Wayne Simmonds

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

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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.

Flyers, fans gave Wayne Simmonds a great tribute

It felt strange seeing Wayne Simmonds briefly in a Nashville Predators uniform last season, and for the many Philadelphia Flyers fans who loved Simmonds, it might be even tougher to see him suit up with divisional rivals the New Jersey Devils.

As NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall notes, Simmonds felt like it would only be right to hear some boos during Wednesday’s Devils-Flyers game in Philly, and he got some — but make no mistake about it, Flyers fans also gave Simmonds a fantastic reception after a tribute video played.

Not very surprisingly, Simmonds’ former Flyers teammate also saluted him with some stick taps:

Simmonds came into Wednesday’s game with an assist over his first two games with the Devils.

When Simmonds was traded to Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Kings, it seemed like he would be a smaller part of the package that featured Brayden Schenn going to Philly, and Mike Richards becoming a member of the Kings.

Instead, Simmonds propelled his game to another level, becoming one of the deadliest shooters from the “dirty areas” in front of the net, especially on the power play. Simmonds scored 203 goals (91 on the power play) and 378 points in 584 regular-season games over eight seasons with the Flyers, also endearing himself to fans with a physical style that yielded 784 penalty minutes.

That rough-and-tough style might explain Simmonds’ recent decline at 31, but Flyers fans would likely be glad to see him rekindle his scrappy, scoring game — just not when the Devils are facing their team.

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Devils searching for first win of season

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After failing to make the playoffs last season, the Devils made some significant changes to their roster during the summer. First, they drafted Jack Hughes number one overall. Second, they swung deals with the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev. Third, they signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract. That’s some significant movement.

So, it’s only natural that general manager Ray Shero would be disappointed by his team’s 0-1-1 start. They dropped their home opener, 5-4 in a shootout, to the Winnipeg Jets and they also proceeded to get pounded 7-2 on the road in Buffalo. Giving up 11 goals in the first two games is less than ideal and they need to find a way to fix their issues.

“We’re playing soft and light, and we’re playing like we want to have an easy game,” Devils coach John Hynes said after the loss to the Sabres, per NHL.com. “We can talk about it nine different ways; that’s the reality of where we’re at right now, so we’ve got to fix it.”

Of course, the lack of stability between the pipes is also an issue. Cory Schneider was forced to leave Thursday’s game against Winnipeg because of cramps. Mackenzie Blackwood, who entered the game in relief, gave up two goals on nine shots and then lost in the shootout. Blackwood was forced to play the next night and he gave up seven goals on 36 shots.

It sounds like Schneider will be available for tonight’s clash against the Flyers, but the players in front of him need to make life a little easier for whoever is in their goal.

“Defensively, we haven’t been hard enough in any plays, and we’re allowing teams too much time and space,” forward Travis Zajac said. “We know what we have to do and what’s our identity and what’s expected of us as a team, and we just haven’t been able to get to our identity.”

Hynes had the benefit of not having a game for three full days (Sunday through Tuesday), so his team had time to work on things on the practice rink. They better have found a solution to their issues because their upcoming schedule will be tough, as they’ll play in Philly tonight, at home against the Oilers tomorrow night, in Boston on Saturday and at home against the Panthers on Monday afternoon.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Tonight, the Devils face a Flyers team that’s making their season-debut in North America. Philadelphia took down the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague last week. They’ll now look to keep the ball rolling against a struggling divisional opponent.

The Flyers will go head-to-head against a familiar face, as they’ll welcome Wayne Simmonds back to Philadelphia for the first time since they traded him to Nashville last season.

“Hopefully I get some cheers. I was pretty deep-rooted in that community,” Simmonds told NJ.com. “I spent eight years there and had a great time. I enjoyed Philadelphia thoroughly. So I was proud to be a part of that franchise and don’t regret anything I did in a Flyers uniform.”

On Wednesday night’s season debut of Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, NHL fans will be able to get a sneak peek to a yet to be released Green Day song called “Fire, Ready, Aim”. The song will serve as the opening theme song of Wednesday Night Hockey throughout the 2019-20 season and will be featured on NHL on NBC Sports broadcasts throughout the season.

Produced by NBC Sports, the high-energy show open features the band playing their new song on a hockey rink interspersed with action shots of more than a dozen NHL players, including Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, among others.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.