When P.K. Subban scored the empty-netter that clinched a Devils’ 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Prudential Center erupted with cheers that might as well have sounded “Hallelujah!”.
Not because it was his first goal as a New Jersey Devil, though for him that may have been as much as a relief as for the team, but it was because his goal sealed the Devils’ first win of the 2019-2020 season.
The Devils blasted the goal song (Rock and Roll Part II) that encourages fans to say “Hey You Suck!”. It screamed louder than ever. Talk about tonedeaf from the Devils’ standpoint. Talk about amusing from Devils fans. The team has won nothing in a long time now for the Devils to pull an amateur stunt and for the Devils fans to behave sophomoric.
The emotional Subban skated with such vigor in congratulating his teammates for win No. 1. The beleaguered, dour Devils head coach John Hynes kept his even-keel approach by shaking hands and not expressing emotion.
Win No. 1 felt this good. Who knew? The celebration lowered the standards of what the Devils used to be, which winning used to be expected for a team that had a championship or bust mentality during their great days.
Who are we to quibble on this night, though? Let them live, right?
Instead of getting win No. 1 on Opening Night that had the Devils blowing a 4-0 lead to take a 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, it took them seven games to achieve that feat.
Hynes needed this more than anyone on the Devils. He knows he’s coaching for his job after watching Devils assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald coach with him behind the bench for this game. It was also not an accident Devils general manager Ray Shero spoke to the media about the state of the Devils Wednesday in light of their winless drought.
If the Devils lost this game, he could have lost his job right there. The Devils played like a coach that lost his players altogether in the first period. With 6:02 into the game, the Rangers scored the first goal of the game that started on an open shot by Brady Skjei and then Tony DeAngelo scored on a rebound past Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood, who did not even see it coming.
The Rangers’ first goal represented everything that has gone wrong with the Devils in this rough start. The Devils played no defense and missed assignments. It’s a mark of a Hynes’ team that has gone on too long. They got outworked again for most of the period.
The Devils somehow tied the game at 1 on Blake Coleman’s goal despite the Rangers outshooting them and preventing them from going to their zone to score.
The second period turned out to be the story of this game and this young Devils season. They played much better by winning faceoffs, getting the loose pucks, crashing in the net to score and yes, even attempting to play defense. It resulted to scoring two goals in that period, giving the Devils a 3-1 lead.
Of course, there was no guarantee the Devils could hold on to that lead. They blew enough leads that resulted in losses. No matter what the Devils said about not worrying about blowing this lead, thoughts crept in. How couldn’t it be with the way this start has gone? When the Rangers cut the Devils’ lead 3-2 with 2:22 into the third period, it was here we go again.
The Devils fans at Prudential Center braced for the worse. The Rangers fans at Prudential Center expected another Devils collapse. The dread was palpable.
With 7:39 remaining in regulation, Nikita Gusev intercepted Artemi Panarin’s pass and slipped the puck past Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev to give the Devils a 4-2 lead. This came after the Devils power play expired with no success. This happened after the refs denied Taylor Hall’s goal because he pushed the puck with his hand.
Maybe the goal did not calm fans down, but it certainly allayed the Devils’ fears.
If the Devils get back on track, we can look at Gusev’s goal that played a role in the turnaround. Make no mistake. This game may have been tied if Gusev does not come through.
So Hynes lives to coach another day. No more questions to the Devils players about when they will win their first game or about their head coach’s job security.
Now, they can focus on the task of getting back to .500 after getting that elusive win.
This win might as well give the Devils a much-needed restart to this season. It’s only seven games into the season, so they can make out well in the first quarter of the season if they can get it together. It gives Hynes time to show Devils owners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer he is the right guy to take the Devils from Point A to Point C. It also bides time for the Devils to hold on to their coach unil a head coach candidate comes up such as Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who could be fired soon.
That’s the beauty of getting that first win.