The thought that the Edmonton Oilers still have work to do in their rebuilding process hasn't gone away through two games this season.
Getting one of their best young players back on the ice earlier than expected might help them start to shake that label.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins makes his season debut Monday night against the visiting New Jersey Devils as the Oilers take a third crack at earning their first win of the season.
The Oilers (0-2-0) have built an impressive collection of young talent, but they've struggled to keep the puck out of the net by allowing 11 goals thus far.
Perhaps the return of Nugent-Hopkins will provide a boost after the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft missed the first two games while recovering from April shoulder surgery. The 20-year-old centre was expected to be out until November.
"I'm feeling really good," Nugent-Hopkins told the team's official website.
"The healing is done and my strength is up where it needs to be. Those were the two biggest things.
"Obviously, I needed to get some contact in and I've had a couple weeks of that now. Everything is going really good."
The Oilers led early in Saturday night's 6-2 loss at Vancouver on Jeff Petry's first goal, but the Canucks scored the game's next five goals.
"We really did come out OK," left wing Taylor Hall said. "We scored the first goal. They scored right after that and we just kind of fell off the wagon there."
They've blown leads in their first two games after letting a two-goal second-period lead slip away in their 5-4 home-opening loss Tuesday against Winnipeg.
"This isn't going to be an easy process here," Oilers rookie head coach Dallas Eakins said. "We will dig our heels in and continue on.''
Devan Dubnyk faced 31 shots on Saturday and allowed five goals before being replaced by Jason LaBarbera midway through the second. Dubnyk has allowed 10 goals on 59 shots after posting the best numbers of his five-year NHL career last year with a 2.57 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
It's the first time since 1998-99 that the Oilers have opened with consecutive losses. They last started with three straight losses in 1995-96.
The Devils (0-1-1) will try to avoid going winless through three games for the first time since 2010-11.
Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur have split goaltending duties in the first two games, though Brodeur figures to get the start Monday with Schneider visiting his former team in Vancouver on Tuesday.
In Friday's 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders, Brodeur stopped the first five shootout shots he faced, but that wasn't enough as the Devils fell in the sixth round.
Off-season acquisition Damien Brunner scored twice in regulation, but he was stopped by Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the first round of the shootout.
"Obviously, when you score, you set yourself up good for the next game with a lot of confidence, but I would have been more happy if I had scored in the shootout," Brunner said.
Four of the six shooters for the Devils - Brunner, Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr - are new to the team this year.
"It's going to take time a little bit," Brodeur said. "I think we need to give ourselves a little time here and really I think it's a great thing that we're going on the road - get to know each other, get to learn."
The Devils' last two games against the Oilers have resulted in overtime losses. Their last meeting was a 2-1 Oilers win in Edmonton on Jan. 11, 2012.