The return of Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t enough to propel the Devils to a victory against the rival New York Rangers.
After he was scratched from the lineup one day earlier, the Russian sniper scored a goal while playing an inspired game on Sunday. But his tally was all the offense the Devils could muster in a 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden.
The Devils (2-6-1), who dominated the third period while furiously trying to tie the contest, have produced 15 goals in nine games this season. This time they ran into a 27-save performance from Henrik Lundqvist, the game’s First Star.
“I think we played a good game, we just can’t score goals right now,” Kovalchuk said. “We need to be a little more simple and get more traffic in front. It seems like all the goalies play their best games against us. We need to get through that together.”
Kovalchuk fired five shots on Lundqvist and led Devils forwards with 22:41 of ice time. He notched his third of the season with 5:52 left in regulation. Matt Corrente blasted the puck on net from the right point, and Dainius Zubrus swept the rebound to the front of the net for Kovalchuk’s tap-in.
“I’m hungry every night when I’m playing, because that’s my job,” said Kovalchuk, when asked if he felt he had something to prove. “We’re all professionals. We all have to realize when we step on that ice, we have to do our best.”
The Devils generated momentum off of the Kovalchuk marker, and wound up outshooting the Rangers, 12-5, in the final frame.
I wish I had an answer because we’d probably start doing it.- Zach Parise
"He was playing with some energy," Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He's as frustrated as anybody with the way things have gone. He wants to do his part to get us back going in the right direction, and he did that scoring a goal again. He has a knack for putting himself in those positions."
But the lack of offensive consistency has the Devils puzzled.
“I think we’re all pretty surprised,” Zach Parise noted. “I wish I had an answer because we’d probably start doing it.”
Said Parise: “We’re all really frustrated with the start we’ve had, the results we’ve had. You’ve got a lot of frustrated guys in here.”
Normally a left wing, Kovalchuk returned to that side Sunday on a line with Langenbrunner and rookie Jacob Josefson. Kovalchuk and Langenbrunner generated a 2-on-1 in the opening two minutes, but couldn’t convert when Kovalchuk’s pass was off the mark. Kovalchuk had started the season on right wing.
"We played hard, we did a lot of things we've been trying to get back into our game," Langenbrunner said. "We battled hard. We created some opportunities, we just didn't finish. It's frustrating, but when you did yourself into a hole with the way we've been playing, it's just what's going to happen. You have to claw your way out. An effort like this is a good start, but we have to start getting results."
The Rangers built a 2-0 lead on goals by Michal Rozsival and Ryan Callahan. The Devils wouldn't have been in striking distance when Kovalchuk made it 2-1 had it not been for some superb goaltending by Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur finished with 31 saves.
Brodeur recorded 31 saves in his eighth straight start against the Rangers. He was under siege in the first period, but preserved a scoreless tie through 20 minutes. Midway through the first, the Devils were being outshot 13-4, courtesy of two Rangers power plays in the frame.
“It’s not something that’s fun to go through,” Brodeur said of the team’s struggles. “We try to work hard and try to get out of this, but it’s been really difficult, especially when you’re not scoring any goals.”
Brodeur has had little margin for error. The Devils have been limited to one goal five times in their last seven contests.
“That makes it even harder because you know games have to be tight,” Brodeur said. “Having three young defensemen, it’s hard to play tight games defensively just because they lack experience. That’s just normal. When you get the support of a few goals, sometimes you don’t get exposed at much.”
With 4:41 left in the first, Brodeur got the shaft of his stick on the ice to stop Brandon Prust’s redirection from in front. Brodeur denied a shorthanded chance when Callahan was left alone in front for a stuff attempt on the Devils' first power play.
Brodeur was brilliant again on the Devils’ second penalty kill, flashing his glove for a save on Michael Del Zotto’s blast from the right point. Later, he alertly slid to his left to fend off Dan Girardi, who crept to the right circle for a one-timer off a Brandon Dubinsky pass from behind the net.
Rozsival opened the scoring at 1:26 of the second. Brodeur got his left shoulder on Ruslan Fedotenko's shot from the left circle, but the rebound came out to Rozsival, who put it home from the point. Callahan made it 2-0 on the power play, redirecting Dubinsky's pass through Brodeur at 12:22. Dubinsky scored into the empty net with one second left.
Langenbrunner looking on bright side "It can’t always all be negative," Langenbrunner said. "Obviously the bottom line for us is to win hockey games. We don’t do that, we’re disappointed. There’s nobody in here with a smile on our face because we put in a good effort tonight. Don’t get me wrong. The importance of us playing good hockey, the result will take care of itself. We’re on a four- or five-game winning streak and lose this one, it’s a different story. You have to start building from somewhere. I think we can take the good out of this game."
Kovalchuk says scratch wasn't a distraction Before the game, head coach John MacLean said the decision to scratch Kovalchuk Saturday was an “internal matter.” After the game, Kovalchuk didn’t feel the move had been a distraction.
“I don’t think so," Kovalchuk said. "It shouldn’t be. A lot of things happen during the season. Everybody gets a healthy scratch once in a while. It’s not a big deal. We just need to stick together and whoever’s on the ice or on the bench, those 20 guys need to take care of business.”
The Devils hope for better luck when they begin a five-game western trip at San Jose on Wednesday.
"It's over and done with, and we move forward," Langenbrunner said. "We've got a big road trip coming up that we have to play good hockey on."
The timing couldn't be better for a change of scenery.
"I think it's going to be a good thing for us," said Langenbrunner. "We'll be able to spend some time together, do a few dinners and get ourselves going all in the same direction. That's going to be important because it's not going to get any easier for us to dig ourselves out of the hole we've put ourselves in."
• The Devils went 0-for-4 on the power play; the Rangers finished 1-for-7. They were 3-2-1 in last year's season series with the Rangers, including a 2-1-0 mark at the Garden.
1 - 0 NYR
2 - 0 NYR
2 - 1 NYR
3 - 1 NYR