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Devils Fend Off Red Wings in Season Opener to Deliver Hard-Fought 4-3 Victory

The Devils came out flat, but they recovered and put themselves on the right path to begin the season.

Detroit Red Wings v New Jersey Devils
Dougie scored a huge goal to put the Devils ahead late.
Photo by Tori Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

First Period

The Detroit Red Wings got an early shot on Vitek Vanecek, but the New Jersey Devils’ goalie kept it tight on his glove side to deny David Perron with his shoulder. Dawson Mercer blocked a point shot after an icing, and almost took it away but gave it back to Lucas Raymond in the neutral zone a short while after. Klim Kostin rang a shot off the post near the end of the second minute, going for the far side — above Vancek’s blocker — from his off-wing faceoff dot.

After the Devils started to show some life, following a great shift by the Hughes line with Dougie and Luke Hughes, Curtis Lazar drew a penalty from Jake Walman for interference (it was really more of a high contact hit) in the offensive zone. On the power play, the Devils wasted no time in pressuring the Red Wings — but they could not get the puck on net . Then, Jack Hughes skated himself into trouble with Ben Chariot, resulting in a rush the other way — but Vanecek stopped it and the Hischier unit came out. Dougie Hamilton got the sole shot on goal of the power play here (though there were several attempts) with a hard slap shot that took everyone but Husso by a bit of surprise.

After the expiration of the power play, Curtis Lazar took a penalty away from the play for tripping. It was very clearly a makeup call. The Devils got a clear right off the draw, but the Red Wings came strong in the second half of the first minute, forcing Vanecek to make two big saves. After a draw, Daniel Sprong blasted a one-timer off the post. However, the Devils killed the rest of the penalty without another great shot from the Wings.

As the Devils began to get more possession in the offensive zone, the Red Wings began to drape over them. Jeff Petry, all over Nico Hischier, took a holding call as Nico tried to set up a shot for Timo Meier. As Petry went to the box, a review was called for a four-minute high stick on Timo Meier — but the penalty was waved off on account of it being a shot follow-through.

During the second power play, Jack Hughes was called for a penalty for hitting Moritz Seider behind the net — he was called for roughing on what should have been called a reverse hit, as Seider was going in with a crosscheck. The teams played at four-on-four for a minute, but the Devils were unable to make use of their offensive zone time. When play returned to five-on-five, after an abbreviated Detroit power play, Jesper Bratt nearly created a goal for Tyler Toffoli in front with a backhanded slide pass — but Husso made a big save on Toffoli.

The final minute was perplexing. After the referees waved off an icing where Marino beat out Lucas Raymond, Raymond wiped into the boards with a shove from Marino. The Devils failed on their breakout, and Detroit quickly had a two-on-one in the offensive zone. David Perron was deterred at the net enough to force him into a wraparound, but he passed back out to Lucas Raymond, who fanned on the shot with an open goal and fell forward onto the ice. The Devils were able to escape the period in a tied game, but at this point they seemed more concerned with playing tight and physical than they should have been — they were not seeking out open space or finding it with their legs nearly enough.

Second Period

Dawson Mercer nearly scored on a one-handed backhand chance off a feed form Timo Meier on an early rush — and he later flung a sharp-angled shot at Husso, which was followed up by two whacks from Nico Hischier that led to another save, cover, and faceoff. A couple minutes later, Nosek backhanded a shot off the post shortly after Dougie Hamilton had a chance in tight on Husso. The Hischier line came on, and the Devils had multiple shots around the net, but could not score. This was despite Timo Meier having an opportunity to wrap the puck into an open net.

Ville Husso made two saves on great shots by young Devils — the first on a rush shot from Luke Hughes, and the second on a wrister from Alex Holtz after a great step around a defender. Just five minutes into the period, the Devils already had five shots. Timo Meier had another chance to score off a feed from Nico Hischier, giving him an open net at the top of the crease. Unfortunately, he kicked the puck while he struggled to free his stick up for the shot, and the goal was waved off.

Robby Fabbri had an open shot on a two-on-one, as Jonas Siegenthaler took the pass. Fabbri went for the far-side, but Vanecek got it with the blocker. The Haula line got a bit too cute trying to get the puck to Holtz in the offensive zone, leading to another two-on-one. This time, with a pass, Vanecek sprawled out to keep the puck out — and the crowd chanted for him. Again, Vanecek had to make a huge save when John Marino was spun down by Alex Debrincat going into the corner for the puck — and it was sent out for a huge Dylan Larkin slap shot from the high-slot that was stopped, to the delight of the crowd again.

The Detroit Red Wings ended up scoring on a bounce off Daniel Sprong. Bratt whiffed a backhand in front of Vanecek, and the puck carried off Sprong and went past Vanecek. 1-0, Detroit.

With seven minutes to go, David Perron went off for slashing Nico Hischier in the neutral zone. Luke Hughes made an end-to-end show, taking on two Red Wings behind the net to force a puck out of play. After the faceoff, the Red Wings nearly had a chance the other way, but Ondrej Palat under-stepped Dylan Larkin to cut off the puck, sending it back up for a rush. Jack Hughes took it down low and shot from the goal line...and banked it off Husso! 1-1!

After the goal, the Red Wings continued to lose their cool. Christian Fischer went off for tripping Curtis Lazar, who was alone against multiple Red Wings in the offensive zone. Dougie Hamilton sent it up from the defensive zone following a clear, but the Devils got themselves caught offsides 30 seconds in. In the second minute, Jack Hughes went in on the rush again, and this time cut to the backhand — but was denied. At the very end of the two minutes, Dawson Mercer got in all alone and broke Husso down, but Husso just got it with the tip of his glove as Mercer crashed into the boards.

Jack Hughes would not be denied his second goal. With just over a minute left, Jack took the chip up from Toffoli and slipped down and back up into the slot, turning and flinging the puck into the top corner! 2-1, Devils!

Third Period

After a slow start, including a few icings, the Devils were able to go from end to end, as Michael McLeod finished what Luke Hughes and Brendan Smith started by zipping to the net and getting a backhand off. Husso made the save, but the Devils got the first good chance of the final frame.

The Devils and Red Wings started to trade chances towards the end of the first half of the period. Husso and Vanecek traded rush saves as the game became more wide-open, fast, and physical. This led to Jack Hughes taking his second penalty of the night for slashing Jake Walman after Walman held him on the ice following a blocked shot. With 10 minutes to go, the Devils went to the penalty kill.

John Marino made a big block on a Debrincat one-timer chance. Moritz Seider made a diving stop at the blueline to keep the puck in, and Debcrincat tied the game with a wrist shot through a screen, off a chance in the slot. 2-2, with over nine minutes to play.

The Devils went back to the power play when David Perron went off again for slashing with over seven minutes to play. They called Perron for catching Jack Hughes’ hands near the blueline. The Hischier unit was out there for awhile, but could not get a good shot on goal. Alex Holtz banked a shot off a Detroit skate and over Meier’s head, out of play. The Hughes unit took the ice for the last half minute or so, and Jack shot it out of play with 8 seconds left in the two minutes. The penalty ended with J.T. Compher holding Haula on top of the puck on the faceoff dot.

After an icing with 4:30 to play, Jonas Siegnethaler set Dougie up at the point — and he scored on a low shot! Dougie wants the goals! 3-2, Devils, with 4:23 to play!

The Red Wings again tried to fight back, but Ondrej Palat put a sting in their hopes by drawing a holding penalty as he went to the net with speed, nearly fighting through Jeff Petry for a shot. But with 2:40 to play, the Devils went back to the power play. The Hughes unit took the ice, and Jesper Bratt gave it right back by interfering with Dylan Larkin in the neutral zone. 10 seconds.

Haula, Hischier, Siegenthaler, and Marino took the ice against the five Red Wings, with an empty net. Vanecek made his first stop on a point shot from Seider, freezing it with 2:13 to play. Haula won the next draw, and Jonas Siegenthaler iced the puck. Eight ticks came off. Haula won another draw, and this time Siegenthaler lifted the puck softly enough to keep play going. In the corner, back in the defensive zone, the Devils won it out and worked it up the ice. Jonas Siegenthaler missed wide with a shot, but Erik Haula cleaned it up and made it a 4-2 game!

Ville Husso went back to the bench with 1:10 to play. Curtis Lazar and Tomas Nosek worked with Marino and Siegenthaler. As the Devils went down to the penalty kill at six-on-four, Robby Fabbri whacked a loose puck into the net, as Vanecek was having trouble tracking the puck around his crease. With 33.7 to play, it was a 4-3 game, and Detroit called timeout.

Erik Haula lost the draw at center ice, and Husso went off. The Red Wings iced the puck with 19.4 to play, stretching a pass just too far — and Husso came back to the goal. Brendan Smith sent the puck back down the ice after getting to a long stretch pass, and Vitek Vanecek came out of the net to turn the puck away with a shot at the glass with three seconds to play — and the Devils won, 4-3!

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Winging It In Motown.

Vi-tek! Vi-tek!

While I will not say the Red Wings had the advantage this game, as most of their shots were of a low quality, Vitek Vanecek was essential to keeping the Devils in for the first half of the game. The Devils were simply not finishing their shots — which were of much higher quality than the Wings, even by the early second period.


Still, facing 2 xG before giving up a goal was nothing to scoff at. While this game started slowly, it really opened up as it went on. Vanecek’s calm focus throughout the game turned away scoring chances time and time again — just long enough to let the Devils get themselves off the ground. Natural Stat Trick has Vanecek as having stopped 0.42 goals above expected with his 32-save effort tonight, and I think Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp — who each had 0.65 ixG tonight — would agree. I thought Larkin was going to break the ice with his slap shot in wide open space, but Vitek had other ideas.

Jack, Luke, and Dougie

Jack Hughes is going to score 50 goals this year. Dougie Hamilton is going to score 20 goals again. And Luke Hughes, while he went pointless tonight, is going to be a huge part of a lot of those goals.

Jack and Luke only played just over three and a half minutes together, but in that span, the Devils had eight shot attempts and four shots on goal, not allowing anything to the opposition and generating a whopping 0.82 xG. While this was a small sample size, it spoke to how dominant Luke Hughes already showed he can be when handling the puck. He followed Jack’s lead in taking the puck through all three zones on his own — but Luke is too big, fast, and agile to just lay a hit on. His shot looked good, too, tonight, and it’s only a matter of time until he starts picking up assists handling the puck from the center of the offensive zone. He has great vision from that spot, and defenses have trouble challenging him because of his mobility.

So, if Lindy Ruff starts pairing Luke Hughes with Dougie Hamilton in situations where the team needs a goal, I would expect that to be a deadly trio. They were outstanding in their short time together tonight, and I think having such an able puck carrier would open up Dougie a lot as a shooter. He had five shots tonight, and I think he wanted more.

As for Jack, he’s on track for 164 goals and penalty minutes. If you take Lindy Ruff’s word, this is the Jack we should be expecting. Personally, I think that trend might hold. He is electric with the puck, and he seems to have internalized the lesson of playing like a playoff contender.

Haula, Holtz, and Palat

I loved the new-look third line tonight. Ondrej Palat looks very comfortable in his second season with the Devils, skating significantly faster than when he was coming off of groin surgery. Playing on a slower-paced line with Erik Haula and Alex Holtz suits him very well, too, as he has the freedom to take things slow — for the most part — and be opportunistic when he needs to. He looked good tonight.

That said, I think this line needs to create more organically. At some points, it felt like they were forcing the puck to Holtz to their detriment. Ondrej Palat and Erik Haula have both had 20-goal seasons in their 10+ year careers. They need to trust themselves and shoot more if the want to open up the passing lanes to Holtz.

Improvement Needed

The one area I felt needed improvement was the top line. Nico Hischier’s line with Timo Meier and Dawson Mercer started the game off very slowly, but picked up as the game went along. They ended up outshot 5-10, but had a 57.89 xGF% — which was technically better than the third line’s 29.52 xGF% (though they outshot Detroit 4-3). Still, they need to be more consistent and play with more speed to their game. When they got moving, it looked like Detroit had trouble keeping up. That was when they started getting held and hooked, and that was when Meier almost sprung Mercer for a breakaway goal. They will get there, but they need to remember their second and third-period efforts rather than what they did at the start of the game.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you satisfied? Who did you think played their best? Who came out of the gate slow? Will the same lineup play tomorrow night? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

And whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris — goodnight.