|Youthful Devils invade Ottawa|
OTTAWA -- Led by a top-ranked power play and a productive rookie class, the New Jersey Devils are off to their best start in nine years.
When they visit the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, the Devils will be coming off a shootout win over the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning that gave New Jersey five victories in its first six games for the first time since 2008-09.
Halting Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak on Tuesday was not enough to completely satisfy Devils coach John Hynes, whose club ends a busy stretch of eight games in 14 days Friday at Prudential Center against the San Jose Sharks before getting a rest until back-to-back games against the Senators and Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 27-28.
"Right now, our focus goes to Ottawa, not so much about where we're going a week from now," Hynes told NorthJersey.com on Wednesday. "It's about putting to bed (the 5-4 win over the Lightning), taking lessons from that and making sure we come out a better team and a focus team for Ottawa."
The Senators (3-1-2) were rolling along on their own three-game winning streak until running into the Vancouver Canucks in the opener of a five-game homestand on Tuesday. The 3-0 loss leaves Ottawa still looking for its first home win after three attempts.
Forward Zack Smith said being blanked by the 32-save performance of journeyman goalie Anders Nilsson -- after Ottawa scored 12 times in the previous two games -- provided the Senators proof they have to work for every goal.
"It wasn't about bounces," Smith told Postmedia of the blanks Ottawa fired at Nilsson. "They outplayed us. They were the better team. The last two periods, they kind of took over. They were the ones going to the net, and it paid off for them."
While the Devils (5-1-0) lead the league with a 30.8 percent power-play success rate, the contributions of three rookies are eye-catching. Defenseman Will Butcher leads the team in scoring with nine points, all assists, while two teenagers, winger Jesper Bratt (three goals, three assists) and first overall pick Nico Hischier (four assists), have also made immediate impacts.
Hynes said goalies Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid will split the back-to-back games against Ottawa and San Jose, but he didn't say which will tend the pipes at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday.
Senators coach Guy Boucher confirmed he will start Craig Anderson in goal for the sixth time this season against the Devils, and also that rugged defenseman Mark Borowiecki will miss the game with an upper-body issue that developed after he fought in the past three games.
Without Borowiecki, the Senators will go back to a six-defensemen, 12-forward alignment that gives center Logan Brown his second start of the season.
Brown, a 19-year-old selected by Ottawa with the 11th pick of the 2016 draft, hasn't played since the Oct. 5 season opener against the Washington Capitals.
"I look at it as I'm in the NHL right now and it's a dream come true for me to be here," Brown said of his extended stretch in the press box as an observer. "Every hockey player wants to play games, but we were on a roll there and the other guys were playing well. You can't change things that are going well, but I'm learning a lot of stuff every day, learning what it takes to be able to stay here."