OTTAWA — Even though he's just 18, Jack Hughes lived up to his billing as an impact player.
Hughes scored in overtime as the New Jersey Devils topped the Ottawa Senators 4-3 on Sunday evening in the first game back for the home side after a lengthy holiday break.
"If I was going to pick a player, I was happy to see him (score)," said New Jersey interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. "Tonight, he was the difference maker."
Hughes's sixth goal of the season came less than a minute into the extra period. He said he wasn't thinking of a move as he was streaking in on Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, but managed to chip it to the back of the net.
"That's one we needed," Hughes said. "We're hungry for points right now. We want to climb the standings. We're not happy where we are. That's a big emphasis on this team right now."
Thomas Chabot, who had left the bench for a few minutes after taking a shot off his right hand, scored on a long shot from the point at 15:02 of the third to send the game to overtime for Ottawa (16-18-5).
Chabot admitted the game "wasn't pretty." Still, he was happy to see the Senators earn a point in the loss.
"We didn't play our best, obviously, but looking back on it, it was kind of huge to bring it to overtime and get a point," said Chabot. "It's our first game back from a break. We knew we would be a little rusty."
Nico Hischier and Nikita Gusev both had power-play goals for the Devils (13-19-6), while Miles Wood gave them a 3-2 lead by the second intermission after a Hail Mary pass from Wayne Simmonds sprung him on a partial break.
Nick Paul and Artem Anisimov had back-to-back goals in the second period for Ottawa.
Mackenzie Blackwood made 21 saves in a winning effort for New Jersey, while Anderson stopped 30 shots for the Senators.
Ottawa head coach DJ Smith said his team needs to find a way to be more careful with the puck, but acknowledged they were sluggish mentally after not playing since December 23.
"We found a way to get a point," said Smith. "We didn't have the puck very much tonight. We weren't very smart with it. We didn't break out very well."
Paul's goal came midway through the second period, tying the game 1-1. Anthony Duclair and Cody Goloubef assisted on the goal. The assist gave Duclair his team-leading 31st point of the season while Goloubef notched his first.
Anisimov put the Senators ahead 2-1 at 13:28 of the second. Anisimov tapped the puck out of mid-air off the post, but Blackwood knocked it into his own net with his skate.
The Ottawa faithful barely had time to celebrate Anisimov's seventh of the season. With a two-man advantage Gusev potted one five-hole on Anderson to tie the game again at 2-2 less than two minutes later.
"You can't spend the whole game in your zone. You have to break out more. You have to come back and talk more and work more on that," said Smith. "In saying that, we're a young team. It's a learning process, and we don't give up."
Scott Sabourin made his return to Ottawa's lineup after suffering a broken nose and the first recorded concussion of his career on Nov. 2. He was a non-factor save for mixing it up with Devils' defenceman P.K. Subban, who received a chorus of boos from Ottawa fans.
"If he's talking to me I guess I'm doing my job," said Sabourin. "I hit his 'D' partner and he didn't like it, and some words were exchanged. If the situation arose and the gloves came off, I'd be more than willing."
Smith said before the game he hoped the returning Sabourin would give the Senators a spark, but instead it was Hughes who had the biggest impact Sunday.
"That's one we needed," Hughes said of the win. "We're trying to climb the standings here and to get that win was exciting."
Notes: The Senators end 2019 with a game in Pittsburgh against the Penguins Monday night, while the Devils play New Years Eve at home against the Boston Bruins.
Adam Stanley, The Canadian Press