The New Jersey Devils needed to make the power play work.
The Pittsburgh Penguins continued to take penalties, giving the Devils chance after chance on with the man advantage. Eventually, New Jersey knew they had to break through.
And they did, scoring two power play goals in the third period to defeat the Penguins, 3-1, this afternoon at the Prudential Center. The win moved New Jersey (7-1-3) into the top spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead Pittsburgh (8-4-0). The win, the Devils fourth in a row, snapped the Penguins five-game winning streak.
The two teams combined for 16 powerplays and 20 minor penalties.
New Jersey failed to score on its first five power play opportunities, struggling with a Penguins penalty kill that aggressively challenged the Devils shooters.
“In the first period, we really struggled to get into the zone,” Ilya Kovalchuk told Inside Hockey. “They were forechecking us real well with their PK, so we made some adjustments. Our powerplay coach (Matt Shaw) showed us what we should do, told us we should be more simple. We started moving in the zone and creating chances.”
Those adjustments paid off in the third period, as Adam Henrique broke a 1-1 tie with his power-play goal at 10:56. Kovalchuk sent a pass to Bobby Butler, who took a shot from the right circle that hit the post. The puck went right to Henrique’s stick, and the Devils center buried his shot from the left circle to break the tie.
That made up for Henrique’s miss at an open net during a second period power play.
“I got a little nervous when I saw it coming off there hot,” he told Inside Hockey. “I owed the guys one there. Luckily enough, I came through in the third.”
Butler scored the Devils second power-play goal of the period, beating Marc-Andre Fleury stick side on a shot from the right circle for his first goal as Devil.
“He came up huge,” Henrique said of Butler. “He’s a shooter. He likes to shoot coming off that wing. He let a couple [of shots] go on my goal, and on my goal he hit the post. He wasn’t going to miss twice from there, that’s for sure.”
Pittsburgh controlled play after the opening faceoff, drawing the first power play of the game just 48 seconds into regulation. Brandon Sutter converted on that chance, tipping home a Simon Despres shot from the point past Martin Brodeur for his third goal of the season.
With the Devils reeling, Krys Barch dropped the gloves with Deryk Engelland. He didn’t win the fight, but Devils coach Pete DeBoer said it helped kickstart his team.
“I thought we were a little sleepy to start,” he said. “He got us emotionally engaged in the game by going out and getting in that scrap. On top of that, he gave us some real good energy shifts.”
The fourth line came through again, pinning Pittsburgh in its own end in the closing minutes of the first period. That shift turned the game in New Jersey’s favor.
“It felt like a long shift,” Butler told Inside Hockey. “We had good pressure, and we just kept keeping it in on them. It definitely helped.”
New Jersey kept up the pressure in the second period, at one point outshooting the Penguins, 11-2. Stefan Matteau capitalized on that momentum, scoring his first career NHL to tie the game at one.
Andy Greene set the rookie up, faking a shot from the point. He sent a pass down to Matteau in the left circle, giving him a wide-open net. Matteau put the puck past a diving Fleury for the goal.
“It just happened so quick,” Matteau told Inside Hockey. “It was a perfect pass by Greene, and I got the shot off quick.”
Brodeur still needed to be sharp, as Pittsburgh pushed back after the goal. He made a left pad save on Evgeni Malkin’s shot from the near post late in period, then helped shut down a Penguins power play without a stick.
The 24 save performance was nothing new for the Devils.
“He was exceptional and solid as usual,” DeBoer said.
Despite playing their ninth game in 16 days, DeBoer liked the way his team responded to the early challenge.
“We’re in the meat of a really tough part of the schedule here against tough teams,” DeBoer said. “You look at our last two weeks. A number of games, and a number of quality teams we’re playing. It’s a grind every day and I really like how we’re coaching, our preparation, keeping our composure and the resiliency of this team. We’ve had stretches where we don’t play our best, but we always bounce back and find a way to hang around and we’re getting rewarded for that.”
The two teams will finish the home-and-home series tomorrow night at the CONSOL Energy Center. DeBoer doesn’t want his team to settle for a split of the series, saying he wants his to team “getting greedy now, trying to get four points and win.”
“Sometimes, there’s a natural reaction to take your foot off the gas winning the front end of a home-and-home,” DeBoer said. “We can’t do that.”
Brodeur played in his 1,200th game tonight, the 93rd player in NHL history to reach that mark. He’s third among active players in games played behind Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks and Jaromir Jagr of the Dallas Stars.
“I’m pretty fortunate to have longevity in my career,” Brodeur said of the achievement. “Twelve-hundred games. If you really stop and think about it, it’s pretty amazing that I’m able to go to that. But again, that’s what I want to do. I want to play games, I want to have fun, want to play hockey. And here I am now.”
Three different Devils recorded their first point of the season – Adam Larsson, Matteau and Butler.
Malkin has six PIM today, the second most on the Penguins. Only Engelland, who fought Barch, had more.