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Hughes, winless Devils find frustration building

Blow three-goal lead in loss to Panthers, continue 'disheartening' start

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Jack Hughes couldn't help but show his frustration during another loss for the winless New Jersey Devils.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Devils (0-4-2) were among the most aggressive teams during the offseason, when they added high-profile players including Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and defenseman P.K. Subban. But with their 6-4 loss to the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center on Monday, they have lost their first six games for the first time since starting 0-4-3 in 2013-14. The Devils, who have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs six of the past seven seasons, are tied with the Ottawa Senators (1-4-0) for last place in the Eastern Conference.

The frustration boiled over a bit when New Jersey failed to hold a 4-1 lead for the second time this season. The Devils led 4-0 in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 4.

This time, Hughes slammed his stick on the ice after his deflection in front hit both goal posts with the Devils leading 4-2 at 12:24 of the second period. The 18-year-old center has no points and is minus-4 in six games.

Video: FLA@NJD: Hughes narrowly misses goal

"I think I've been playing pretty good in all six games," Hughes said. "I mean the media sees the shot totals, but for me, I look at my game over the course of the season, and I think I've gotten better each game. I like where my game's at, and once a few bounces start going our way, I think I'll really start to go."

Hughes has taken nine shots in the past three games and has had good scoring opportunities. 

"We're struggling to close games," he said. "We've had a lead in three of our games and have not finished it off, so that's something we've got to get better at."

The Devils led 3-2 late in the third period at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday but lost 4-3 in a shootout.

Hughes isn't alone in his frustration.

"No one sees this type of start," left wing Taylor Hall said. "Hockey's weird that way. You can have a lot of talk before the year and a lot of positivity and a great training camp, and then you come out and start the way that we have and guys like myself aren't feeling as good about their game as they would want to. So it's disheartening for sure. 

"But the thing is no one's feeling sorry for you, so we're going to have to get better."

Video: Panthers storm back for 6-4 win against Devils

The Devils drafted Hughes on June 21 and acquired Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators on June 22. New Jersey signed right wing Wayne Simmonds (one year, $5 million) as an unrestricted free agent July 1 and acquired left wing Nikita Gusev in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 29.

Coach John Hynes was asked if high expectations to begin the season make the start even more discouraging.

"You want to be able to maximize the group and be able to have our group be able to win games, and that's what the focus was coming (into the season)," Hynes said. "We'll dig into this game and we'll come back out. The guys will have a day off [Tuesday], and we'll come back here on Wednesday and make sure that we continue to work and fix the areas that need to get fixed. 

"Internally, we knew that we had some guys coming along and although our record is not close to what we want it to be, I believe there's evidence that we should have a couple wins on the board. Unfortunately, we don't, but there's not an overreaction."

The Devils next play Thursday when they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). Hughes will face the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, right wing Kaapo Kakko, for the first time. 

"That'll be the last thing on my mind," Hughes said. "I mean, our team hasn't won a game yet, so that'll be the No. 1 thing. We're trying to win the game. It doesn't matter who we're playing."

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