Devils 3 Phoenix 0
Not only did the New Jersey Devils snap a five-game losing streak with their 3-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, but they may have gotten their two most important players into a positive frame of mind — a rarity in what has been a dismal season. Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals, his first multi-goal effort as a Devil in 56 games with the club and Martin Brodeur made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season (113th career).
“It’s one game,” said Kovalchuk after the game, “it doesn’t make the season, you know? It’s a good game and we have to build on it.” He paused and added, “It’s a long way to go to where we want to be, but we just have to take it one game at a time.”
The win was much-needed for a team that was watching their playoff hopes slip away as they sat 29th out of 30 teams in points (18) this season. After New Jersey killed off an early Coyotes power play, Kovalchuk gave his squad a rare, early lead when he converted a one-timer after receiving a nice pass from Dainius Zubrus. It was only his sixth goal of the year, putting him on pace for the worst offensive season of his nine in the league. “I knew it was a two-on-one and the back-checker was on me,” explained Zubrus, “I don’t know if I would’ve been able to cut to the middle and get the shot off; I knew Kovy was there too, so I was able to get a pass to an area where he could do something with it. And he did.”
Rookie defenseman Mark Fayne doubled the Devils’ lead when he netted his first career NHL goal at 13:18, blasting a shot from the blue line past Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov who was screened on the play.
Brodeur turned aside ten Coyote shots in the first period, eleven in the second and eight in the third but it wasn’t until he stopped Taylor Pyatt’s semi-breakaway early in the second period that it appeared it was going to be tough to beat the future Hall-of-famer on this night. “I had a good angle on him,” explained Brodeur, “I held my ground on my butterfly and he hit the top of my pad; he wasn’t really looking but he hammered it pretty good.”
Kovalchuk finished the scoring early in the third period when he pounded another one-time past his countryman Bryzgalov, this time during a 5-on-3 advantage. “I always feel good about it,” he said about his confidence in his one-timer. “Sometimes I don’t get many opportunities to do it, tonight it seemed like I got a few of them. That’s all my linemates and my teammates – they create that room (for me).”
One more important challenge/moment remained for New Jersey and that was late in the third when they had to kill a penalty to preserve the shutout — as well as a good state of mind. “Marty played real well for us (tonight), so you want to get him the shutout,” said Zubrus of his goalie’s performance. “It’s good,” said Brodeur of the blanking, “winning is what we’re looking for, shutouts are a bonus; if you could call it a bonus in these times.” He knew it was important for his team’s fragile psyche after their worst start in fifteen seasons. “We have to learn to battle, to play through a little adversity; not just when you are losing — but when you’re winning.
Killing that penalty, even though getting scored on wouldn’t have really mattered much (to the final outcome), that prepares you in knowing that you’re able to get the job done when it’s a tighter game.”
Game Notes: Defenseman Anssi Salmela made his season debut for the Devils and played 14:57 during his 20 shifts. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 22:51 and Derek Morris led Phoenix with 22:21. Kovalchuk and Coyotes captain Shane Doan led all players with five shots on goal each; Doan led all players with four hits. Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac each have six points in their last five games. New Jersey (9-19-2) is off until Friday when they host Nashville (16-8-6) while Phoenix (14-9-6) plays Thursday night against New York (19-13-1) at MSG.
Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:
#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – 2 goals, pp/gw (7)
#2 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 29 saves, win (5), shutout (3)
#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (15)
Dan Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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