After defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in a thrilling OT season opener on Sunday, New Jersey faced the newly minted Seattle Kraken last night. It was clear from the beginning of the game that the Devils were the better team, scoring twice in the first period and then finishing the game with 4-2 win against the expansion Kraken.
But New Jersey sustained a heavy price, as the Devils star center Jack Hughes was wiped out by Jeremy Lauzon in the first period of the contest and did not return to the game (he has since been listed as day-to-day). Hughes had previously scored two goals against Chicago on Friday night (including the beautiful OT winning goal), and then had recorded the primary assist on the Devils second goal last night.
The hit that took out Hughes turned the tenor of the game, which became very physical. Overall, the game had three fights, much more than the usual for New Jersey. But this is definitely a new Devils team with a new attitude. The game turned nasty as the newly acquired Mason Geertsen took on the offending Lauzon early in the second period, followed later by a fight between Jonas Siegenthaler and Ryan Donato.
The game got closer in the third period as Seattle scored a power play goal, but New Jersey hung on, playing a solid third period and a particularly good last minute and a half of hockey. With the Devils leading 3-2 and 32 seconds left in regulation, Seattle pulled goaltender Joey Daccord to get an extra skater on the ice. New Jersey played the situation very well, sealing the victory with an Pavel Zacha empty net goal at 19:40.
Former minor-league heavyweight, Geertsen played his first NHL game last night. Picked up off waivers from the New York Rangers on October 3rd, Geertsen showed once again last night that there still is a place for tough guys in the NHL, as long as they can skate and at least somewhat play the game.
Ryan Graves, also an ex-Rangers property, posted his second and third assists of the season in last night’s victory over the Kraken. He was also credited with six hits during the contest. Graves, who is known for his physical play, toughness, and size, has really developed his offensive game over the last few years. Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche this summer to shore up the Devils blueline, Graves can now truly be considered a two-way defenseman. Keep watching him and Dougie Hamilton on the first pairing; they not only shored up New Jersey’s blueline, they could wind up being the best defensive pair in the NHL this season.
How good was the pickup of Jonathan Bernier this past summer? Signed on July 28th, after three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, he was signed to battle with Mackenzie Blackwood for the time between the pipes. However, Blackwood, who had surgery over the summer, has had a heel injury to start the season and has yet to make an appearance. Yesterday, Blackwood was put on the IR back to October 11 (he can be activated at any time), and Scott Wedgewood is currently the Devils’ backup netminder.
Nineteen-year-old rookie Dawson Mercer (2020 first round draft pick, 18th overall) scored his first NHL, regular season, goal last night. Mercer, who started the game centering the team’s third line, played in all situations and finished the night with a win percentage of 56 in the faceoff circle. After showing that he belongs in the season opener too (Mercer posted his first NHL assist then), if Hughes is out for any length of time, look for Mercer to move up to the Devils’ top six.
The Devils continue their season opening homestand tomorrow night (Thursday, 10/21) against the Washington Capitals.