Nikita Gusev

A night of ‘finally’ for Devils in win vs. Rangers

It wasn’t always pretty for the New Jersey Devils against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

The Devils’ first win of 2019-20 wasn’t a work of art. Jack Hughes‘ first NHL point wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, either. But the Devils will take it. And being that this came against the Rangers, the sweet will outweigh the bitter even more.

After falling behind 1-0 early, New Jersey fired off three consecutive goals to eventually secure a 5-2 win in front of a mixture of Rangers and Devils fans in Newark. The “workmanlike” nature of the victory really could be summarized by Hughes’ first point not exactly coming as you’d draw it up: an assist that deflected off of Miles Wood‘s backside, essentially.

Let’s work through some of the storylines in this one.

Breaking some droughts, but still some work to do.

Again, the Devils really needed this win, as they came into Thursday at 0-4-2 (now 1-4-2). The Rangers likely felt a little rusty, as they last played on Saturday, and have only appeared in four games, slipping to 2-2-0.

Along with finally getting that first win, and Hughes getting his first point, the Devils finally scored on the power play. New Jersey went 0-for-18 through their first six games, so Kyle Palmieri‘s power-play marker is another source of relief.

Heck, with a long-distance empty-net goal, P.K. Subban also scored his first goal with the Devils.

A pessimist would argue that an empty-net goal only counts for so much, and that Hughes’ assist wasn’t impressive, but those also mean fewer annoying questions during interviews. Like Victor Mete after scoring his first NHL goal, the Devils can just play.

But, yeah, they need to be better. Sure, they finally scored on the power play, but they only went 1-for-7 on Thursday, so they still need to find some answers.

(I hate to say it, but they really need to explore the question of whether Wayne Simmonds is still a top power-play unit guy. He’s struggled in recent years, and while the effort still seems to be there, the “finish” might not be. He has zero goals and one assist through seven games. Maybe it would be better to replace him with Nikita Gusev, who didn’t need much space to score after Artemi Panarin broke a stick on Thursday? A group including Gusev, Hughes, Subban, Palmieri, and Taylor Hall could be lethal.)

An answer in net?

It’s nice to see Cory Schneider possibly being healthy, or healthier, as his free-fall from elite to poor goalie is likely due in part to injuries. The bottom line is that Schneider might just be a backup (or worse) at this point in his career, though. Schneider’s 0-3-0 record and putrid .876 save percentage provide little hope that he’s just going to turn back the clock.

So the Devils really don’t have much of a choice: they need to see how far Mackenzie Blackwood can bring them.

The 22-year-old was off to a rocky start of his own this season, but was sharp on Thursday, stopping 29 out of 31 shots, including six SOG from a Rangers PP that went 0-for-6. After one great stop via the scary one-timer combination of Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, Subban gave Blackwood a tap on the head in appreciation. Rightfully so, I’d say.

Last season, Blackwood generated a .918 save percentage over 23 games (21 of which were starts). That’s not a huge sample size, but being that he was a second-rounder (42nd overall in 2015) and Schneider looks shaky-at-best, the Devils have every incentive to send him out there and see if he can give them at least league-average goaltending.

No.1 vs. No. 2 isn’t there yet

There are moments where it’s already captivating to watch Hughes, right down to nerding out when he does some simple-but-impressive skating, such as using his edges or accelerating with impressive speed.

But if we want Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko to become a rivalry worth watching, we will have to lean on stronger sequels.

Both the Rangers and Devils seem like works in progress, yet with all of the talent they’ve added, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more fireworks in future meetings.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils lose again, remain winless: 3 takeaways on slow start

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The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest stories of the offseason thanks to some aggressive roster moves by general manager Ray Shero.

Along with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils won the NHL’s draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes No. 1 overall to add to a young core that already included the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 class (Nico Hischier). They surrounded their newly formed core with the big summer acquisitions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds.

Expectations immediately skyrocketed and there was a ton of optimism around the team.

That optimism might be starting to quickly disappear.

Following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Devils remain winless (0-3-2) through the first five games of the season and you have to wonder how much longer it is going to be until head coach John Hynes’ seat starts to get a little warmer.

What has gone wrong for the Devils so far? Here are three key factors.

1. It has been a slow start for the new faces

Out of all the big offseason acquisitions, Gusev is the only that has found the back of the net through the first five games (he has two goals). Other than that, it has been a giant goose egg for everyone else that was expected to make a difference.  Simmonds and Subban have combined for just two assists, while Hughes is going through some early growing pains with zero points and only 10 shots on goal through the first five games.

When it comes to Hughes you had to expect some struggles at times. He is 18 years old and making a massive jump to the NHL. Not everyone is going to step in and immediately be Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Connor McDavid. And while Subban is off to a slow start and might be starting to slow down a little, he has enough of a track record and is still good enough that you have to think he is going to shake off this slow start.

Adding to the problems offensively is that Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have combined for just two goals so far (both belonging to Palmieri). If you wanted to put a positive spin on this for the Devils it’s that their best players haven’t yet played anything close to their best hockey. They are not going to struggle this much forever.

But as long as they do, goals — and wins — are going to be few and far between.

2. The power play has been awful

Calling it awful might actually be an understatement. After their 0-for-4 performance against Boston on Saturday night the Devils are now 0-for-15 on the season. That is zero goals in 30 minutes of power play time, and it is not like they have been unlucky. Entering play on Sunday their power play unit was one of the worst in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts and getting shots on goal.

3. Goaltending is still an issue 

It is not the biggest issue, but it is still an issue and it was the single biggest question mark the team had entering the season. Through five games the Devils have allowed at least three goals in every game, with Saturday’s game in Boston being the first one where they did not allow at least four. While the team in front of them has not been particularly good on any given night, the duo of Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood has an .863 save percentage after Saturday. No matter what is happening around them, your team has no chance with that sort of production from your goalies.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils’ Coleman scores ridiculous one-handed goal (Video)

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Devils fans piled into the Prudential Center anxiously awaiting Jack Hughes’ NHL debut and to see P.K. Subban don the red sweater.

However, Blake Coleman stole the show when he lit the lamp for the second time with only one hand on his stick. The bruising forward took advantage of a bouncing puck to create an unexpected offensive opportunity. Coleman muscled Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov off the puck with one hand, then used his other to guide the puck into the top corner of the net at 13:52 of the middle frame.

Coleman found twine earlier in the game when he was left alone in the slot and buried a rebound to give the Devils a 2-0 lead at 1:42 of the second period.

The 27-year-old forward has amazingly performed this magic act once before. In March of 2018, Coleman fought off Derick Brassard (then of the Pittsburgh Penguins) and sent a one-handed backhander past Matt Murray.

Nikita Gusev also scored in his first NHL game when Jesper Bratt slid the puck cleverly across the crease to set up the former KHL star. The Devils acquired Gusev in an offseason trade with the Golden Knights and quickly handed him a two-year contract in hopes that his scoring prowess would translate to the NHL.

It wasn’t all positive for the Devils as they fell in a shootout to the Jets after surrendering a four-goal lead.

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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

What to expect from Jack Hughes’ Devils debut

In an era of instant gratification, it must be agonizing for New Jersey Devils fans to have to wait until the third night of the 2019-20 season to finally see number one overall 2019 NHL Draft pick Jack Hughes make his debut.

That wait is almost over, as the Devils are mere hours from hosting the Winnipeg Jets in Newark on Friday night.

Consider a few things as we await the speedy center’s first NHL game:

  • The Jets probably won’t be able to focus their greatest defensive attention on Hughes. Instead, the trio of Taylor Hall (top pick from 2010), Nico Hischier (first pick of 2017), and Kyle Palmieri (26th pick in 2009) will draw the greatest share of attention.

This takes a considerable chunk of pressure off of Hughes, as does the Devils debut of P.K. Subban.

Luckily, Hughes still gets some intriguing linemates. Nikita Gusev also makes his NHL debut with Hughes, and one would think that he’d complement Hughes’ skills nicely. Jesper Bratt rounds out the trio, as he should be able to hold his own.

  • As you can see from those impeccably written lineup notes, Hughes’ group is listed as the “third” line.

It doesn’t seem like Travis Zajac being listed in front of Hughes is all for show, though.

Via Left Wing Lock’s listings, Zajac will be on the Devils’ top power play unit with Hall, Palmieri, Wayne Simmonds, and Subban. Hmmm.

Maybe it’s just a matter of a philosophy other NHL coaches share about building two strong options, as Hughes combines with linemates Bratt and Gusev along with Hischier and Damon Severson to form an intriguing second unit. Personally, I’d want the most talent as possible on PP1 (replacing Simmonds and Zajac) and might lean more toward Sami Vatanen on that second unit than Severson, but these things can change pretty quickly, anyway.

Still, it would be exciting to see Hall, Hughes, and Hischier on the ice whenever the Devils need a goal, so maybe John Hynes will keep that option in his back pocket.

  • The stage could be set for Hughes to get some room to work with.

While this is only Winnipeg’s second game of the season, they did play on Thursday night, so they’ll be closing off a back-to-back set (feel free to throw in a “jet-lagged” pun if you’re feeling evil). It was what might have been an exhausting 6-4 loss to the Rangers, and 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko, so Winnipeg gets a look at the first two picks of the last draft on consecutive nights.

While it’s tempting to be greedy and ask for more Hughes with Hall, putting him on a lower line could really make for some chances, as the Jets defense is a mess, even when they’re fully rested (at least with Dustin Byfuglien off on a fishing boat, pondering retirement).

He makes the game look easy. It doesn’t look like his heart rate is too high when he’s out there because he’s so calm and poised with the puck. He’s never panicking. His stride is pretty effortless. I’m really impressed with his shot. He has a better shot than I saw two years ago when I first skated with him. I honestly thought he could barely shoot the puck when he was 15 years old. That’s only going to keep getting better.

Jack’s brother Quinn Hughes was pretty impressive in his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks back in March, so maybe some sibling rivalry will spur Jack to even greater heights?

(Note: Hughes and the Devils also take on Kakko and the Rangers Thurs., Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.)

MORE:
Hughes can take Devils to next level.
Hughes, Kakko ramp up Devils – Rangers rivalry
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights’ Tuch out week-to-week; Door opens for Glass?

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It looks like the Vegas Golden Knights might limp into the start of the 2019-20 season, but there could be a silver lining to those dark clouds.

The bad news is that winger Alex Tuch is considered week-to-week with an upper-body injury, and is all but ruled out of Vegas’ season-opener against the Sharks on Wed., Oct. 2. It’s unclear if Cody Eakin will be able to suit up for that first game, either, as he’s considered day-to-day, according to Gerard Gallant (by way of reporters including the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen).

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger pointed to this fall as the possible moment of Tuch’s injury.

On the bright side, those two injuries greatly improve the odds for Cody Glass to start the season with the Golden Knights, and maybe impress Gallant enough to stick around.

The Golden Knights lost quite a bit of skill during the offseason, thanks largely to cap challenges. On the forward side, they had to give up Erik Haula for nothing, and weren’t able to fit Nikita Gusev into the mix at a price they could accept.

Some of that comes from not finding a way to move on from players like Eakin, not to mention an asset of questionable value in Ryan Reaves, who is a little pricey for what he brings to the ice at a $2.775 million AAV (with Eakin being more expensive at $3.8M). While it’s possible that the Golden Knights simply wouldn’t be able to find a taker for Eakin and/or Reaves, even if they bribed a team to absorb the cap hit, there might be some nights where that decision stings, particularly if Gusev ends up being the next great KHL import this way of Artemi Panarin.

And so, while the Golden Knights’ depth advantage takes a big hit with Tuch out (Tuch is a worthy top-six-quality forward who’s been shuffled to the third line ever since Mark Stone created a domino effect), Glass could conceivably give Vegas that extra “oomph” of offense.

Back on Sept. 12, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman rated Glass, 20, as the league’s 16th-best prospect at age 23 or under (sub required), projecting Glass as a possible future first-line center in the NHL. Glass has already started drawing rave reviews from teammates such as Max Pacioretty, as Jesse Granger reported recently in an article for The Athletic.

“People that know hockey and see the game knew right from day one that this guy has the goods,” Pacioretty said. “That’s why they drafted him so high and why they felt he was so valuable to this organization. You saw a number of trades happen and he was obviously the guy who was untouchable for a reason.”

That said, those same teammates seemed to believe that Glass would best succeed at the NHL level with skilled linemates, rather than more defensive-minded ones who he might line up with on, say, a fourth line.

Theoretically, Glass might get to play with a higher-end talent with Tuch and possibly Eakin out, but might be pushed down the lineup once one or both of those veteran forwards gets healthy. Perhaps that personnel gravity will inevitably pull Glass down to the AHL?

We’ll see, but the optimal scenario might actually be for the Golden Knights to find a way to make sure Tuch and Glass are in the lineup, and are in prominent roles. Such a plethora of forward talent could potentially be something opponents would really struggle to handle.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.