Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Devils' big names shine in shutout of Phoenix

During the early part of this season, there have been way too many nights where as Lou Lamoriello has pointed out on more than one occasion: 'Our best players haven't been our best players, for whatever reason'. Well tonight was at least a temporary reprieve from the nightmare that has been 2010 for the Devils - our best players in fact, were our best players tonight. Ilya Kovalchuk's first multi-goal game as a Devil (in 56 games), Patrik Elias's two assists and Martin Brodeur's 113th career shutout spurred New Jersey to an impressive 3-0 win over the Coyotes.

Tonight was a game the Devils badly needed just for team morale if nothing else, coming in off a five-game losing streak and more contreversy when Brian Rolston was waived, not claimed on waivers and then played 17+ minutes tonight - all within the last 36 hours. Just another example of the chaos that's clouded the team since this summer's shenanigans. To his credit though, Rolston handled a tumultuous couple of days in a first-class manner despite the appearance to some (including Jamie Langenbrunner) that he was being singled out for the Devils' struggles.

Whatever Rolston's future holds, at least all was right in Newark for a few hours as the Devils got out to an early lead and never looked back. Kovalchuk got his first of the game and sixth of the season at 5:30 after a nice feed from Danius Zubrus set the big guy up for a slapper from near the left faceoff circle that beat countryman Ilya Bryzgalov . At 13:18, the Devils went into even more rarified air, extending their lead to two when rookie Mark Fayne's shot from the right point found its way in past a screen set by Langenbrunner for the defenseman's first NHL goal, with Elias and Travis Zajac getting the assists. How rare was the Devils' two-goal lead? As Steve Cangelosi pointed out to Zubrus during the first intermission, it was the first time in nine games the Devils had more than a one-goal lead.

After a quiet second period which saw no penalties or goals, the Devils all but put away the game early in the third after back-to-back penalties by the Coyotes gave the Devils fifteen seconds on a five-on-three. Despite our improved power play in recent weeks, normally we're pretty bad with the two-man advantage but I did have the thought before this one that maybe with so little time we'd get one since we didn't have time to overthink. Lo and behold, Kovy scored what was almost a carbon copy goal - only this time it was Zajac feeding him towards the left side for a slapshot, giving the Devils a commanding 3-0 lead and putting a big smile on the talented Russian's face for one of the few times this season.

Sure, Phoenix had their chances and got 29 shots total on Brodeur but finally shaking off the rust that had clearly affected him last weekend, the perennial Vezina winner was in peak form tonight. To their credit, the Coyotes kept going right to the end and even had a power play in the final minute and a half but this time the Devils' defense stiffened and preserved the shutout. Amazingly, this was only the Devils' fifth regulation win in thirty tries (ninth win overall; the other four came in OT and shootouts).

Perhaps the most encouraging signs from the win - besides Brodeur regaining his game and Kovy finally putting a crooked number on the board - were the multi-assist games from Elias and Zajac. Elias has been heating up lately with three goals and three assists in his last five games, leading the team in points and after a nightmarish start of his own, Zajac also has six points in his last five games. Our special teams have been pretty good, going 7-20 on the power play and killing off all nineteen penalties against us. Not to mention the team's finally starting to get healthier. Finnish defenseman Anssi Salmela played his first game of the season tonight and didn't look too bad playing fifteen minutes. Fellow defenseman Mark Fraser and centerman Jacob Josefson are also on the mend and should be back soon.

Whoever's in the lineup Friday against Nashville should only have one thought on their minds, getting two in a row. Don't think about the playoffs, you can't win ten games in one night. Don't think about getting five goals to up your scoring closer to its normal levels...just win, win and win.

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