The New Jersey Devils went winless in their first seven home games last season, part of an awful start that contributed to missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96.
The Devils’ attempt to prove last season is in the rear-view mirror begins Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, who look to play spoiler in a second straight home opener.
New Jersey (38-39-5) started 0-5-2 at home last season, part of a 9-22-2 start overall before the firing of first-year coach John MacLean on Dec. 23. Jacques Lemaire, who coached the team to its first Stanley Cup in 1995, came out of retirement to help lead the Devils on a stellar 23-3-2 run from Jan. 9-March 15, but that wasn’t enough to save a disappointing season.
With a new coach in Peter DeBoer, they’re hoping to get past the struggles of last season and start anew.
“The game plan is simple,” said defenseman Bryce Salvador(notes), who missed all of 2010-11 with a concussion. “Just to get right back at it. We have a lot to prove, and a lot to make up for. We don’t have time anymore to worry about what happened to us last year.”
One of the most puzzling drop-offs came from Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract prior to last season. His 31 goals and 60 points were the fewest since his rookie year with Atlanta in 2001-02, and his minus-26 rating ranked third-worst among NHL forwards.
He had a goal and an assist with a minus-4 rating in six games against the Flyers last season.
“The key here is to play with confidence,” Kovalchuk said. “It’ll be a very interesting season.”
Kovalchuk shouldn’t have to shoulder as much of the offensive load with the return of new captain Zach Parise(notes), who is back on a one-year contract after being limited to 13 games last season because of a knee injury.
“When you look at Zach, he plays the right way and carries himself the right way. There aren’t a lot of flaws in his character,” said DeBoer, who was fired by Florida after missing the playoffs in each of his three seasons. “He fits the character needed to be a captain.”
Veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur(notes), meanwhile, is also looking to bounce back after posting a .903 save percentage - his worst since 1994-95. In the final season of his six-year deal, Brodeur said New Jersey is ready to put the past behind it under DeBoer.
“It’s different around here now, for sure, and chemistry is always a big thing with a new system,” said Brodeur, who is 2-7-2 with a 3.20 goals-against average in his last 11 regular-season starts versus Philadelphia after a stretch in which he went 16-1-1.
The Devils hope to follow his lead beginning Saturday against the Flyers, who opened their season with a 2-1 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Boston on Thursday.
Philadelphia continued its success away from home after leading the Eastern Conference with 25 road wins last season.
Claude Giroux(notes) scored a highlight-reel goal, and newcomer Jakub Voracek(notes) scored 47 seconds later in the first period. Jaromir Jagr(notes) recorded his 1,600th NHL point with an assist on Giroux’s goal - his first regular-season point since scoring against New Jersey on April 6, 2008, while playing for the New York Rangers.
Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) made 22 saves to earn the win in his first start with the Flyers since being traded from Phoenix in the offseason. Bryzgalov said Philadelphia is jelling quickly despite a revamped roster.
“We feel like we’ve been playing a long time together,” he said. “We have a very, very good group of guys. We’re very friendly. It’s like one big family, you know. In a few weeks I hope it’s going to be very, very good.”