Alexis Lafreniere was not the only No. 1 overall draft pick on the ice Tuesday night, when the Rangers hosted their Hudson River rivals, the Devils, at Madison Square Garden.
The Devils’ Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes were first overall draft picks, too, with Hughes being the No. 1 overall in 2019, one year before Lafreniere. That was the draft where Hughes went No. 1 and the Rangers grabbed Kaapo Kakko with the second pick overall, and those two are expected to have many battles with each other in these rivalry matchups in the next few years.
On Tuesday night, Hughes won the first of eight battles between the two this season, when he dominated the Rangers, scoring two goals and assisting on a third, in leading the Devils to a 4-3 victory that dropped the Rangers to 1-2 on their season-opening, three-game homestand. The Devils, who got 47 saves from goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, are 2-0-1.
Travis Zajac scored for the Devils just 32 seconds into the game, and the Rangers were chasing the game after that. They tied it early in the second, on a power play goal by Chris Kreider, but back-to-back goals by Hughes put the Devils up 3-1. Mika Zibanejad scored to get the Rangers within 3-2, before Miles Wood’s goal made it 4-2. Filip Chytil scored in the third to pull the Rangers within 4-3, but despite two late power plays, the Rangers couldn’t tie it up.
Afterward, the Rangers refused to hang their heads.
"We got looks,’’ Kreider said. "We spent a lot of time in their zone. I thought we did a pretty good job executing what we wanted to do, we just didn’t get the bounces. We continue to jump on these pucks and hemmed them in. What was the final shot total? 50 shots? We weren’t just working the perimeter on the power play, we were getting it over to the net ... (Blackwood's) a big boy. He probably saw a few too many pucks. We’ve got to do a better job of screening.’’
Given that the power play was 2-for-6 and able to move the puck around and generate scoring chances, coach David Quinn preferred to look at all the positive things the Rangers did, rather than focus on the negative.
"Their goalie played well,’’ Quinn said. "The real story was the start of the game for us ... I thought the last seven or eight minutes of the first we started playing well, doing some good things. I thought we did some pretty good things in the second and third, but not enough. And you just can’t give up goals the way we did. The first goal (by Zajac) is a bad change, and we end up, unfortunately, giving up a breakaway. It hit the pad and they go the other way. Their goals were too easy.
"So, give (the Devils) credit,’’ he continued. "They competed hard, they did a lot of good things. But we played 48 minutes instead of 60, and we’re just we’re not going to have a chance to win night in and night out, if that’s how we’re going to do it.’’
Hughes and Kakko will be linked for as long as they play for their respective teams. Both players struggled in their rookie years — Hughes had seven goals and 21 points and an unsightly plus/minus of minus-26. Kakko had 10 goals and 23 points, and also was minus-26.
But Hughes has started fast this season. He leads the Devils in scoring with six points (two goals, four assists), and Kakko had been dropped from the second line, with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, to the third line, with Filip Chytil and Phillip DiGiuseppe.