WEST ORANGE, N.J. - The New Jersey Devils' quest for the Stanley Cup is going to start with the longest road trip in franchise history.
With the new Prudential Center in Newark getting its final touches, the Devils will begin the season with a nine-game, three-week sojourn that will include a couple of quick pit stops at home to say hello to family and friends.
The trip got under way Tuesday when the Devils boarded a bus after practice for a flight to Tampa, Fla., and the season-opener against the Lightning on Thursday night.
"It's our job to make it happen," goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the extended trip. "The organization has given us something every player dreams about, playing in a new building. It's a price to pay."
Only two other NHL teams started a season with nine consecutive road games, Quebec in 1980-81 and Carolina in 1999-2000. Both were also waiting for arena renovation or construction to be completed.
Quebec, which is now the Colorado Avalanche, went 1-6-2 and missed the playoffs after winning only 30 games. Carolina had an outstanding 4-2-3 start but missed the playoffs with a 37-35-10 mark.
A long trip might not have been a major issue for New Jersey in recent years. The Devils were a veteran group that averaged more than 21 road wins for the last decade playing away from the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford. They also were a team set in its ways, playing the same trapping defensive system that frustrated opponents.
That's changed with Brent Sutter taking over as the head coach. An aggressive forecheck has replaced the stay-at-home defensive approach. There are also a lot of new faces.
Lost to free agency were defensive leader Brian Rafalski (Red Wings) and centre Scott Gomez (Rangers).
The new roster has four rookies, a new backup goaltender, two new starters on defence and four very different line combinations.
Veteran Jay Pandolfo said the trip might create a little chemistry.
"It could be a good experience, especially if we get off to a good start," Pandolfo said. "It's new faces and the guys are going to get a chance to hang out together and know each other. When you are home, you always don't have that opportunity with kids and stuff."
John Madden, who has won two Stanley Cups in his eight years with the Devils, downplayed the trip, saying that it was good to get the road games out of the way early.
"It's all how you look at it," he said. "You can approach it as a negative, or say for all we know we might have a good record right off the bat."
The players have known about the trip since the schedule came out months ago.
Zach Parise joked that his DVD player and his portable PlayStation were packed and ready for use. He said nothing about clothes.
"It's think it's great," Parise said. "With all the new faces, it will be a good time to bond and get that going right away at the beginning of the season."
As far as leaving a day early, Sutter said he just wanted to remove all possible distractions and to have the team settled in.
"I guess we had enough time off in the summer," forward Brian Gionta quipped.
The Devils will open in their new arena on Oct. 27 against the Eastern Conference champion Ottawa Senators.