An impressive Devils streak came to an end Tuesday night in Ottawa.
New Jersey stumbled in its fourth and final meeting of the season with the Senators, ending a run of nine straight victories against the team from Canada’s capital.
Brian Elliott posted 24 saves for his third shutout of the season, fourth of his career, to deal the Devils a 3-0 loss at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa received goals from Alexei Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza, spoiling the Devils’ bid for consecutive sweeps of the season series.
New Jersey’s last loss to the Senators was on Oct. 27, 2007 – the inaugural opening night at Prudential Center.
The ZZ Pops line of Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac tried valiantly to get the Devils on the board in the game’s final minute. Parise crashed the net for a Langenbrunner rebound, but couldn’t sneak one into the Ottawa cage. The Devils’ leading scorer could be seen shaking his head in frustration with 49 seconds to go.
"In our plays tonight, we were very predictable," said head coach Jacques Lemaire. "I felt that offensively we were very easy to play against. All of our plays, there was hesitation on the pass: look at the guy, wait a second and then you make the pass. Well, everyone knows the puck's going there. Against a team that can create a lot and is good with the puck, you can't play that way."
Elliott won his fifth straight for the Senators, who captured their seventh consecutive victory.
Martin Brodeur made his 30th straight start, collecting nine saves on 12 shots. He was relieved for the second time in five games by Yann Danis, who started the third period and turned away all six.
Brodeur made a great stop in the opening five minutes of the game, robbing Michalek’s slot one-timer with a fantastic glove save. But with the Devils already trailing by three goals after two periods, Brodeur was rested for the final 20 minutes. The NHL’s leader in wins (31) and shutouts (7), Brodeur will face Ryan Miller Wednesday night in Buffalo.
"It's not the first time, and it probably won't be the last," Brodeur said of getting the early hook. "It's never fun. You'd like to finish all the games, but I think in this situation for me, playing so much, when games are getting somewhat out of hand, it's time to get a rest."
The Devils return home to host Toronto on Friday, and Los Angeles on Sunday.
Dainius Zubrus returned to the lineup after missing 30 games with a leg injury sustained at Nashville on Nov. 19. He began the contest centering Nick Palmieri and Andrew Peters, who replaced Vladimir Zharkov in the lineup. Zubrus finished the game with two hits in 12:31 of ice time.
Even with Zubrus back, the Devils are still missing the likes of Patrik Elias (concussion symptoms), David Clarkson (leg) and Paul Martin (arm). Without a full lineup, consistency can be elusive.
"We're playing teams with full lineups," Brodeur said. "Everybody's starting to get healthy again and we're still hurting. Some of our top players are not playing. We've survived a long time, but now it seems to show, especially offensively; not having Paul running our power play and Patrik not being around and Clarkie, especially on the power play, being somewhat of a factor.
"Slowly we'll get guys back and everything's going to kick in. Right now, this is what we have to deal with, and we'll deal as well as we can. There's no panic. Today was not a good game and we'll move on."
For the second time in this year's season series, Ottawa took a 2-0 lead. Back on Nov. 7, the Devils managed to rally from a two-goal deficit with three straight tallies against Pascal Leclaire for a 3-2 road triumph. On Tuesday, New Jersey outshot the Senators 24-18, but rarely tested Elliott, who held on for his 15th win.
"We had a few opportunities to score, had some plays around the net, and their goalie came up big and made some big saves," said Langenbrunner. "We didn't do enough, especially early on, and we let them take advantage of some mistakes we were making. We weren't moving the puck quickly, we weren't hard on the puck."
Nick Foligno set up Kovalev’s 13th of the season to open the scoring. Kovalev had time to stop the pass at the right circle and set himself for a wrister between Brodeur’s pads at 9:12, notching his eighth point in the last seven games.
Video replay overturned a Jonathan Cheechoo goal with 2:44 to go in the period. Chris Phillips’ shot from the slot rang off the left post, and Cheechoo got his left skate on the rebound, but missed it with the blade of his stick as it slid over the goal line.
Ottawa recovered the two-goal lead 1:26 later. Michalek got his 18th on a redirection of Chris Campoli’s wrister from the blue line at 18:42.
Ottawa upped the lead to 3-0 with the only goal of the second period. Daniel Alfredsson intercepted an errant pass in the neutral zone and fed Filip Kuba near the top of the left circle. Kuba flipped a pass for Spezza, who was covered by Mike Mottau. The puck went off Mottau’s left skate, then Spezza’s stick blade and past Brodeur’s left pad for Spezza's seventh at 15:47.
1 - 0 OTT
2 - 0 OTT