There was lots of buildup and plenty of excitement Saturday night as the New Jersey Devils
finally opened their new arena, the Prudential Center. The only thing they forgot to give their fans was a victory.
Instead, the red-hot Ottawa Senators won for the ninth time in 10 games as Martin Gerber made 31 saves and Shean Donovan broke a 1-1 tie 6:40 into the third period en route to a 4-1 win over the struggling Devils.
It was a frustrating way for the Devils to open their new, state-of-the art facility in Newark, especially after going 3-5-1 while playing their first nine games on the road. The frustration is beginning to boil over for some members of coach Brent Sutter’s squad.
“It’s getting frustrating,” forward Zach Parise said. “We’ve won three out of 10 games … that’s terrible. There’s no other way around it. That’s awful.”
As expected, New Jersey came out full-steam ahead, using the energy created by the capacity crowd of 17,625 to throw everything but the kitchen sink as the visiting Senators. The Devils outshot Ottawa 18-5 in the opening period, but Gerber turned aside all 18 shots to keep the game scoreless.
“With all the excitement coming in for our first home game, we were flying in the first period, moving our legs and creating our chances,” Devils defenseman Paul Martin said. “It’s tough when you don’t put the puck in the back of the net to get that momentum. With the way we’ve been playing early on, we kind of needed a big win tonight. It’s a disappointment.”
Ottawa’s Andrej Meszaros scored the first goal in Prudential Center history 5:01 into the second period when his slap shot from just inside the Devils’ zone found its way through a crowd and past Martin Brodeur.
But the Devils got on their new, 65,000-pound scoreboard about nine minutes later when Brian Gionta scored New Jersey’s first goal in its new building. Gionta was credited with his third goal of the season when his centering pass for Travis Zajac was swatted away by Gerber, only to deflect off the skate of Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov and into the net to make it 1-1.
“We need to start figuring out ways to win games,” Gionta said. “There’s no excuses: road trip, new arena; we’ve just got to win. We’re not playing 60 minutes. That’s the theme of the first 10 games.”
Donovan put the Sens up for good early in the third when he took a pass from Chris Kelly and roofed it over Brodeur. Mike Fisher made it a two-goal game with 6:26 remaining, and captain Daniel Alfredsson added an empty-net tally with 1.1 seconds left.
“They had a great first period, but Gerber kept us in the game and we grew into the game in the second and third,” Alfredsson said. “We knew they wanted to win this one.”
The loss left the Devils searching for answers as to why they’re experiencing so much trouble finding the back of the net. New Jersey has scored only 22 goals in its first 10 games, and just one in its last two.
“We worked hard,” Devils forward Patrik Elias said. “Obviously, in the first period we played very well. In the second, we made a few mistakes that turned the momentum a little bit on their side. In the third, we made some mistakes that cost us. We can’t let that happen. Offensively, we’re just not confident out there. We’ve got to do everything possible to get more goals. We need to get the ugly goals to get us going.”
The loss took away from a night that so many were looking forward to. Parise was disappointed that his team couldn’t do more to give the fans something to smile about as they exited their team’s new home.
“It was great,” Parise said of the festivities. “The crowd was definitely into it. We didn’t do enough to keep them in it.”
Sutter agreed. While there are some new faces in New Jersey – Sutter included – the Devils’ coach wants results, and quickly.
“We’ve got a new group of players in that locker room who are adjusting to how we want them to play,” Sutter said. “And those players who’ve been here in the past, they’ve got to find a way to do better. I’m tired of all the excuses.”