P.K. Subban

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.

Thoughts on Hart, Flyers blanking new-look Devils

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The New Jersey Devils headed into 2019-20 with a fair amount of hype as a new-look team. Through three games, the additions of P.K. Subban, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds have resulted in all-too-familiar results.

The Devils ended Wednesday with a 0-2-1 record as the (also new-looking) Philadelphia Flyers blanked them 4-0.

Speaking of fresh faces, Carter Hart indeed looked like a young phenom against the Devils, pitching the first shutout of his NHL career. His 25-save performance will be immortalized by this incredible save during a 5-on-3 penalty kill against 2017-18 Hart winner Taylor Hall:

Hart is the headliner, and with good reason, but let’s ponder a few other storylines from the Flyers’ 4-0 beating of the Devils.

Hughes hasn’t been huge

If you tuned into Wednesday’s game to get an idea of what the top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft is capable of, you might have ended up being disappointed. Honestly, you might have had a hard time even noticing him.

Hughes, 18, remains without a goal or an assist through his first three games. He was very quiet on Wednesday, failing to even register a shot on goal. While Hughes’ ice time was modest (14:34 overall), he was on the ice for 4:12 of power play time. Not great.

That said, there are certain metrics that argue Hughes’ work has been better than what initially meets the eye:

He’s far from the only quiet Devil to start

Taylor Hall ranked as one of the only Devils players who really stood out, firing five SOG. He’s generally been making an impact; while Hall hasn’t scored a goal yet, he has two assists in three games.

The Devils need more from other players, including P.K. Subban. So far, Subban only has an assist through his first three games with New Jersey. That has to be frustrating, especially as he sees Matt Duchene lighting it up with six assists already for Nashville.

Hot seat for John Hynes?

It’s probably too early to be too worried about the job security of the Devils’ head coach.

That said, the Devils have a ton on the line in 2019-20. Not only did they pay significant money to get better with Subban and Gusev, they also need to convince Hall to stick around, or they’d need to either trade Hall for something or watch him walk away for nothing in free agency.

With that in mind, Hynes needs to find answers — and fast. Maybe he should experiment with putting Hall and Hughes together? It might helpful for the Devils to see what Nico Hischier can do without Hall before they pay him, for one thing.

Flyers have a special night

Philly killed that 5-on-3 power play, which was virtually a full two minutes. They ended up blanking the Devils (New Jersey finished 0-for-5) while scoring two power-play goals on Wednesday. If the Flyers can rekindle their power play magic from the not-so-recent past, and get strong goaltending from Hart more often than not, then they can make the leap many expected to see last season.

Cory Schneider was actually having a pretty strong night, but the Flyers wouldn’t relent, and eventually overwhelmed the Devils goalie.

GM Chuck Fletcher’s experiment looks successful very early on, as Philly’s started the season at 2-0-0. The Devils have to envy Philly’s quick start, and they can’t afford to let this bumpy beginning to linger much longer.

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Laine betting on himself; NHL milestones

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Patrik Laine on the future: “I know I’ll be good for the next two years; I know I’m going to score a lot of goals for sure. I’ve always trusted myself and this is no exception.” [Jets]

• What are the chances of the St. Louis Blues repeating as Stanley Cup champions? [FiveThirtyEight]

• Here are 10 players who are ready for breakout seasons. [TSN]

P.K. Subban on playing in the New York market, embracing the spotlight, the Devils, and more. [NY Post]

Alex Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby, and Henrik Lundqvist are a few of the players who could hit various career milestones this season. [NHL.com]

• What could Alex DeBrincat’s second contract look like? [NBC Chicago]

• A preview of all of the various NHL jersey tweaks and changes this season. [Sports Illustrated]

• Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning talks about the team’s window to win and their offseason additions. [Sportsnet]

• Why the Pittsburgh Penguins’ third line is once again an issue. [Pensburgh]

• Put Sam Bennett on the list of Calgary Flames due for a big offensive jump this season. [Flames Nation]

• As fantasy hockey season arrives, a look ahead at what to watch for during the first week. [Rotoworld]

• A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League player who was serving a suspension for rough play on a goaltender won’t be playing for the rest of the season after appearing in a profanity-laced video. [CP via Canoe]

• The AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins have a ton of talent on their roster. Now it’s their job to develop it for the Detroit Red Wings. [MLive]

• What would a Nicklas Backstrom or Braden Holtby extension look like? [Japers’ Rink]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.