John MacLean wasn’t happy, and he let the team and media know about it.
During the Devils’ morning skate, MacLean saw a listless group of players who were “a little too laissez-faire for a team that hasn’t won a game yet.” So he called the team to center ice and began yelling at them, mixing in profanities. Eventually, he kicked them off the ice, continuing his rant to the media.
MacLean told the media he was looking for “an air of professionalism that we have to be ready to play the game,” and the Devils got the message. The team played their most complete effort of the season and defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 1-0, in overtime at the HSBC Center.
The Devils, as they did for most of the game, controlled the puck throughout the overtime period. Jamie Langenbrunner skated the puck out of his own zone and into the center ice circle. The captain passed the puck to rookie defenseman Matt Taormina, who was streaking into the Sabres’ zone. He carried the puck into the left circle, where he temporarily lost it. Taormina quickly regained the puck and passed it to Ilya Kovalchuk in the middle of the circle. Kovalchuk went to one knee and blasted a shot past the blocker of Ryan Miller and into the back of the net for the game-winning goal.
It was Taormina’s first NHL point and Kovalchuk’s first goal of the season.
Taormina reflected the importance of his first NHL point.
“It’s a great experience,” he said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “Actually to get our first win under our belt is even better. To get Kovy’s first goal, I know there’s been a lot of pressure on him. There’s a lot of pressure on us, the whole team. For him to get that is special.”
Despite their best efforts, the Devils couldn’t get the puck past Miller during the first 60 minutes of play. The Sabres goalie made 15 saves in the first period and continued to turn away chance after chance. Miller kept the game scoreless at 5:10 of the third period, stopping Langenbrunner’s attempt from in front of the crease. Miller finished the game with 34 saves.
Martin Brodeur matched Miller save for save in his 111th career shutout. During a second period in which the Devils were outshot, 15-11, Brodeur made several big saves to keep the game scoreless. Derek Roy beat Andy Greene at 4:51 of the second period, chipping the puck in on Brodeur. He crashed the net and collected his own rebound, and Brodeur had to stack the pads to deny him the chance to give the Sabres a lead.
Brodeur finished with 24 saves.
The Sabres missed an opportunity to take a lead in the first period. Andrej Sekera held the puck at the point, faking a shot to gain more room. He sent a shot through a screen, but it rang off the left post. But after that attempt, the Devils shut down Buffalo, allowing them only sporadic scoring chances throughout the rest of the game.
While he agreed that the tirade helped focus the team, MacLean also believed it helped the players wake up.
“I think they woke themselves up too,” he said to Gulitti. “I’ve always said we have a good hockey team here and we’re going through growing pains early, but they put the effort in for 60 minutes, which is what they were looking for and they did a nice job. It was great from Marty all the way out. They played very well.”
The Devils will go for win number two against the Colorado Avalanche Friday night at the Prudential Center.
The Devils collected three pucks to give away tonight – the game-winning goal puck, given to Taormina for his first NHL point, another game puck, given to MacLean for his first victory as an NHL head coach, and a Sabres puck, which Brodeur collected after the shutout…Buffalo fans cheered Adam Mair and Henrik Tallinder during the pre-game introductions…Devils general manager and president Lou Lamoriello announced left-winger Brian Rolston will undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia and will miss about four to six weeks. He is expected to go on the long-term injured reserve.