The Ottawa Senators spoiled the Devils’ first game in the new Prudential Center, scoring three times in the third period in a 4-1 victory Saturday night.
Brian Gionta scored on a deflection for the Devils, who played their first nine games on the road while waiting for the US$380 million arena to be completed.
New Jersey, the defending Atlantic Division champion, won three of those games and continued to struggle Saturday night against Ottawa (9-1), which owns the NHL’s best record.
“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.”
The Devils dominated for long stretches in the first 20 minutes and outshot the Senators 18-5, but goalie Martin Gerber was equal to the task.
“They had a great first period, but Gerber kept us in the game and we grew into the game in the second and third,” said Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson. “We knew they wanted to win this one.”
Gerber made 31 saves for Ottawa, while Martin Brodeur stopped 23 shots for New Jersey.
Ottawa snapped a one-all tie early in the third period when Chris Kelly picked up a loose puck behind the net and fed Shean Donovan, who beat Brodeur from in close. Mike Fisher added an insurance goal with 6:26 left, and Daniel Alfredsson scored into an empty net with 1.1 seconds left.
“We had opportunities, but we just didn’t bear down,” first-year Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “When you’re having trouble scoring, getting that first goal is big.”
Sutter publicly called out left wing Patrik Elias after Thursday night’s 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers, and after Saturday’s game he again questioned his players’ effort, though he didn’t name names.
“We’ve got a new group of players in that locker room who are adjusting to how we want them to play,” he 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.”
For a while it looked as though the new 32-foot, 65,000-pound scoreboard wouldn’t get much of a workout as neither team scored in the first period.
Ottawa’s Andrej Meszaros scored the arena’s first goal five minutes into the second period with a slap shot from just inside the blue line that squeezed through a crowd in front to beat Brodeur.
The goal brought a smattering of boos from the restless crowd, but those turned to cheers nine minutes later when Gionta tied it.
Gionta took a pass from Elias on the right wing and centred a pass for Travis Zajac that Gerber knocked away only to have it deflect off the skate of defenceman Anton Volchenkov and into the net.
The power-play goal was the first allowed on the road by the Senators this season. Entering the evening, they were 16-for-16 killing penalties.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman joined Devils chairman and owner Jeff Vanderbeek, Newark, N.J., mayor Cory A. Booker and former Devils star Scott Stevens for a pre-game ceremony at centre ice.
Talking to reporters later, Bettman called the Prudential Center “a truly spectacular arena” and then took a dig at the Devils’ former home, Continental Airlines Arena, at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., calling it “a building with no soul that was in the middle of a parking lot.”
With the new building not projected to be ready for the start of the NHL season, the Devils started the season on the road, losing six of the nine games and being shut out three times.
The road trip matched the longest in NHL history to start a season, tying Quebec (1980-81) and Carolina (1999-2000), both of whom were also moving into new facilities.
The Devils played the past 25 years at the Meadowlands, about 12 miles from Newark.
Notes: The Devils entered the game having scored more goals than just two teams (Phoenix and Nashville), while Ottawa had allowed the second-fewest goals in the league (17) behind St. Louis. … The Senators have scored the first goal in all nine of their wins. … All 17,600 tickets were sold for the game.