NEWARK, N.J. – New Devils coach Jacques Lemaire smiled and shrugged when asked why Brendan Shanahan sported the captain’s ‘C’ in the absence of Jamie Langenbrunner.
It raised some eyebrows when Shanahan was tabbed to assume Langenbrunner’s place on New Jersey’s top line alongside Travis Zajac and Zach Parise in the pre-season opener, but to give him the C, too, even in a game that doesn’t count?
“If your captain is injured, you won’t give the ‘C’ to anyone because you don’t have any more leaders on that club?” Lemaire asked rhetorically after the Devils’ 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. “I thought Shanny was a good guy to get it.”
But Lemaire pointed out that Langenbrunner would get the letter back when he plays. He was off Wednesday night.
“Don’t be worried,” Lemaire said.
The 40-year-old Shanahan did nothing to fuel any controversy.
“I really don’t make anything of it,” he said. “Jamie is our captain and he is a great captain. We all support him.”
David Clarkson made the most of his power-play time and scored twice for the Devils, who blew a 2-0 lead in the third period. Zajac scored the decisive goal in the sixth round of the shootout to give Lemaire a win in the first game of his second stint as Devils coach.
The Rangers got even on goals by Matt Gilroy and Jordan Owens scored 8:43 apart. Owens punched in a rebound with 8:14 left in regulation to tie it. Gilroy added a goal in the shootout, but it was answered in the third round by Parise.
Yann Danis surprisingly played the whole game for the Devils, making 28 saves in the game and five in the shootout. That kept Jeff Frazee pinned to the bench.
“I thought he was doing well, and I hate to pull a goalie or give a chance to the other goalie to take over when you’re having a good game,” Lemaire said.
New York’s Chad Johnson allowed a goal to Clarkson on the first shot he faced, but recovered and stopped the next 19 before the tiebreaker.
“It was a little rough at the start, but after a while I settled in,” said Johnson, who played at Alaska-Fairbanks last season. “The speed is faster than college. Getting used to that is the biggest thing.”
Clarkson staked the Devils to a 1-0 lead with 6:29 left in the first period with a goal in front against Henrik Lundqvist.
Clarkson doubled the Devils’ lead 10:14 into the second when he took a feed from Shanahan in the left circle and snapped another power-play goal past Johnson, who entered 23 seconds earlier.
“All summer you work on things you want to get better at,” Clarkson said. “It was just one of those nights where it went in.”
Gilroy drove to the net, shifting from backhand to forehand to backhand, before lifting a shot over Danis 3:03 into the third to make it 2-1. Gilroy signed with New York in April after winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player and helping Boston University to the NCAA title.
Lemaire returned to the Devils after coaching the Minnesota Wild from 2000 until last season. He was New Jersey’s coach from 1993-98, leading the Devils in 1995 to their first Stanley Cup title.
Sean Avery, who had a goal waved off because of goalie interference in the first period, didn’t get a chance to renew his rivalry with Devils top netminder Martin Brodeur, who sat out, but assisted on Gilroy’s goal.
The Rangers, who lost 2-1 at home to Boston on Tuesday in their opener, are playing four games in five days. The Devils have four games remaining in the pre-season.
Lundqvist stopped 16 of 17 shots in his season debut, giving way to Johnson – who wears No. 96, not No. 85 – with 10:09 left in the second.
New Jersey missed forward Patrik Elias, expected to be sidelined 3-to-6 weeks following groin surgery Tuesday. For the second straight night, the Rangers were without leading forward Marian Gaborik (groin soreness).