Newark, NJ — There was a buzz in Newark on Thursday that hadn’t been present for a New Jersey Devils home opener in quite some time. The expectations have been raised and there’s excitement for hockey in New Jersey again. The Detroit Red Wings visited the Prudential Center in Game One of the regular season for both teams. New Jersey collected two points in their first game of the season as the Devils top the Red Wings in their season opener 4-3.
New Jersey got off to a slow start in the first period. Within the first five minutes of the opening frame, the Red Wings were already outshooting the Devils 5-2. Vitek Vanecek was called upon to make 14 saves to keep the score at null. The Devils evened the playing field in the second period. New Jersey won the shot total 15-11 in the middle frame. However, Daniel Sprong got Detroit on the board first to give them a 1-0 lead. David Perron took a high-sticking penalty soon after and Jack Hughes made him pay tying the game at one on the power play. About five minutes later, Hughes put the Devils on top scoring his second of the game.
In the third frame, Hughes made his way to the penalty box and Alex DeBrincat scored his first of the season to even the score at two. However, Dougie Hamilton put New Jersey back on top with under five minutes to go in the game. Vanecek ended the night by making 32 saves on 35 shots. On the other end of the ice, Ville Husso stopped 23 out of 26 pucks he saw.
Vanecek Brilliant in Game One
After New Jersey tore up the preseason seemingly carrying over their momentum from the 2022-23 season, the Devils looked a step behind in the first 2o minutes of their season. The Red Wings outshot New Jersey 14-6 as Detroit established themselves as the faster, more cohesive team in the opening frame.
Vanecek, however, was sharp, stopping all 14 pucks he saw. According to MoneyPuck, following the first 20 minutes of play, Vanecek made .62 goals saved above expected. Detroit peppered the Devils goaltender for .618 expected goals against. Thanks to some excellent puck tracking and rebound control, Vanecek and New Jersey left the first period unscathed.
The 27-year-old netminder vowed to come into the 2023-24 season with a new mindset. That was certainly on full display in the first period as Vanecek didn’t allow the pressure to mount against him. New Jersey’s first period of the regular season displayed sloppy, undisciplined hockey. If not for Vanecek, the Devils would have found themselves chasing the game in the second period.
His most notable save came against Dylan Larkin as the Red Wings captain attacked the Devils’ zone in a 2on1 situation. However, thanks to Vanecek, Larkin’s high-danger chance was turned aside keeping the game scoreless.
New Jersey played better in the 40 minutes that followed. Vanecek ended the game with one goal saved above expected. Still, without Vanecek, New Jersey certainly starts the 2023-24 season in the loss column.
“He carried us,” Hughes said of Vanecek. “He was on his game for sure. He’s definitely a horse. We’d like our goalies to play like that every night. We know that’s not gonna happen. But I think he had a stellar performance and I think we’ve got to put a better foot forward tomorrow night for whichever goalie is in net.”
Jack Hughes, Superstar
New Jersey began creating chances in the second period, however, were struggling to find the back of the net. The Nico Hischier line was buzzing, forcing Husso to make plenty of big saves in order to keep New Jersey off the board.
That was until J. Hughes had something to say about it.
It took Hughes a little while to get his feet under him, however, a penalty by Perron would help him get up to speed. It appeared all he needed was a little extra ice to get going, as Hughes made his way around Moritz Seider and scored on an impressive shot that banked off the back of Husso and in the net.
Scoring certainly lit a fire under Hughes for the remainder of the second period. In the final two minutes of the second period, Hughes picked up a puck sent forward by Tyler Toffoli in the neutral zone. Using his speed and agility, Hughes gained the Red Wings zone, pushed the defense below the dots, pulled up with the puck to create separation on the ice, found his way to the slot, and beat Husso’s glove side to give New Jersey their first lead.
Despite taking two penalties in his first game of 2023-24, the second of which resulted in a Detroit goal, Hughes’ first game of the season was just another wrinkle in his ascent as a superstar in the NHL.
“He’s got that dynamic ability to create his own opportunities,” Lindy Ruff explained. “We’ve seen that shot (on the power play) before. We actually talked about it this morning and we thought we were gonna see it once or twice. He hit the perfect spot and then the second goal, he created all that on his own. For Jack overall, I think he had a good night, two goals, but ruined his chance that the Lady Byng obviously. That’s the new Jack Hughes.”
New Jersey Won the Physical Battle, but…
Last season, you could count on one hand how many times the Devils won the physical battle. Before the arrival of Timo Meier and Curtis Lazar, the physicality was mostly left to Nathan Bastian and Miles Wood. Well, the latter two didn’t play on Thursday night as one was a healthy scratch, and the other plays in Colorado for the Avalanche now.
However, New Jersey won the physical tilt against Detroit Thursday night, out-hitting the Red Wings 32-24
There’s just one problem. Although a little more physicality in the Devils’ lineup would certainly be welcomed, out-hitting the opposition means you’re chasing the puck more often than not.
That showed on the stat sheet, too. In two out of three periods, Detroit outshot New Jersey 14-6 in the first period, and then again in the third period 10-6.
It’s only the first of 82 games this season. There’s no cause for concern. However, the Devils will want to nip this in the bud before chasing the game becomes a bad habit.
- Alexander Holtz put on a strong performance in all three zones Thursday night. He was defensively responsible, helped push the pace up the ice, and created scoring chances in the offensive end. Good start for No.10.
- Well, there goes the Lady Byng chances for J. Hughes and it’s only the first game of the season. But seriously, Hughes was quite good in the second period, however, he’ll need to be more disciplined moving forward after taking two penalties Thursday night.
- Jonas Siegenthaler quietly snuck in three assists on Thursday.