Yesterday at morning skate, Devils head coach John Hynes said his goal was to win the game, but beyond that he wanted to make sure the guys could be proud of the way they played no matter the score. Despite giving up three unanswered goals in a 3-2 loss to the Lightning, he felt they had accomplished something they could be proud of and he likes where the players are headed as they prepare for their home opener on Tuesday night at Prudential Center against the Anaheim Ducks.
They've made a lot of progress over the past ten days, since the roster was reduced and they started single session practices. With the systems in place, Hynes wanted to address the excessive penalties the team had been taking in the preseason. He spent two days going over proper stick placement and body positioning through various battle drills in small spaces. That seems to have done the trick as they have greatly reduced the number of power play opportunities given up in their last three games.
Hynes also emphasized the importance of opting to shoot instead of looking for the highlight play with a pretty pass, a tendency that revealed itself in their final preseason game last Saturday. As the saying goes, they don't ask how the goals were scored, just how many. So, in the final few practices before they took off for this road trip to Florida to start the season, the focus was on gaining the zone with possession and getting the puck on net. Another area of their game that showed tremendous improvement across the board in their game against Florida because when they had the puck, they were shooting it, but they weren't winning the possession game to be able to generate sustained offensive pressure.
Hynes used practice on Friday to focus on compete level and winning more puck battles to get and maintain possession on both ends of the ice. It was another area of improvement against Tampa, resulting in two goals and a more efficient power play. The problem was they took their foot of the gas and allowed the Lightning to get back in the game. The good news is they recovered and started pursuing the puck like they had been doing early in the game, but they couldn't overcome the damage that had been done.
So while they might only have one point to show for their efforts in the standings after the first two games, there has been improvement in key areas in a short amount of time and Hynes is happy with the progress. As he said after the game last night, they were able to compete with two of the better teams in the conference - teams that were in the playoffs last year and are tabbed as Cup contenders again this season - and were a bounce here or there from coming home with four points. They know they are capable of doing big things, they just have to be willing to put forth a consistent 60-minute effort to come away with the win.
That will be the focus of practice tomorrow and, if recent history is any indication, we should see that 60-minute effort on display Tuesday night as the Devils officially kick off the 2016-17 season on home ice. Fan Fest and Red Carpet festivities begin at 3:30 p.m.on Championship Plaza.