Last week, the Devils’ fan base was high off life; coming off of the Jack Hughes show on opening night, it felt like this Devils’ team was ready to turn the corner. And in a week where they went 2-1, beat the brand-new Seattle Kraken, beat the red-hot Sabres in overtime, you’d expect the vibes surrounding the franchise to be great, but with the loss of Jack Hughes, the parade has to be put on pause. In Tuesday’s game against Kraken, Hughes took a big hit and came down awkwardly, and in the process, Hughes dislocated his shoulder. As of right now, there’s no timetable on when Hughes should be expected back in the lineup, but the Devils plan on giving an update on his status sometime this week.
There’s no other way of cutting in; if the Devils want to be in the thick of the playoff hunt this year, they need Hughes. If they can manage to survive and go .500 over the next month, they’ll be in good shape for when Hughes returns. A dislocated shoulder is the same injury that Leafs’ center Auston Matthews had back in 2018, which knocked him out of the lineup for about a month. If Hughes is back by Thanksgiving, Devils fans should be happy campers.
If they want to stay afloat for the next month, they’ll need their 1st line to play like first liners, and on Saturday, they did. Nico Hischier had his best game of the season and best game as a captain. After taking a cross-check, Hischier obviously was battling some sort of injury as he went to the locker room but returned shortly after. He produced more chances than anyone on the team by a mile and scored the game-tying goal on the powerplay in the third. Although injured, he showed heart, showed skill, and picked up his team when they needed him most. Both Bratt and Zacha had solid games too. Zacha, who scored the game-winner in overtime, has picked up right where he left off last year, and he’s looked like the Devils’ best winger so far.
Thursday’s game against the Capitals was a continuation of last season’s series against them; the Devils got outworked and outskilled. The Washington Capitals are a big, physical, veteran-heavy team, which is kryptonite for a small, soft, and young Devils team. The Devils rely on their speed, and in Thursday’s game, none of it was on display. In his presser, Coach Ruff ripped the team for not giving their all and warned players that their ice time will go down if they’re going to give that sort of effort. Speaking of guys who’ve seen their playing time go down is Yegor Sharangovich, who’s yet to record a point and has been moved down to the fourth line. To be fair, outside of Bratt, Zacha, and the third line, none other forwards have looked good to start the season, and with Hughes out, it’s crucial Kuokkanen and Sharangovich step up if they’re going to play second-line minutes.
Tuesday’s game against Seattle felt like the party on Friday never stopped. The first period couldn’t have gone any better; Dawson Mercer scored his first career goal, Damon Severson scored in his return, and the Devils were working the Kraken. Then late in the first, Jack got hurt and the air in the building left in a hurry, and although they hung on to win 4-2, it felt like a funeral.
All of my offseason articles stressed that this team would go as far as Nico Hischier would take them. With Hughes out, this team will live and die at the hands of Nico. The Devils captain will have to play the best hockey of his young career over the next month. This team will only get healthier once they get Blackwood and Wood back, but until then, they need their first line to play like a first line.
For this upcoming week, the Devils wrap up their homestand against the Flames on Tuesday, then travel to Pittsburgh to play a very beat up yet red-hot Penguin team on Saturday, then come back home to play Columbus on Sunday before heading out west.
“Photo: NJDevils Twitter”