sergey Kalinin, John Moore, Brian O’Neill, Kyle Palmieri, David Schlemko, Lee Stempniak, and Jiri Tlusty – and all but O’Neill made their debuts on Friday night.
Devils left wing Adam Henrique said of the chemistry, “I thought we did a great job, the staff, everybody, throughout camp, just getting to know everybody, getting to know new systems. There’s a lot going on, I thought the guys did a great job just teaching it and guys learning it and everybody’s buying in. Right from Day One, I think we’ve been moving forward every day and getting better and we gotta continue doing that all year.”
On Friday afternoon, ahead of the season opener against the Winnipeg Jets, the Devils named defenseman Andy Greene the 11th captain in their franchise’s history. The 32-year-old Greene is entering his ninth season with the Devils, and is coming off a season in which he played all 82 games and notched 22 points, with three goals and 19 assists.
Greene is the right choice, as he is one of their longest-tenured players. Greene is their top defenseman and has been so for many years, going back to the Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2012. He will make sure the Devils keep the same approach they always have, especially with Hynes, who is of the same mold as the coaches they have always had in New Jersey, from Jacques Lemaire to Pat Burns to Peter DeBoer.
Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac were named alternate captains.
Greene said of the excitement of opening night and being made the captain, “It was a little bit different than the normal game day. Obviously, always the first game here, always a little nervous and excited for the season. The fans were great tonight, great atmosphere, they were pumped up and it’s too bad we didn’t give them more to cheer for.”
The Devils lost their home opener on Friday night, 3-1, to the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets, a playoff team last season, are making a statement to start this year, as they won in Boston, 6-2, over the Bruins on Thursday night.
The Devils got a nice chance a couple of minutes into the game, as Reid Boucher fired a shot by Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson, but it went straight through the goalmouth.
That was the Devils’ best chance of the first period, as they were thoroughly dominated, and outshot 12-4.
Winnipeg carried that over into the second period, as Mark Scheifele scored off a give-and-go on the left side to make it 1-0 just 1:13 into the second period.
Just over a couple of minutes later, the Devils lost the puck in transition at center ice, and Andrew Ladd found Blake Wheeler on the left side, and he fired a rocket past Devils goalie Cory Schneider to make it 2-0 at the 16:04 mark.
Schneider said of Wheeler’s goal, “Yeah, he made a nice shot, you know, it’s my job to stop some nice shots, so for me, I would have liked to get a piece of it. I don’t know if I was shaded too far to his body since he was on his off-wing there, and I gotta look at the video if I gave him a little too much net on that side.”
The Devils did respond later in the second period, as Jiri Tlusty scored on a power play on a wraparound from behind the net at the 7:07 mark to cut Winnipeg’s lead to 2-1.
Tlusty said of his goal, “I was trying to go around the goalie, but it had a funny bounce, and kind of exploded from my stick. I’ll never know, it’s how it happens once in awhile.”
That would be short-lived, as the Jets got a power-play goal of their own at the 3:37 mark, as Wheeler and Mathieu Perreault set up Ladd on the right side and he fired a laser by Schneider to make it 3-1.
The Devils outshot the Jets 10-7 in the third period, but the Jets controlled the puck enough, so the Devils never got the necessary sustained pressure to get one in.
Devils Head Coach John Hynes said of the game, “It was a combinations of spurts where we played really, really well. We played the way we wanted to play, had a lot of pressure and were skating and had some sustained shifts in the offensive zone. And then there were some times when we got out-competed and out-battled on the puck. There was a little segment, too, early in the second period when we made some mistakes on some decisions and the puck wound up in the back of the net. The game was full of spurts, but not enough good ones for us consistently to get a better result.”
Schneider said of the game, “(The first goal) hit my defenseman’s shin pad there, still not even sure how it came across my body and went in. It kind of somehow found a spot there, so tough break. It’s just a learning experience thing for us, that all it takes is five minutes and a game gets away from you a little bit. I thought we did a nice job not letting it get too far away, we got that goal, battled back. Unfortunately, that special-teams goal made it 3-1, but in the third, we pressed, we had a few looks, didn’t get down, didn’t pack it in, we came back and battled hard. Obviously, it’s not good enough, it’s not a good feeling to lose your home opener, but we gotta make sure we learn from our mistakes and correct what we can.”
Greene said of the game, “First five, six minutes in the second got away from us a little bit, and we have to do a better job holding down the fort there, you know, we get run around, live to fight another day. In the second, we thought we started getting our legs moving a little bit better, and started to get a little more O-zone time. Those are the things we have to do a little bit better, when we get in the O-zone, we can’t be one-and-done, we gotta make sure we sustain pressure, make sure lines are rotated through there and spend a couple of shifts there, not just puck on the net and they come down.”
Henrique said of learning Hynes’ system, “I mean, it’ll take a bit to get it where it’ll be consistent, you’re not thinking about it, obviously, there’s a lot to learn throughout camp, but I thought we did a great job getting better and improving every day. We know the way he wants us to play the system and we just didn’t execute. We want to play a high-tempo, fast-paced game. It seemed we were just a little step high and a little bit off here or there.”
Tlusty said of the team’s chemistry, “We are still trying to get to know each other, but we are making good progress. We have to just address the good things and bad things that we had done tonight and we have to move forward.”