Brendan Shanahan admitted he noticed he played his first game for the Devils just in time to help them pass the Rangers and take over first place in the Atlantic Division.
"It's kind of weird how the timing of all that worked out," he said after scoring a goal in the Devils' 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators tonight at Sommet Center.
Shanahan played the last two season for the Rangers and wanted to re-sign with them for this season, but they didn't have the cap room and never made him a contract offer. So, after waiting for three and a half months, he signed with the Devils last Wednesday and made his season debut Monday night.
He scored a 5-on-3 goal in the second period, but also had a key shift in the final two minutes of the third when he held the puck in the right corner of the Nashville zone for about 30 seconds with the Devils clinging to a 2-1 lead.
“That last shift meant more to me, just conditioning-wise at the end of the game,” said Shanahan, who ranks 11th all-time and leads all active players with 651 career goals. “You always want to be in the situation where you can make a good play for your teammates when the game is on the line.”
Shanahan played 18 shifts for 13:59 in ice time and fired a team-high six shots on goal. He made it clear that he's out to prove those who said he was finished wrong and did so for at least one night.
"I think from what I've read and what I've hard, I genuinely believed I'm better than other people did," he said, laughing. "It's just a funny way of saying that in spite of some things I've heard, I believe I can still play. But sometimes if you're not seen for a while, you're sort of forgotten about. I don't think you would do what I did - not as far as the signing or tonight or the past week -- I don't think you could do what I did since July until the day Lou (Lamoriello) signed me if you didn't believe you could contribute because it really (stunk) in a lot of ways. Driving to the rink every night and getting offered jobs in other areas of life and telling people through surprised looks that you're actually still intending on playing, So, it might be false confidence, but it's useful."
Even Shanahan admitted he didn't know he would have such an immediate impact.
"I wasn't sure," he said. "I wasn't sure how much I was going to get used. I didn't know if it would come right away. I still think I've got some work to do. It was the first game and there was a lot of adrenaline and I think that it's just one game and there's a long ways for me to go and a lot of building for me yet.
Devils coach Brent Sutter credited Shanahan for all the work he did on his own while waiting for a team to sign him.
"He's been ready conditioning-wise and stuff like that since August," Sutter said. "He wasn't a player that ever wanted to retire or a player that was trying to decide whether to retire. He was a player that wanted to play somewhere and thought certain things would have worked out with the team he was playing for and they didn't. But he still stayed on the course and eventually it worked out for him and I'm glad it's worked out for us."
Sutter then took a playful little shot at Mats Sundin.
"He wasn't traveling in North America, playing poker in those celebrity poker events and stuff and I'm saying that in a humerous way," Sutter said of Shanahan. "He's a well-conditioned hockey player and he trained that way."
It's taken the Devils 46 games, but, after tonight's win, they're in first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time this season. They want to stay there at least for the all-star break and can do that by defeating Montreal in their final game before the break on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
"It's what we've been shooting for so it's nice get there," said Zach Parise, who scored his 27th goal of the season into an empty net with 13.7 seconds left to clinch tonight's win. "We have one more game going into the break and it would be nice to remain there."
Sutter said taking over first place wasn't discussed by the team. He said the main focus was getting back on track on this six-game road trip after playing poorly in back-to-back losses to Carolina (3-2) and Atlanta (4-0) before it began.
It seems they have accomplished that by going 5-1 in the six games.
"After the way we finished before we went on the road, it was important for us to get out here and get our game back," Sutter said.