The Devils Probably Didn't Have To Go To Sweden To Reinforce Their Belief In What They Are Building In New Jersey, But They Did Just That Anyway
As someone who was fortunate enough to be in attendance (and thus extremely late on a recap), I can say that a season-opening win over the Oilers meant more as an experience than it did as a notch in the proper column of the standings. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but the outcome of Game 1 out of 82 isn't anywhere near as important as an international expedition across multiple countries that brought a couple foreign-born players to familiar grounds to further bond with teammates that were granted a whole new perspective.
That being said, the fairly lopsided final score certainly didn't do anything to damper the novelty of lacing them up overseas and putting on a show in Sweden. I think it's safe to say that the taste left in the mouthes of the Devils' players and fans wouldn't have been quite as delectable as the local meatballs if they skated off losers in the NHL's most recent installment of their Global Series, so props to them for punctuating their trip in perfect fashion.
How they managed to do so probably shouldn't be too intricately analyzed, as - again - it was just one game, but it was one game that snuffed out the cries that they didn't do enough to improve over the offseason. There seems to be this prevailing notion that last season's success is unsustainable, as everything had to go right for the Devils to scratch and claw their way onto Taylor Hall's back as he refused to be denied a playoff appearance last year. There's definitely some truth to that, but after one game we already have an indisputable piece of evidence to the contrary.
At this time last year, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac were about as present on the ice as the skill that Miles Wood displayed by backhand toe-dragging Adam Larsson across the continent, and yet they accounted for four goals on what proved to be an encouraging opening night. Speaking of Miles Wood, I don't know that the pretty primary assists he contributed in both Switzerland and Sweden were an aberration, but him not Eurotrippin' over his own two feet after holding out to start camp was a huge step in the right direction for someone who nearly notched 20 goals with zero hands last year. Add in that Will Butcher was noticeably authoritative offensively, Mirco Mueller more than held his own as Sami Vatanen's defensive partner while being pitted against the NHL equivalent of a cheat code, and neither Pavel Zacha or Damon Severson were benched by the second period, and the ways in which this year's team can potentially be better than last year's team have already started to unveil themselves.
Tragedy, in the form of a wayward puck off the crossbar, struck the jaw of the player who appeared poised to start proving he got his sophomore slump out of the way during his freshman season by having a hell of a homecoming, but even without the services of Jesper Bratt the Devils looked as though they improved internally. So much so, in fact, that it feels like overkill to even mention that his fellow countryman, Marcus Johansson, barely played enough last season to carve out a top-six role for himself in the lineup of which he just served as an ambassador.
There is approximately a zero point two percent chance that this season goes as smoothly as its international introduction, as the Devils played well above their weight class defensively, thus making their transition to offense shockingly seamless. However, starting out the season in midseason form against a team that looked like they're still knocking the rust off made all the bitching and bickering about offseason moves left unmade look about as laughably premature as this spiteful takedown of it.
Ray Shero, John Hynes, and company kind of have a clue to what they are doing. I don't know that the fruits of their labor are anywhere close to ripe, but the far-too-early prognosis is that their growth has anything but stalled. The Devils looked much better than even the most optimistic observer would have expected. If nothing else, traveling back home to a fanbase that currently has absolutely fucking nothing to complain about makes their overseas travels as much of a success on the ice as it was off, so here's to hoping their chemistry didn't get confiscated at customs. If only for one absolutely surreal and unforgettable night, it paired heavenly with their culture in, albeit temporarily, calming the concerns that not so coincidentally manage to manifest the most when there is no meaningful hockey being played.