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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Zach Attack! Parise & Devils Blow Past Hurricanes

Devils 4           Carolina 2

The New Jersey Devils picked up their first win of the new season on Monday afternoon, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at the Prudential Center. Captain Zach Parise scored his first goal in a year’s time to start the scoring, and he sealed the win by scoring an empty-net goal with 1:06 left in the game. “Someone just told me it was a year between goals (for me), it’s always a good feeling scoring a goal. There’s a lot of excitement that rushes through you. When you’re not playing, or not scoring, you want that feeling back,” said Parise.

Johan Hedberg was the somewhat-surprise starter in net for New Jersey and the Moose was solid, turning aside 24 of 26 shots to even his team’s early season record at 1-1. “You usually have an early game routine and a late game routine,” said the Swedish netminder when asked how he prepared for the 1pm start time. “I usually find it hard to remember what I do (for day games) when it’s early in the season,” he added with a smile.

Parise scored 3:59 into the game, redirecting a shot-pass from Patrik Elias past ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward. “I felt like last game, the crowd was waiting for something to cheer about,” said Parise when asked if the first goal of the game (and season) was important. “Fortunately we were able to get one early, get that first one for the season out of the way and just settle down a little bit. We had a better start tonight.”

The game remained 1-0 until 8:56 into the second period when Alexei Ponikarovsky was the last player to touch the puck after a long shot from Tim Gleason pinballed off of a host of players in front of Hedberg’s crease. The tie didn’t last long, as Mark Fayne one-timed a circle-to-circle pass from Ilya Kovalchuk past Ward at 9:36.

Chad Larose evened the score again when his rocket shot deflected off of defender Henrik Tallinder’s stick and went over Hedberg’s shoulder and under the crossbar. “I should have had that. I got a piece of it, it hit the post and went in,” Hedberg explained afterwards. “I have to take a look at it (on video) and see what happened there.”

New Jersey had to kill off a two-man disadvantage early in the third period with the score still tied at two and did so thanks in large part to their defenseman and forward Dainius Zubrus. “Great job, from our goaltender to Zubrus upfront and the defensemen,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “I thought Zubrus did an outstanding job there at a critical time in the game.”

Kovalchuk, who had broken two of his sticks earlier in the game on attempted shots, finally netted his first goal of the season when he followed up his own shot and flicked the rebound over Ward for the eventual game-winner. “Those plastic sticks, they’re not very strong,” said a smirking Kovalchuk. “I should stop working out.” His linemate, Nick Palmieri, helped create the time and space that Kovalchuk needed on the goal that gave the Devils the momentum they needed to close out the first win for DeBoer as their new coach. “You breathe a sigh of relief,” said Palmieri after the team’s first win, “especially after getting shutout in the first game.”

Game Notes: New Jersey used the same exact lineup as they did in Saturday’s shutout loss; the only change was in goal, as Martin Brodeur got a rare early-season game off. For the second straight game the Devils’ PK was perfect, they were 5-for-5 against the Hurricanes and now are 13-for-13 this season. Petr Sykora assisted on Parise’s goal for his first point in his second-stint with the franchise. Larose led all players with five shots on goal, Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias led New Jersey with four each. Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson led all skaters in ice-time with 24:35 and Joni Pitkanen led Carolina with 23:08. Palmieri and ‘Canes blueliner Bryan Allen had two assists each. New Jersey (1-1-0) is off until Thursday when they host Los Angeles (1-1-0) and Carolina (0-2-1) will try again for their first win of the year on Wednesday when they host Boston (1-2-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw goal (1), 2 assists (2)

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (1-0-0)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils Win Season Finale/Lemaire’s Last Game

Devils 3 Boston 2

The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins played a game on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, but all of the talk following the game wasn’t so much about how much of an epic failure this season was for Jersey’s Team, it centered on their coach who was retiring again and stepping away from the Devils bench for the third time.

Jacques Lemaire ended his second stint as the team’s coach last season after the Devils were eliminated in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers; he cited his age and family as reasons to step away from the game. New Jersey started this season poorly under first-time bench boss John MacLean (9-22-2) and when GM Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire the week before Christmas looking for a coach to save the season, the 65-year-old couldn’t turn his back on the franchise. “I’m going back to where I was before this year,” said the coach at his farewell press conference.

“(The job) demands a lot. I want to enjoy life; I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year. I’m happy I took it, I took the job for the rest of the season; I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me; I thought the guys responded well. Like I mentioned this morning, the only regret I have is not making the playoffs.”

Lemaire came in and, although it took a few weeks, he was able to get the team back on track to their usual winning ways. Many of the players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, responded almost immediately and started to live up to the backs of their hockey cards. “Kovy really likes him, there’s no doubt about that” said Martin Brodeur. “They got along real well right from the get-go last year. So I’m sure he’d like to see him back; I think a lot of guys would like to see him back also. “Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, Lemaire’s Devils (27-17-3) gave a valiant effort that included a two-month stretch of the season where they reeled off eight consecutive wins and an incredible 20-2-2 record in 24 games to pull them back into contention for a playoff spot.

Ultimately the season was a failure, but the team never gave up and had some fun over the final 41 games — including the last game where they sent Lemaire out a winner with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Vladimir Zharkov scored his second career goal, breaking a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, beating goalie Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. Rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom’s first career goal came 5:10 after Zharkov’s tally and proved to be the game-winner when Boston’s Chris Kelly scored with 3.1 seconds left.

Urbom (who appeared in seven games earlier this season) was recalled from Albany earlier in the day along with Adam Henrique — who was making his NHL debut. Henrique, the Devils’ 3rd round draft pick in 2008, became the tenth Devil (team record) to play his first NHL game this season: Mark Fayne, Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Oliver Magnan, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Mattias Tedenby, Urbom and Alexander Vasyunov. Lemaire really liked what he saw from the 21-year-old Henrique, “He didn’t look like he played in his first game in the NHL. He’s going to move the puck, can skate, sees the ice well and I’m sure he’s got a touch for scoring. So, all these kids that are either with us or came up, this is the future — and the future up front is bright, there’s no doubt about this.”

Johan Hedberg made 24 saves in front of the sellout crowd at the Rock and finished the season with a solid record of 15-12-2 (three shutouts) in 34 games; Brodeur’s season ended under .500 for the first time in his 16-year career, 23-26-3 (six shutouts).

Patrik Elias scored his 21st goal of the season 1:47 into the game and with his 62 points he led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career. Kovalchuk led the team in goals with 31. Four players played in all 82 of the team’s games: Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson; Kovalchuk appeared in 81 games — only missing a game when MacLean suspended him for missing a team meeting.

Lemaire admitted he was unsure up until two days ago, but was confident he made the right choice. “This is exciting, this is fun; especially when the team wins, and it’s a great atmosphere. You love a lot of things, you get really upset, you get mad about what the players do, not at the individual but at what they’re doing. But as soon as they do something good, right away you feel good. I said this today when I talked to my wife; I said if I was younger, I would be coach because I love it.”

Game Notes: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg led all skaters in ice-time with 22:54 while Greene led the Devils with 22:18. New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley and Clarkson led all players with five shots on goal each; Milan Lucic led Boston with four. Clarkson’s assist on Urbom’s goal was the 100th point of his career. The Devils will be in the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 1996 and will find out where they pick in the first round on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Vladimir Zharkov (NJ) – goal (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (15)

#3 – Tuukka Rask (Bos) – 29 saves, loss (14)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Greene Powers Devils Past Islanders

Devils 3           NY Islanders 2

For the first time since the spring of 1996 it appears that the New Jersey Devils will not be a participant in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to play for over their disappointing season’s final seven games. “It’s definitely a different territory for all of us to go into seven games left and you know the season is going to be over come April 10 at 6 o’clock,” admitted Martin Brodeur afterwards. “I think it’s important that you leave the season with a good taste. We’ve come a long way, really (played) well in the second half and so let’s no try to destroy that.” After blowing a two-goal lead in the third period, defenseman Andy Greene scored with 4:56 left in the game and gave New Jersey a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.

The Devils had been shutout in each of their previous two games and their scoring drought eventually lasted a total of 178 minutes and 12 seconds when Ilya Kovalchuk gave his squad a 1-0 lead 4:17 into the game. Kovalchuk’s 28th goal of the year was set up by a nice pass from rookie Nick Palmieri to the Russian sniper in the slot. “Coming off of two shutout losses, it’s nice to bounce back and get a win,” said the 21-year-old Palmieri. New Jersey maintained the one-goal lead into the second period and extended that lead when Jacob Josefson found a rebound from Palmieri’s in-close shot and stuffed it past Islanders’ netminder Rick DiPietro.

The Islanders were unable to get a shot through Brodeur until they took a four-minute high-sticking penalty 7:57 into the third period. Isles center Frans Nielsen scored his league-leading seventh shorthanded goal on a clean breakaway after a turnover in the neutral zone. “We had a ‘first half of the season’ type of breakaway,” said Brodeur when asked what went wrong on the play.

“I knew exactly who it was, he scored on me in the shootout on his backhand; I knew he was going to go there. I couldn’t get enough momentum to make the save, different situation then on a shootout breakaway.” Nielsen’s 7 SH goals in one season tied a franchise record held by Bob Bourne 30 years ago. Four minutes and six seconds later it was Nielsen who scored again, getting credit for the tying goal after a goalmouth scramble in Brodeur’s crease.

The tie didn’t last long as Greene flipped a long shot past DiPietro from the top of the left circle, allowing the Devils to recapture the lead. Brodeur was the more active of the two goalies on this night and was able to make the crucial saves at crucial times, ensuring the victory with 27 saves. “He plays with a lot of confidence, a lot quicker in the net,” said coach Jacques Lemaire of his goalie. “I’m sure he feels good about his game.”

Besides pride and doing their jobs, another motivation for New Jersey is to finish the season at .500, meaning they must win the final six games; the last Devils team to finish below .500 was pre-Brodeur days, back in 1990-91.

Game Notes: New Jersey finished the six-game season series with New York 4-2-0. Nielsen has eight shorthanded points this season, also first among all NHL players, perhaps he should get some serious consideration for the Selke Trophy. Palmieri’s two-point game (2a) was the first multi-point game of his career. Devils forward Rod Pelley played in his 200th NHL game. Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 28:55 and defenseman Jack Hillen led New York with 23:40. Kovalchuk led all players with eight shots on goal; Nielsen led the Islanders with six. Devils rookie defenseman Mark Fayne led all players with five blocked shots and Hillen led the Isles with four. Josefson now has four points (2g-2a) in three games against the Islanders.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Frans Nielsen (NYI) – 2 goals, sh (13)

#2 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – goal (28), assist (26)

#3 – Nick Palmieri (NJ) – 2 assists (7)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Kovalchuk’s OT Winner Lifts Devils Past Leafs

With one-third of the NHL season left, the New Jersey Devils are trying to pull off an improbable push for a playoff spot — the same Devils team that was once 28 points out of a postseason berth. After Thursday night’s 2-1 overtime victory in Toronto, New Jersey finds itself 13 points behind eighth-place Carolina with 27 games left in the season; they also play the Hurricanes twice over the next nine days.

Ilya Kovalchuk won the game with a brilliant rush up ice as the final seconds ticked away in overtime, his 18th goal of the season came with 24 seconds left in the hockey portion of the game.  He raced towards the net with both Maple Leaf defensemen in front of him (Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie) and fired a lightning-quick shot that goalie James Reimer got a piece of, but not enough to prevent the winning goal.

Both goalies were phenomenal in the game as Reimer (37 saves) and Johan Hedberg (31 saves) made key stops in limiting their opponents to one regulation goal each. Hedberg’s only mistake of the night came 5:18 into the second period when he was beaten by Nikolai Kulemin’s rising shot in front of the crease, his 21st goal of the season.

Toronto maintained the 1-0 lead until 3:23 into the third period when Dainius Zubrus deflected Mark Fayne’s long shot past an unsuspecting Reimer, after some great work by Zubrus to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone.

The win was especially special for coach Jacques Lemaire because it was the 600th of his career, a feat only accomplished by seven other bench bosses. During the postgame on MSG he seemed very happy, almost shocked, “I only heard about this last week” he joked, but the look on his face told you he was very proud of the accomplishment.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — gw goal (18): Clutch players make clutch plays.
#2 — James Reimer (Tor) — 37 saves, ot loss (1): Forget Jiggy and the Monster, this kid is the Goods.
#3 — Johan Hedberg (NJ) — 31 saves, win (8): The Moose was solid again, which Devs need in Brodeur’s abscence