The New Jersey Devils (6-1-3) head into their afternoon matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-3-0) looking for one thing: revenge.
Just six days ago, the Penguins dominated the Devils, scoring three goals in the third period to defeat the Devils, 5-1. It stands as the Devils worst loss of the season, a wakeup call for a team that hadn’t lost in regulation before that game.
“We know what they’re about,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “They gave us a pretty good lesson in Pittsburgh last week, so we got to take a deep breath here and try to refuel and get ready because it’s four big points, division rival, and we need to play better than we did the last time we played them.”
New Jersey rebounded from that loss, winning three straight games to remain one point behind the Atlantic Division leaders. They get a chance at redemption in the first game of a home-and-home series against the only team that’s beat the Devils in regulation.
The Devils improved in all areas during this three game winning streak, but it’s biggest impact is on the special teams. New Jersey has killed off 19 straight opponent’s powerplay chances, scoring a shorthanded goal during that stretch.
“It’s been a staple here all last year, and we’re playing with that confidence,” DeBoer said. “You’re goaltending has to be good if you’re going to kill off that many. I think Salvador and Volchenkov are outstanding. They really thrive on those penalty killing minutes for us. They set a lot of the tone for us.”
They’re also producing on the power play, going 4-for-11 with the man advantage during the win streak.
“Every game we’re getting better and better,” David Clarkson told Inside Hockey after Thursday night’s win. ”But I think we’re starting to learn it and buy in and getting better every day.”
The Devils special teams led the way in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. The Lightning entered the game with the second-ranked power play in the league, converting on 32.5 percent of its chances. New Jersey held them scoreless on four chances, with Ilya Kovalchuk netting the team’s third shorthanded goal of the season in the second period.
Andy Greene and Patrik Elias scored 5-on-3 powerplay goals in the second period, stretching a one-goal advantage into a three-goal lead to bury the Lightning.
“The 5-on-3, we have to score,” Kovalchuk said. “We were struggling on our first couple of opportunities. The power play is a huge part of the game. Even if you’re not scoring, you want to create those chances to keep the game in the right direction.”
They’ve also improved their play at even-strength, starting to implement a more consistent forecheck despite playing six games in 10 days. That forecheck applied constant pressure in the first period of the win over Tampa Bay, and was a staple of the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
“We had some real good spurts (on the forecheck). They did a good job,” DeBoer said. “Playing six (games) in 10 nights, not a good night to judge your forecheck because of the energy level but I thought we dug deep and got a lot accomplished in that area.”
Martin Brodeur continued his great start to the season, stopping 17 of 19 shots.
The line of David Clarkson, Adam Henrique and Elias will look to continue its hot streak against Pittsburgh. Each player recorded at least a point in Thursday’s win, including another three-point night from Elias (1g, 2a). Henrique scored his third goal in five games, and Clarkson extended his three-game point streak.
Pittsburgh enters the the home-and-home series riding a five-game win streak. The Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals, 5-2, Thursday at the CONSOL Energy Center. Pittsburgh scored five straight goals in the second period to overpower Washington. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each recorded three points in the period. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots for his fifth win of the season.
After the loss a week ago, New Jersey is excited to get their chance at payback.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Kovalchuk said. “We’re one point away from them. It’s a division game. But they’re on top of our conference. It’s a good chance to take that. We’re confident in the way we play and I’m sure it’ll bring a great atmosphere.”