If head coach Jacques Lemaire felt tonight's game against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins was a "measuring stick" game, well, the New Jersey Devils passed the test with flying colors. NHL.com will have all your info on tonight's 4-2 Devil victory, including recaps, box scores, highlights, and much more. The Devils struggled at times, but capitalized on their chances when the Penguins made mistakes. Once they reached a 3-0 lead, they started to dominate the game. They kept the Penguins superstars in check, with the most damning statistic for Pittsburgh all night: No shots from Evgeni Malkin, and holding Sidney Crosby to just two.
The ultimate story of the night was goaltending. Martin Brodeur was in as fantastic a form as he's been in all season, playing his best game of the docket. He stopped 32 Penguins shots in the game, many of them of pretty good quality, and a mere Alex Goligoski open rebound goal kept him from tying Terry Sawchuk's all-time NHL shutout record. Marc-Andre Fleury, on the other hand, played very poorly, and can certainly be blamed for two of the Devils four goals on suspect plays, got himself taken out of position on a third and was simply schooled by Zach Parise on a fourth.
The Devils didn't play like they had the hammer of Thor in the first period, as it was a prtty even game to through the first half, with the Pens even getting the better of the chances much of the time. The Pens outshot the Devils 12-9 in the first, but New Jersey struck first on the strangest of plays. Some good, low boardwork (something NJD did a ton tonight) created a seemingly minor chance for Mark Fraser, who was getting his first chance in the NHL in a year and a half. He rifled a shot toward the net that bounced up off of Fleury's stick, then off his glove as he tried to grab it and into the net. It was Fraser's first career NHL goal.
The Devils started to play even better as the period went on. They'd killed off a penalty early in the period where they made the Pens power play look fairly feckless, which continued for most of the night. The Pens would hit an 0-for-5 mark with the man power advantage for the game, and I pointed out either on Twitter o in the game thread that the Pittsburgh power play started to look passive and outside-only like it did under former head coach Michel Therrien. It was a terrible night offensively for them, but they did get 33 shots, and Brodeur was on top of his game. He seemed to create chances for the Pens tonight just out of boredom.
The Pens started to play better in the 2nd period, but the Devils were able to take advantage of one of the Penguins few penalties of the game, and one of the more bad luck moments of the New Jersey night. Mike Rupp boarded Jay Pandolfo along the boards, to the point where it looked like a hit from behind. While Rupp went off, the Devils got to work, and the 2nd goal of the night came from two unlikely sources in Nicklas Bergfors and Rod Pelley. Bergfors took a shot and went around behind the net while Pelley went to the net and got a rebound shot that skittered through Fleury. Bergfors caught the rebound and put it home and made it 2-0 on Bergfors' 2nd goal of the year. It was a power play goal, as NJ went 1-for-2 on the man advantage tonight.
From there, the Devils seemed to smell the blood, and started to keep the Penguins down. The 2nd was the only period in which the Devils outshot the Penguins, 12-11. As for Jay Pandolfo, he never returned to game, being diagnosed with the infamous "upper body injury". We'll have to see where it goes from here, as the Devils have three days off and two key injuries to get healthy (Paul Martin left the game under much more mysterious circumstances that were very unsure of). Losing Pandolfo and especially Martin would be a huge problem for the Devils.
UPDATE: It appears Martin's forearm may be broken, and Pandolfo's shoulder popped out, and both may be out a while. If true, this certainly puts a damper on the Devils biggest win of the year.
The Devils only had five shots in the 3rd period to the Penguins ten, but they managed to capitalize on two of their shots. Right out of the gate in the third. The Devils had to makeshift lines with Pandolfo missing the rest of this game. One of the combinations Lemaire came up with was Zajac and Parise with David Clarkson. Another example of great low boardwork by Clarkson and Parise, and then Clarkson being jammed into the goaltender Fleury by Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik, and it left Travis Zajac alone with a pretty empty net, which he made no mistake on and it was 3-0.
Much to the Devils fans chagrin, the Pens broke Marty Brodeur's shutout bid at 9:26 of the 3rd, when a Pascal Dupuis shot was stopped by Brodeur, and a big rebound left Alex Goligoski, who was the best Penguin on the ice tonight, who ripped it home and made it 3-1. If there were ever a night Marty deserved to get the record-tying shutout, it was this. But sometimes it just isn't to be.
The Devils got the three-goal lead back on what turned out to be the prettiest goal of the night. This Clarkson-Zajac-Parise line got on quite well in their short time together, and Zajac and Clarkson's work in the zone created space for Zach to the point where he was just all alone in front. He waited, waited, waited out Fleury and uncorked a sick backhand into the twine to make it 4-1. Other than the Martin injury, there was little else newsworthy about the final few minutes of the game.
This was easily the Devils most outright impressive win of the season so far. They move to 6-3-0 on the season, tied for 5th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Rangers and five behind the Penguins in the Atlantic Division. The Pens lose for only the second time this season, at 9-2-0. The Devils return home to face the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, and you certainly wish that they could play again in 10 minutes to keep this great momentum going.