The New Jersey Devils never wanted to lose Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The right wing was a casualty of free agency after last season, leaving the Devils to sign with the Winnipeg Jets. New Jersey, focused on re-signing Zach Parise, lost a key member of the team that made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
When New Jersey re-acquired him on February 13 for two draft picks, it was a welcome sight for Devils head coach Pete DeBoer.
“There’s obviously a nice comfort level there when you can add a player that has been in the program before, knows the systems,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record a day after the trade. “You know what he’s about. He knows the expectations. So, I’m obviously very happy and excited to get him back in here in the lineup.”
Ponikarovsky will face his former team as the Devils face the Winnipeg Jets today at the Prudential Center. It’s the first game of a home-and-home series with the Jets.
New Jersey returns home after two consecutive road games against the Washington Capitals. The Devils split the two games, losing 5-1 yesterday at the Verizon Center. Alex Ovechkin led Washington, finishing with four points to snap a five-game losing streak against New Jersey. He recorded his first hat trick since 2011, leading the charge in a four-goal third period.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the lone goal for New Jersey, who dropped to 2-2-1 in the first of back-to-back games. The right wing has goals in two straight games and points in seven of his last eight contests.
Winnipeg enters the game two games under NHL-.500 yet only two points out of first place in the Southeast Division. The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Jets, 5-3, yesterday in Philadelphia. Winnipeg held a 3-2 lead in the second period, but allowed the Flyers to score three unanswered goals over the final 35 minutes for the come from behind win. Dustin Byfuglien led Winnipeg with two points (2a). Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen and Alex Burmistrov scored for the Jets, who have lost four of its last six games.
Martin Brodeur will start for New Jersey. He won all three decisions against Winnipeg last season, and is 25-8-5 with three ties, a 2.10 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in his career against the Jets. He’s also shut them out seven times.
Andrew Ladd leads Winnipeg into the game as the team’s leader in both points (16) and goals (9). Injured defenseman Tobias Enstrom leads the Jets with nine assists. In 14 starts this season, Ondrej Pavelec is 5-8-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
This is the first of three meetings between Winnipeg and New Jersey this season. Last year, the Devils won three of four games against the Jets, including both at the Prudential Center. Here’s a look at last season’s matchup:
November 5, 2011: Devils – 3, Jets – 2 (OT) @ Prudential Center
The first meeting between the two teams proved to be a career night for Adam Henrique. The Devils center recorded the first multi-goal game of his career, helping New Jersey win the first of four games against Winnipeg. Henrique and Patrik Elias scored in the second period, giving the Devils a 2-0 lead after two periods. Winnipeg would respond, though, with Mark Flood and Jim Slater tying the game in the third period. Henrique made history in the overtime session, scoring the game-winning goal just 1:28 into the extra session.
Brodeur stopped 21 shots for the win. Pavelec made 25 saves in the loss.
December 3, 2011: Jets – 4, Devils – 2 @ MTS Centre
Winnipeg won its only game of the season series in the Devils first ever trip to the MTS Centre. Kane and Henrique traded goals in the first period. The teams once again traded goals in the middle period, with Elias and Burmistrov sending the game to the third period tied, 2-2. Winnipeg pulled away in the final period, with goals from Mark Stuart and Kane giving the Jets the win.
Hedberg, in his first start against the Jets, stopped just 16 shots. Pavelec rebounded from the loss in the first meeting, making 23 saves.
January 14, 2012: Devils – 2, Jets – 1 @ MTS Centre
New Jersey and Winnipeg finished the season series with two games in three nights, starting at the MTS Centre. The Devils earned their first win in Winnipeg, a come from behind victory. Ladd gave the Jets a 1-0 lead in the first period. That would stand until the third period, when Kurtis Foster scored his first goal as a Devil to tie the game. Elias broke the tie, giving New Jersey a one-goal lead at 12:43 of the final period.
Brodeur stopped 22 of 23 shots in the win. Pavelec made 23 saves in the loss.
January 17, 2012: Devils – 5, Jets – 1 @ Prudential Center
New Jersey would end the season series with a blowout win on home ice. Kovalchuk finished with two goals and Elias collected three points (1g, 2a) as the Devils ran out to a 4-0 lead before the midway point of the second period. David Clarkson and Petr Sykora also added goals for New Jersey. Enstrom was the only Jets skater to score.
Brodeur won his third straight start against Winnipeg with a 20-save performance. Chris Mason, making his first start, stopped 11 of 15 shots. He was replaced by Pavelec, who made four saves in relief.