Kovalchuk notched his first two-goal game as a Devil, and Brodeur made 29 saves for career shutout No. 113 in Wednesday’s 3-0 triumph over visiting Phoenix.
The Devils (9-19-2) snapped their five-game losing skid and picked up their first home victory in their last three tries at Prudential Center.
Burdened by bad starts in their previous two home games, the Devils took it to the Coyotes right from the drop of the puck. Kovalchuk drew first blood and Mark Fayne’s first career goal had New Jersey ahead 2-0 after 20 minutes.
“I thought we had good energy,” said head coach John MacLean. “I thought we were on them right away. We had a great start and it all carried over from there.”
Kovalchuk opened the scoring on a 2-on-1, one-timing a Dainius Zubrus pass by Ilya Bryzgalov at 5:30 of the first. Zubrus started the play by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone and rushing the puck into Phoenix territory.
Kovalchuk added his second of the game, seventh of the season on a two-man advantage in the third. Travis Zajac fed him for a long blast through Bryzgalov and the Devils’ seventh power-play tally in five games (7-for-20). Zajac and Patrik Elias each had two assists.
I thought we were on them right away. We had a great start and it all carried over from there.- John MacLean
“We were on top of our game, definitely,” Kovalchuk said. “We didn’t give them much and we made them turn the puck over, that’s how we got our goal. Marty he made great saves in the second and third, and he was solid. You could tell he felt comfortable and he gave us a lot of confidence.”
Kovalchuk’s offense is coming to a full boil with three goals, three assists in his last five games. The two-time 50-goal scorer, who was acquired last February before re-signing this summer, has waited a while for a night like Wednesday.
“It took, I don’t know, 61 games to get a two-goal game?” Kovalchuk said. “It’s a long time, but I’ll take that. Hopefully it’s going to be more often.
Brodeur saved his finest work for the final frame. He alertly turned away Sami Lepisto’s redirected point shot 90 seconds in, and dived to his left to deny Kyle Turris’ chance at a rebound off the endboards at 2:23 He got help from the left post when Martin Hanzal’s backhander dinged the iron with 11:27 to go.
Rookie d-man Mark Fayne netted his first NHL goal.
Brodeur would ice his third shutout of the season, and first since Oct. 21 in Montreal. He missed two games after bruising his right elbow in Chicago on Nov. 3, then was forced to miss another eight after aggravating the injury on Nov. 18.
He felt as though he’s shaken off the rust from that layoff.
“You need to play,” Brodeur said after his first win since Nov. 12. “It’s one thing when your team plays super well in front of you and sometimes that rust, you don’t really see it much. But when the team’s not playing well, sometimes you get exposed a little more. That’s what happened in the first two games (back) for me. Now it’s been a few practices. We had good upbeat practices this week and it’s nice to play like that today.”
The Devils had to finish the game shorthanded after David Clarkson’s minor for crosschecking with 1:52 to go. But the penalty kill finished 3-for-3 on the night and has not been scored upon in 19 straight opportunities.
Brodeur was a big reason for that against Phoenix.
"Marty was great,” MacLean said. “He made the saves there when we needed them. We got him a couple of goals, he was able to make a couple of big saves for us and keep us with that lead. Then I thought we took the game over again."
Kovalchuk’s sixth of the year extended his points streak to three games (2g-3a) and got the Devils off on the right foot in the first period.
“It goes with scoring first,” Brodeur said. “We didn’t have time to tell ourselves, 'Here we go again,' for a change. We just moved forward. We looked ahead all game long. We had a two-goal lead after the first period, played really well with it.”
MacLean was pleased to see Kovalchuk contributing.
"It's good to see him shooting, putting the puck there, guys getting him the puck for him to use his shot," MacLean said.
The Devils continued a terrific opening 20 minutes by doubling their lead with 6:42 to go. Fayne slapped a rolling puck from the right point through the screen of Jamie Langenbrunner screen. Originally credited to the captain, the scoring change gave Fayne his first NHL point in his 10th career game.
Fayne wasn’t sure at first if Langenbrunner had gotten a piece of it. He later received the milestone puck from Langenbrunner.
“I had no idea,” said the rookie blueliner. “I just tried to get it to the net. I saw two guys there, so I wasn’t sure if anybody hit it.”
First goals aren’t always pretty, but this one was just the way Fayne envisioned it.
“This was great,” he said. “I know I’m not going to get too many chances down low, so I always kind of imagined it to be a point shot. It’s pretty spot-on.”
The Devils missed a chance to add to what was already a 3-0 lead when Hanzal took a double-minor for high-sticking Jason Arnott at 12:28 of the third.
Salmela returns Anssi Salmela's long road back from offseason knee surgery finally ended Wednesday when he played in his first game since March 13. He took 20 shifts for 14:57 of ice time and blocked a shot.
"It was, I can't say easy, but we played well," Salmela said.Forwards helped us a lot; it was easy to play defense. Then Marty made those big saves. Thanks to him, it was nice to come back. A shutout, defense always feels good after that."
So was his return the key to the shutout?
"Yeah, why not?" he said with a smile.
Elias extended his points streak to three games (2g-2a) and now has seven points in his last six games (3g-4a). … Zajac has four assists on his three-game points streak and 1g-5a in his last five games. … The Devils will host their annual Toys for Tots Toy Drive this Friday, when Nashville visits the Rock for a 7 p.m. start.
1 - 0 NJD