Tonight began a fresh new regular season for the New Jersey Devils. The team has witnessed plenty of changes in the offseason, led by Taylor Hall being acquired for Adam Larsson. He made his first appearance for the Devils along with Vernon Fiddler, P.A. Parenteau, Ben Lovejoy, and Kyle Quincey. Tonight’s lineup also featured the NHL debuts of defenseman Yohann Auvitu and junior-eligible Blake Speers. Combined with how last season’s team performed, it’s understandable to be excited to see the new-look Devils. I was. Then the game happened and the team went to an old standby: relying on Cory Schneider in the hopes of obtaining some kind of positive result. They did just that in a 1-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.
Cory Schneider was in mid-season form in terms of stopping all kinds of action. The first period featured Florida striking quickly. They preyed upon the Devils’ poor passing into and within the neutral zone. Once they gained New Jersey’s zone, it wasn’t long before a shot was fired. The second period was much more in New Jersey’s favor and Schneider didn’t wither with less action (five shots compared to eleven in the first). The third period featured Florida just doing whatever they wanted and pinned the Devils back for quite some time. Especially for the first six minutes or so. While the Devils would eventually get a few offensive shifts going, they were mostly pounded in possession and on the shot count: sixteen by Florida compared to seven by the Devils. The Devils weathered the storm and did so because Schneider was a massive umbrella in net. He was great enough to match the Panthers’ strong performance tonight.
To that end, I’m pleased that the Devils got a point out of tonight’s affair and had a chance (chance, singular) to take the second point. While it wasn’t all Florida for all sixty minutes, they did control most of the game and the 34-24 shot differential and 57-37 attempt differential at even strength reflects that. I’ll admit that seeing a wide-open Aleksander Barkov slam in the overtime winner was a disappointment. In the context of the whole game, I’m not going to complain too loudly if only because it was an overtime winner and not a regulation winner. I will point out that while the squad had a lot of new faces in it, it was clear that some old habits won’t go away so easily. Fortunately for New Jersey, Cory Schneider is rather good. We’ll see whether the team will pick up some newer, better habits as the season goes on.
The Opposition Opinion: Kevin Kraczkowski has this “recat” of the Panthers win at Litter Box Cats.
The Best Skaters Were on Florida: Florida’s top line were dominant tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr combined for thirteen shots on net and both goals. They basically ripped up whoever the Devils had out against them. They also had excellent support from Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle behind them, but the line was ruthlessly effective. Jagr took plenty of players to school and put up a whopping seven shots on net. Barkov didn’t just get the game winner; he also had three other shots and four other attempts that were blocked. He was making plenty of things happen going forward. Marchessault was credited with the game’s first goal as he fit in well with the young Barkov and the ageless Jagr. Marchessault’s shot was stopped by Schneider and the puck rebounded hard and fast off Ben Lovejoy such that it went into the net. It was a fluke. His support of those two on offense was anything but.
But it wasn’t just Florida’s top unit that put in good work. Colton Sceviour, Jared McCann, and Denis Malgin had some strong shifts in limited action. Sceviour in particular, nearly had a highlight with a sweet steal off Andy Greene in the first period. Fortunately, Schneider denied him that highlight beyond the pickpocket. On defense, other than Ekblad-Yandle, I think the Panthers fans will really like Mark Pysyk in time. I liked what he was doing. In net, Roberto Luongo did not face as many pucks as Schneider, but he had to make some really tough stops when the Devils’ offense surged.
The Good Debuts: Yohann Auvitu played in his first NHL game tonight and I think things went fairly well for him, all things considered. Auvitu often had the puck on his stick when the play was going forward and he looked comfortable at the point. He definitely made his mark with a slapshot late in the first period that led to the game’s first goal. I thought his shot went straight in, but it was deflected by a Devil. Still: a first assist in one’s first game in the NHL is very memorable. I think I’m going to like seeing him throughout this season.
Parenteau was a late pick up off of waivers. He largely played with Jacob Josefson and Pavel Zacha. He didn’t play all that much, only 10:51 of ice time in total. In that time, he deflected Auvitu’s shot off a screen for New Jersey’s goal - his first with the franchise. He also had two other shots on net and skated with a good pace. The one negative in his performance was when he tripped Vincent Trocheck within the last five minutes in regulation. That happened while the Devils were pinned back after a 4-on-4 sequence that was pretty much all Florida for all two minutes of it. But Parenteau nearly redeemed himself when he stormed the net and nearly jammed in a puck past Luongo after that penalty was killed. I’d like to see him receive more minutes and he may get them soon.
Kyle Quincey looked real slow at times but he ended up being serviceable next to Auvitu for the most part. With Steve Santini scratched tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was put in just to give him some minutes on Saturday.
The Not So Good Debuts: I don’t think he was bad, but Blake Speers didn’t really do a whole lot. He only played 7:53 and received maybe only one shift on special teams (on the PK, no less). He showed some decent hustle, but he didn’t really stand out in a way.
Vernon Fiddler wasn’t bad either but his line played a lot of defense. He didn’t really make much of a mark on the game with one exception that comes to my mind. That one exception: when he sat on a puck during the team’s penalty kill late in the third period to kill quite a bit of time to start that kill. I’m confident in his skills to be a fourth line center who can kill penalties, but tonight wasn’t a particularly good (or bad) start.
Taylor Hall really showed flashes of what makes him special and exciting. He displayed some moments where he’d go from slow to fast to get into some space with the puck. The skills were on display - when they could be. And that’s why I can’t say he was particuarly good. The line of Hall, Adam Henrique, and Devante Smith-Pelly struggled against the Barkov line and they didn’t have such a good night. Combined with some poor passing going forward and that limits what Hall can do. But when he was able, it was exciting. Hall’s definitely a top player; he just didn’t get enough opportunities - and I don’t think that was necessarily his fault. I think Henrique had a poor game and not just because he sailed on a wonderful one-timer at the beginning of overtime. A one-timer set up by Hall because he bodied a defender and just bolted forward with a puck to gain the zone and make a slick pass to the middle. Again, he’s got the skills; he just wasn’t able to use too much of them. And the Devils will need to make sure he can to get the most out of him.
Ben Lovejoy was paired with John Moore and it was a not a fun night for either of them. They saw plenty of Florida’s top skaters and they saw them take a lot of shots. Lovejoy (and Schneider and the Devils) was victimized by a fluke goal. But the pairing really didn’t contribute much going forward. Lovejoy wasn’t very good on the puck. He took some icings that weren’t smart at all. That hampers an offense that really can’t afford much hampering to begin with. I will say that he didn’t look as slow as Quincey at times, though. There was that.
Oh, Damon: Damon Severson played most of this game alongside Andy Greene. Ahead of the season, the hope was that Severson would step in to fill in the big gap left behind by Larsson. In 5-on-5 play, Severson was OK. The possession numbers don’t suggest it’s OK on its own, but he was closer to breaking even than the other defensemen and the shot differential was only -2 (6 to 8). However, Severson was awful in the two minutes of 4-on-4 play in tonight’s game as well as in overtime. Let’s focus on overtime. In a miscommunication of some sort with him and Pavel Zacha, a Jagr was left all alone with the puck behind the net. Zacha hustled to at least get in Jagr’s way. Later in that shift, Severson seemingly had the puck behind the net. Then Michael Matheson poked it away, Matheson put Severson on his wallet, and went around the right side of the net to slide a great pass past Kyle Palmieri and Schneider to an open Barkov. Barkov didn’t miss the shot and he won the game. It was a bad moment for the young defensemen to end a bad shift. I like that the coaches were wiling to give him big minutes alongside Greene in regular even strength play. Now he has to justify that trust.
Scoreless Special Teams: Whistles were a-plenty tonight with the Devils taking eight (!) penalties and the Panthers taking seven. However, most of them were matching minors so the Devils only had two power plays and three penalty kills. The Devils’ PK was effective and only conceded two shots. They were especially good in the third period where I was hoping a PPGA wouldn’t break the 1-1 deadlock late in regulation. The Devils’ power play stunk to put it nicely. They had no shots on net. Their first opportunity featured some good zone entries with no shot being created. The second opportunity didn’t even have good zone entries. It’s definitely something to work on. I can only imagine John Hynes being livid with the amount of penalties - he’s been forcing additional laps for calls in practice. At least he can be pleased that they weren’t costly and Florida took almost as many as the Devils did.
As an aside, that high sticking call on Palmieri was weak. Yes, I know hitting anyone high is just about automatic. But Palmieri was falling down when the act happened and really didn’t have much control of his stick to prevent that. Ekblad, who was stuck, was tagged for interference so the penalty didn’t result in a power play. There was that at least.
A Silver Lining: I liked how Travis Zajac and Palmieri played tonight. Palmieri put on some power moves and ended up tied with Parenteau for the most shots on the Devils tonight with three. I think he’ll get going on the scoresheet sooner rather than later. Zajac was very good from what I saw on defense and what the numbers show. He was one of the few positive Corsi players on the Devils, which is neat as the Devils finished at -20 as a team. I’m sure he would have preferred a win for his 700th career regular season game. He’ll just have to settle for being one of the better Devils skaters tonight. I think Mike Cammalleri will settle in with these two in time.
Another Positive: If you’re looking for another positive, then re-watch that second period. The Devils got away from their long passes across the rink into and within the neutral zone in the second period and they were able to maintain better possession and generate more offense. The Devils managed to keep Florida at bay for much of the period. They made sure not to get caught with too many Devils going forward assuming the puck would go with them, which reduced the 3-on-2s and 2-on-2s the Panthers enjoyed in the first and third periods. That second period was a good period by the Devils. I would hope the Devils coaches use that as something to build on for the next game instead of hoping the team is going to make long breakout passes work or that the receiver of a pass won’t have a defending player right in their face once the puck gets there.
Two Last Thoughts: The Panthers were really good tonight. I think they’ll manage without Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad for the time being. When they’re back and in form, Florida really does look like they’ll contend to defend last season’s Atlantic Division title. To that end, perhaps the Devils not looking so good against them shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.
Lastly, check out the shot chart at Hockeystats.ca for this game. You’ll notice a lack of dots for the Devils in the slot. They should try to work on that for the next game. And all of the others, really.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-2 in overtime to the Florida Panthers. You’ve read what I thought of the game. What do you think? Who on the Devils impressed you? Were you surprised to see a new-look Devils rely on the old reliable Schneider? Who on Florida impressed you? What would you like to see the team do differently on Saturday night when they play Tampa Bay based on what you saw tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site’s account on Twitter (@AATJerseyBlog) during the game. Thank you for reading. Welcome to the 2016-17 season.