With Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed injury) out of the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup on Thursday night, along with Marc-Andre Fleury given the night off, the cards were in the Devils’ hands as they came out on top early in the first period to defeat the Penguins, 2-0.

“They missed some big players,” Ilya Kovalchuk said of the missing dynamos. “But every team’s got injuries right now.”

This win marked Martin Brodeur’s fourth shutout of the season. Out of his 11 wins, 36% resulted in a shutout. Thursday’s win served as his eighth career shutout against the Penguins and the 114th of his career.

“I think the shutouts are always fun,” Brodeur said.  “In the past, it was always about winning.  When you play well shutouts will happen.”

The New Year has proven more promising for the Devils.  After generating only 10 wins in 37 games in 2010 this season, they appear to be turning things around with four wins in nine games in 2011. In 2010, it took them 14 games to generate four wins — and that was when they still had Zach Parise.

Some could say that the turnaround is all thanks to Jacques Lemaire. He’s gotten the team back on track and back to their old winning ways. Some may point to the irony that all of the recent wins came after captain Jamie Langenbrunner was traded to the Dallas Stars, where he has been flourishing like the days of Devils’ old.

During the month of December, the Devils only had two wins in 13 games. They scored only 20 goals while their opponents scored a combined 47 goals against them.

So far in 2011, they’ve scored 27 goals, while their opponents were able to net only 24 goals against them. That is a definite change from one month to the next.

So is it safe to say that the Devils have finally turned things around? While most fans are afraid to jump on the ‘Devils are winning’ bandwagon again after seeing a win and then six straight losses back in 2010, they may be able to confidently say that maybe, just maybe the bad luck has finally left the building.

The team is building more and more confidence with each win. After all they’ve been through so far this season, it’s about time. They’re slowly making their way out of the last spot in the league.

New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0

A magical chemistry has formed between Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias. Just last month, Rolston was pitted as the guy to go after being placed on waivers.  With Langenbrunner gone, Rolston has filled in nicely with six points (two goals and four assists) in the last five games.

Just 1:22 into the first period, Elias jumped on the puck, carried it into the Penguins’ zone, dropped the puck back to Rolston, where he sent a shot toward Brent Johnson and tallied the Devils’ first goal of the evening.

“Playing with Patrik, he’s so good of a playmaker,” Rolston said of his teammate. “I just get him the puck and find him to get open and get shots. I just think we’re supporting each other better. Before, it was like one guy was doing it and the other two guys were kind of watching. The bottom line is that we’re supporting each other.”

Nick Palmieri tallied the next goal at 9:51 to give the Devils their 2-0 win over the Penguins.

In Thursday’s match, the Devils saw four power plays during the match, and were not able to generate anything. Their first priority will be to work on their special teams.

“I think we’re happy about the way our offense is clicking,” Brodeur said. “Except for our power play. It was so-so today. We had a lot of chances to put them away, but we didn’t. Their defense took over.”

“We created a lot of chances,” Kovalchuk said. “But our power play has to be better.”

Tim Sestito dropped the gloves with Maxime Talbot at 8:24 in the final period. This marked the rookie’s first official NHL fight. With a lot of rapid punches between the two, Talbot was the first to go down, making Sestito the victor in his first NHL bout.

Both Talbot and Chris Kunitz were the major penalty offenders for the Penguins. Each one committed the same crime twice. For Kunitz, he was called for hooking. Talbot was called for goaltender interference on Brodeur twice before fighting with Sestito.

Brodeur defended Talbot’s shove in the third period that pushed Brodeur onto his back and into the net.

“He had the puck on him,” he said. “He was just trying to get it out, and he hit me in the chest. He kind of pushed me along the way, but he had the puck in his jersey.  So when he pushed, he kind of hit me and that’s when I did the rebound thing. It got on my arm.”

Another highlight of the Devils game all lies in the power of Ilya Kovalchuk’s sniper shot. He hit the puck so hard, his stick broke in half. One part of the stick flew up into the air, over the glass netting and into the crowd.

But did he see where the stick landed? “Yeah. He just told me. Over the net,” he said with a smirk on his face. “I throw it once.  I got one game suspended, so hopefully I don’t get suspended for this one.”

He held onto the other half of the stick.

As far as how Kovalchuk is flourishing under the new coaching regime, he’s very happy with the change. A lot of it comes from the respect he has for Lemaire, but it also comes with how he is coaching this team.

“He’s on me all the time,” Kovalchuk said. “I like that. He put me on that pressure. You work hard to get that opportunity.”

About The Author

Michelle Kenneth has been with Inside Hockey since 2007 as the beat reporter for the New Jersey Devils. She is also part of the IH team covering the New York Rangers. Since 2007, she's covered the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL All-Stars, NHL Awards, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and the NHL in Europe. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @MichelleKenneth and on her blog: michellekennethhockey.wordpress.com.

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