Devils End 2011 with Win Over Pittsburgh

Devils 3            Pittsburgh 1

The New Jersey Devils closed out another successful month and ended 2011 with a bang, topping the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Saturday afternoon at Prudential Center. The win ensured that New Jersey would begin 2012 in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a big change after starting 2011 near the bottom of the standings and it also pulled them three points behind the Penguins.

Martin Brodeur brought his ‘A’ game and stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced, while Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils offense with a penalty shot goal and two assists. The loss for Pittsburgh was their second in a row and the game was their tenth in a row without the concussed-again Sidney Crosby. But the Pens did have Evgeni Malkin, who entered the game on a nine-game point streak and was named the number one star of the NHL for the month of December.

“As a unit, we look like we feel a lot more comfortable with each other in knowing what to expect,” said Brodeur afterwards. “A big change, I think we cut our losses defensively if it’s going a little chaotic in our zone — we aren’t afraid to take an icing or just throw the puck off the glass and out of the zone. Early on we were always trying to make plays and plays and plays; sometimes that last play ends up in the back of our net. Lately we’ve been just a little more careful about these things, and I think it shows in the result of the way we’ve played lately.”

The game was 0-0 until 5:17 remained in the opening period when Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was penalized for covering the puck in the crease with his hand, awarding the Devils with a penalty shot. Kovalchuk was chosen to shoot by New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer; he skated in towards Marc-Andre Fleury, made a few fakes and then fired a shot into the back of the net through teh goalie’s legs for his 12th goal of the season. “You get to shoot from an angle where you can do some (different) things,” said Kovalchuk who has now scored on two of his three career penalty shot attempts. “You can shoot top left, you can go five-hole, or you can shoot from your backhand; you have to make the goalie try to think about what you are going to do. ”

Just under five minutes later with two Penguins in the penalty box the Devils doubled their lead to 2-0 when David Clarkson pushed Patrik Elias’ wrist shot over the goal line behind Fleury at 19:36. On the play Kovalchuk’s original shot deflected to Elias who fired a strong shot that his the goal post, then Fleury’s butt and then Clarkson found the disc along the goal line for his 13th goal of the season.

One of the Penguins best chances to score came with just over eight minutes left to play in the second period when Brodeur robbed Tyler Kennedy with a sliding two-pad glove save.

Brodeur lost his bid for his first shutout of the season when Chris Kunitz collected a wide shot and stuffed it into the net with 10:35 left in regulation. He was able to keep the score 2-1 though when he denied Matt Cooke’s point-blank one-timer from the slot with 4:30 left to play in the game. “I had a really good angle on Kennedy’s shot, but Cooke made a really good play when he shoveled the puck right towards me and I was able to get my glove up.”

New Jersey captain Zach Parise netted his 13th goal of the season into an empty net with 49.5 seconds left to secure the year-ending win for the Devils, who improved to 21-15-1 — a huge turnaround from where they were one calendar year ago. “I love those empty-netters,” said Kovalchuk with a smile. “When you score them, that means you win the game.”

“Marty made some huge saves tonight,” said Parise afterwards, “more importantly, he made them at some pretty critical times of the game; breakaways, two-on-ones, big saves late in the game. He was outstanding today.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has 41 points in 38 career games against Pittsburgh; Elias had two assists and leads the with 21 assists and 34 points. Devils defenseman Mark Fayne led all skaters in ice-time with 24:23 while Malkin led Pittsburgh with 23:59. Malkin led all players with six shots on goal, Kovalchuk led New Jersey with five; rookie Adam Larsson led all players with three hits and two blocked shots.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:

#1 — Martin Brodeur (NJ) — 29 saves, win (11-9-0)
#2 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — goal (12), 2 assists (18)
#3 — Patrik Elias (NJ) — 2 assists (21)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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