The Brent Sutter era got off to a rocky start for the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils look to give their new coach his first NHL win when they visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Sutter, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders, took over New Jersey in the offseason. He inherited a team that went 49-24-9 last season, won the Atlantic Division and reached the second round of the playoffs before falling to eventual Eastern Conference champion Ottawa.
Still, Sutter is hoping to become the first Devils coach in three seasons to start and finish a season. Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello finished each of the last two campaigns after Larry Robinson, who led New Jersey to a Stanley Cup title, stepped down midway through the 2005-06 season and Claude Julien was let go with three games left in the regular season in '06-07.
The Devils lost 3-1 at Tampa Bay in Sutter's debut Thursday. Brian Gionta scored the lone goal for New Jersey, which allowed the Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier to score twice.
"We played pretty well the last 17 minutes of the first and played a really good second period," Sutter said. "We had lots of chances. I thought we stood around too much in the third. We weren't assertive enough."
Martin Brodeur, who led the NHL with 48 wins and 12 shutouts last season, stopped 21 of 23 shots in his 13th consecutive season-opening start for the Devils.
"It was a tough loss for us," center Sergei Brylin said. "Nobody wants to start the year with a loss, but I guess we have to look at the positive things that we did. Just little mistakes here and there cost us a game."
New Jersey is opening the season with nine straight road games before its home opener on Oct. 27. The extended trip will allow time for construction of the team's new arena in Newark to be completed.
Since the start of the 1997-98 season, the Devils are 14-4-0 with a tie in Florida, though they have lost two of their last three games there. In its last 34 games overall against the Panthers, New Jersey is 25-6-0 with three ties.
Brodeur is 30-10-0 with seven ties and a 1.96 goals-against average in 47 games against Florida.
The Panthers also lost their season opener, falling 5-2 on the road to the New York Rangers. Brett McLean and Nathan Horton scored in the second period, and Florida held a 21-9 advantage in shots before allowing the Rangers to score four unanswered goals in the third.
"We have to learn that whatever happens we have to go back after them on the next shift," captain Olli Jokinen said. "It was a bad couple of minutes."
Tomas Vokoun, acquired in a draft-day trade from Nashville, had a rough Panthers debut, stopping 20 shots.
"It was tough," said Vokoun, who has won at least 25 games in each of his last four seasons. "They scored goals to take the game away from us."