NEWARK — It was the first game matching the Devils’ Jack Hughes and the Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko since the two were drafted first and second overall this summer. But this game at Prudential Center meant more to both teams than just as a showcase for two of the NHL’s brightest young stars.
The Rangers hadn’t played since Saturday, and they had played just that one game in the previous 11 days as their season has gotten off to a choppy start. The host Devils were still seeking their first win of the season, having started 0-4-2.
Ultimately, the Devils prevailed and earned their first win of the season, 5-2, over their biggest rivals Thursday before a sellout crowd of 16,000-plus. Hughes earned his first NHL point in the game, assisting on a goal by Miles Wood in the second period as the Rangers, playing the front end of a back-to-back and the first of three games in three-and-a-half days, lost their second straight.
Rangers coach David Quinn, who has had to answer too many questions about the Rangers’ many days off in the first two weeks of the season, was asked whether his team might have suffered from some rust, after so much time between games.
“Yeah, maybe,’’ he said. “But, you know, I actually thought that was the most energetic game we played, the most physical game . . . I thought there was signs of what we’re going to need to do to have success so there are some silver linings. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to win a hockey game. And we just weren’t able to win the special- teams game.’’
The Rangers’ power play, which had been so hot in the first two games of the season, scoring three times in five chances, went 0-for-6, after having gone 0-for-4 in Saturday’s loss to Edmonton.
“There just wasn’t any rhythm,’’ Quinn said of the man- advantage unit. “I didn’t think we played with the pace we have, or moved the puck the way we have been. I don’t know whether we got frustrated because we went 0-for-4 our last game, but we did have good looks [against Edmonton].
“You’re not gonna score every time,’’ he continued. “And you can’t alter your approach when you don’t score a goal, right? And you can build momentum off a good power play, even if you don’t score.’’
The Rangers actually scored first, when South Jersey native Tony DeAngelo crashed the net and popped a rebound over MacKenzie Blackwood for his first goal of the season at 6:02 of the first period. But the Devils tied it on a funky goal allowed by Alexandar Georgiev at 12:58. Adam Fox had turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the puck ended up with Blake Coleman on the right wing. Coleman’s shot hit Georgiev in the mask and the puck dropped to the ice and trickled between the goaltender’s pads.
Kyle Palmieri scored another fluky goal, this time on the power play, to give the Devils a 2-1 lead at 2:18 of the second period, five seconds after Brady Skjei had gone off for an interference penalty. Mika Zibanejad actually won the faceoff and got the puck back to Jacob Trouba, who threw it back toward his own goal, forcing Georgiev to make a save. He did, but he kicked the puck right to Palmieri, who scored his third goal of the season.
Wood’s goal at 12:25 made it 3-1. Wood was standing in the goal crease, and Matt Tennyson’s shot deflected off him for the goal. On the replay, it appeared Hughes tipped the puck on the way to Wood, but initially Tennyson was credited with the only assist. A few minutes later, the scoring change was made to add an assist by Hughes.