Martin Brodeur has seen his share of players return to the New Jersey Devils (8-2-3) during his 19-year career. When the Devils re-acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Devils goalie was pleasantly surprised.
“It cost us two players. He could have just stayed,” Brodeur said laughing to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “I think it’s great. I was surprised that he left so fast. Free agency, I think it was not even three minutes in and he signed in Winnipeg, so I was like, ‘That’s too bad.’ I think when joined us last year it made a big difference as far our depth and the size and how to handle us and some of the tough games with his big body and his presence. He seemed to enjoy himself when he was here. Hopefully, he’s happy to be back. I know we’re happy to have him back.”
Ponikarvosky will make his season debut with New Jersey tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers (6-7-1) at the Prudential Center.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said he’s still undecided on who Ponikarovsky will skate with tonight.
“There’s obviously a nice comfort level there when you can add a player that has been in the program before, knows the systems,” DeBoer told Gulitti. “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.”
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello acquired Ponikarovsky from Winnipeg earlier this week, sending the Jets a fourth round draft pick in 2014 and a 2013 seventh round draft pick. Lamoriello wanted to add a tall, physical forward after losing Dainius Zubrus for the next four to six weeks. He underwent wrist surgery yesterday and may return in late March.
“It will be exciting to have him back here,” center Adam Henrique told Gulitti. “He came in last year and played great for us. He’s a big guy, a power forward handling the puck down low. And he’s a great guy in the dressing room.”
Ponikarovsky didn’t expect the trade.
“I was surprised and excited in the same time,” he told Gulitti after the trade. “I know the team, I know the way they play and I think a lot of things and a lot of things that were done in the past kind of suits me. It’s one of those things that I can’t really control the trade and other things, but the only thing I can do is just come out and play the way I played before.””
New Jersey is looking for their second win over the rival Flyers. The Devils blanked Philadelphia, 3-0, in its home opener on January 22. New Jersey scored twice on three shots in the first period, with Travis Zajac and David Clarkson putting the Devils ahead by two after the first period. Ilya Kovalchuk added a shorthanded goal in the second period, converting on a penalty shot to stretch the lead to 3-0.
Brodeur held Philadelphia off the scoreboard, stopping 26 shots. The Devils goalie, in net tonight, is 46-30-9 with a 2.44 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 86 career appearances against Philadelphia.
Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 21 of 24 shots in the loss to New Jersey. The Flyers goalie is 4-2-0 with a 1.54 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and two shutouts against the Devils in the regular season. In the playoffs, Bryzgalov went 1-3-1 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
The Devils enter tonight looking to rebound from a 4-2 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday at the Prudential Center. Carolina beat New Jersey at its own game, using an aggressive forecheck and creating turnovers to end the Devils five-game win streak. Jiri Tlusty scored two goals in the third period, including the game-winner. Ryan Carter and Kovalchuk scored for New Jersey, who suffered their first regulation loss at home.
Philadelphia will play its third game of a six-game road trip. The Flyers are 1-1-0 on the trip, defeating the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, Tuesday night at the MTS Centre. Tye McGinn scored the game-winning goal in the third period, his third goal in just 11 games. Brayden Schenn and Kimmo Timonen also scored for Philadelphia, who won for just the second time in eight road game. Bryzgalov finished with 24 saves.
The Flyers have been hit hard with injuries this season. Entering tonight, Philadelphia is missing six players from its opening night roster. Sean Couturier and Nicklas Grossman, who missed Tuesday’s win over the Jets, are both probable for tonight’s game.
After finishing as one of the top offensive teams last season, Philadelphia enters tonight 19th in the league with 34 goals scored. They rank near the bottom of the league in goals allowed, with 40 in just 14 games.
Ponikarovsky was crucial to the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, scoring the game-winning goal to defeat the Flyers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. DeBoer admitted losing Ponikarovsky was tough, and he’s excited to have him back in the mix.
“As an organization when we had our exit meetings last year at the end of the year, he was a guy that we felt was a key part of our run,” DeBoer told Gulitti. “Free agency brings all kinds of different issues and surprises, so it was disappointing when he didn’t come back, but great to have him back now.”