It’s here! It’s finally here! Today is the opening day of the New Jersey Devils 2019-20 season! It feels like Christmas! I even left out milk and cookies for Ray Shero last night. Unfortunately, he didn’t slide down my chimney to stuff a Taylor Hall extension in my stocking.
The Devils are coming off of their most successful offseason in franchise history: adding franchise center and first overall draft pick, Jack Hughes, defenseman P.K. Subban and international import Nikita Gusev. Their first game also serves as the Prudential Center home opener against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets flew into New York last night to take on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers, who themselves had a very similar offseason to the Devils, skated off with a 6-4 win.
Keys to Victory
Shots On Net
After playing the first half of a back-to-back last night, the Jets will most likely elect to put their back up, Laurent Brossoit, in goal. Add in the fact that Winnipeg is playing minus two of their best defensemen from last year, as they lost Jacob Trouba via trade and Dustin Byfuglien remains suspended. With a weaker defense and goaltending, the Devils should take full advantage of the shortcomings in Winnipeg’s own zone.
Back to Back
Winnipeg faced off last night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. A mere 24 hours later they’ll enter their tilt across the Hudson River. Beginning the season on the road is never optimal, but a back-to-back makes matters even worse. Meanwhile, New Jersey opens up well rested as masters of their domain. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Winnipeg might be out for vengeance after their Thursday night loss.
Last season, the Jets ended the year in the upper echelon of the NHL’s special teams on the power play and penalty kill. Granted, the summer was not kind to their defensive core, but the Devils are going to have to be sharp and pounce on even-strength chances. Staying out of their own box is more important than taking advantage of when Winnipeg heads to the sin bin.
Defense, Defense, Defense
If you’d have asked most people at the beginning of the offseason, they would have penciled Ty Smith’s place on the roster in permanent marker. Obviously, that didn’t pan out (if you haven’t heard after a sub par preseason Smith was sent back to his major junior team in Spokane). Hynes also appears to favor an interesting top combination of Andy Greene and P.K. Subban in practices leading up to the home opener. It might have only been preseason, but data suggests Subban plays much better when not paired with the Devils’ captain. Fans have a lot of questions about the Devils blue line, and hopefully, Friday provides favorable answers.
Players to Watch
Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev
Pairing these two together because we’ll be watching both of them for the same reasons. How will they adjust and fit in with their first NHL regular-season game? Will Hughes be able to compete against men bigger than him and close to twice his age? And will Gusev struggle with the smaller NHL sized ice we saw glimpses, brief glimpses but glimpses none the less, in the preseason?
P.K. Subban and Cory Schneider
Once again, putting them together because we’ll be watching for the same reasons. Subban and Schneider are both coming off of injury-riddled campaigns among the worst of their careers. Schneider has seemingly been trending upward at the end of last season and this preseason, but in retrospect, none of those games mattered as much as Friday’s home opener. Subban is excited to be a Devil, but let’s hope he regained some of the form he lost last year.
Winnipeg’s prized restricted free agent last season has contentious contract talks that just got resolved in the past week. With his holdout keeping him out of parts of training camp and preseason, he might not be in shape to be the mighty sniper we know. Expect less of an offensive threat from him on Friday night. Laine picked up one assist against the Rangers but had a much more telling -3 rating.
- Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
- Kyle Connor – Andrew Copp – Patrik Laine
- Matthieu Perrault – Adam Lowry – Gabriel Bourque
- Mason Appleton – Mark Letestu – Jack Roslovic
- Josh Morrisey – Dmitry Kulikov
- Ville Heinola – Neal Pionk
- Anthony Bitetto – Tucker Poolman
- Laurent Brossoit (expected to start), Connor Hellebuyck
New Jersey Devils (as per Amanda Stein on Twitter):
- Taylor Hall – Nico Hischier – Kyle Palmieri
- Blake Coleman – Travis Zajac – Wayne Simmonds
- Nikita Gusev – Jack Hughes – Jesper Bratt
- Miles Wood – Pavel Zacha – John Hayden
- Andy Greene – P.K. Subban
- Will Butcher – Sami Vatanen
- Mirco Mueller – Damon Severson
- Cory Schneider (starting), Mackenzie Blackwood
Where to Watch
The Devils will open their regular season at home on Friday night versus Winnipeg, with the puck dropping at 7pm. MSG Networks will have complete pregame coverage starting at 630pm on MSG.
The Jets are tired, and the Devils have something to prove. In addition, New Jersey has also won its past two home openers. The streak stays alive with a 4-1 win for the new-look Devils.