Brodeur picked up his eighth career shutout vs. Pittsburgh.
Until now, the biggest factor in the Devils’ recent resurgence had been a suddenly potent offense.
On Thursday, Martin Brodeur proved they can still beat opponents by keeping them off the scoreboard, too.
Facing a shorthanded Penguins club that was missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Brodeur was perfect with 23 saves in the Devils’ 2-0 win at Prudential Center.
“I thought we had an unbelievable effort defensively,” Brodeur said. “We scored our two goals, but I thought the energy we had in our zone was the big difference in how they couldn’t generate anything. Give a lot of credit to the guys working really hard defensively.”
The Devils (14-29-3) had tallied 18 goals while taking three of their previous four games. The scoring wasn't quite as plentiful against Pittsburgh's Brent Johnson, but Brodeur helped anchor a strong team effort on defense.
"The defense took over," Brodeur said. "I think the intensity of our players, digging pucks out of the corners and winning battles in our own zone made the difference in why we were successful."
It was the first time this season that both Crosby and Malkin were out of the Penguins’ lineup. In their absence, Pittsburgh seemed to go to a Plan B: bump Brodeur in his crease.
Shutouts are always fun, I've said it in the past, but it's all about winning, especially right now.- Martin Brodeur
Contact from agitators like Max Talbot and Matt Cooke wasn’t enough to rattle Brodeur, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season and extended his NHL record to 114.
One of his best sequences came during the Penguins' lone power play in the third period, when he made a sprawling play to his left to stop Chris Kunitz.
With his first goose egg since Dec. 15, Brodeur led the Devils to their first win in three tries against Pittsburgh this season.
"Shutouts are always fun, I've said it in the past, but it's all about winning, especially right now," Brodeur said. "They'll happen when you play well. Shutouts will happen, guys will commit themselves, and I'm going to make the saves that need to be made to post these shutouts. But it's a matter of playing well. The more often you play well, the more often you'll have chances to win and to have shutouts."
Goals by Brian Rolston and Nick Palmieri in the first period were enough offense to send the Devils to their fourth win in five games (4-0-1). They moved within four points of the 29th-place Islanders, who lost to Washington.
Palmieri (32) celebrates after making it 2-0 midway through first period.
Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t light the lamp, but provided one of the night’s highlights. He broke his stick while attempting a one-timer in the first period, and the shattered bottom half flew high over the safety netting and into the crowd.
“It’s good the fans got it,” Kovalchuk joked. “I'm still trying to sell the game even with no stick.”
As for facing a depleted Penguins team, Kovalchuk said injuries are part of the game.
“We’re missing a couple of guys, too,” he said. “They’re missing big players, but every team has injured guys. They’re still a pretty good team. It was a good game for us."
Jacques Lemaire improved to 5-7-1 since taking over the coaching duties on Dec. 23. He’ll guide his team into Philadelphia for a matinee matchup with the East-leading Flyers on Saturday.
“The guys, they’ve started to have a little more confidence,” Lemaire said. “They’ve started to work harder. Now they believe they can play.”
Rolston, who has two goals and four assists in his last five games, suggested the sky’s the limit for this second-half push.
“As far as we want to take it,” said Rolston. “You have to take it game by game, obviously we can cliché you to death here. But we just keep grinding away and we’re playing good hockey now. We can breathe a little bit right now, and that loosens up our hands maybe a little bit more to start making more plays. Collectively as a team, defensively, that’s the key to our game right now and that’s why we’re winning hockey games.”
Besides being contagious, winning can also have a calming effect on a team’s composure.
“You get a win, and you get another win, you get a chance to just relax a little bit with the puck,” Rolston said.
Brodeur battled physical play in his crease for much of the game. Talbot was slapped with a pair of goalie interference penalties. Later, what looked like a Cooke crosscheck to Brodeur’s mask went unpenalized late in the second.
“They have a couple of lines that like to crash the net,” Brodeur said. “The one on the PK there, [Talbot] just kind of ran into me backwards. Then the second one, [Talbot] was right in my crease, and prevented me from making a save. You play teams that will do that especially when their star players are not playing. They’re going to try to keep it simple and go hard to the net.”
Rolston and Palmieri staked the Devils to a 2-0 lead in the first. The burst began when Patrik Elias gained the blue line and flipped for Rolston’s blast from above the left circle. Rolston’s fourth of the season zipped past Johnson’s stick side at 1:22.
Palmieri cashed in on a miscue by ex-Devil Paul Martin to increase the Devils’ advantage to two. From behind his own net, Martin attempted a pass that missed for Zbynek Michalek. Palmieri jumped on the loose puck, and carried around the right post for a backhander past Johnson’s catching glove at 9:51.
“They were going behind the net, and I heard the guy call for the reverse, so I just stepped around him right when he made the play and [Michalek] was just a little bit too far away,” Palmieri said after notching his third of the year. “I just kind of stepped in between and took it to the net.”
The Devils’ power play went to work late in the first, after Palmieri drew a hooking call on Kunitz with 3:07 left. It would briefly become a two-man advantage after Talbot collided with Brodeur on a shorthanded partial break and received an interference call with 1:16 to go.
A miscue at the blue line between Kovalchuk and Andy Greene allowed Talbot to race down the right side. Greene pressured as Talbot moved in on goal, forcing Talbot to spin as he turned his back and collided with Brodeur on a backhand attempt. That set up nine seconds of a 5-on-3, then 44 seconds of a 5-on-4 to open the second, but the Devils failed to convert.
Talbot took his second goalie interference at 3:28 of the second. New Jersey’s power play went 0-for-4 in the game with four shots.
Coach's quote Lemaire on facing the Penguins without Crosby or Malkin "That is one of the concerns for coaches when they are preparing the team for the game. We stressed that a lot before the game. For the team to realize that, you have to work hard. You can't get beat by a team that is going to come in and just play hard. We felt that we had the talent. We felt that they would come in and play hard. Their defensemen are probably one of the good corps in the NHL. These guys are going to try and get a lot of shots. As a matter of fact, they did get a lot of shots. What it came down to was hard work. You can see in the third when we dropped, they were in our end the whole time."
Sestito fights Talbot Tim Sestito's first NHL fight goes down as a pretty good showing. He dropped with Talbot in the third period and handled himself well. He managed to untangle his right arm from his jersey to land a couple of rights before it was over.
"I don't know if he was looking for it," Sestito said. "Right place, right time."
Sestito said the wait had been long enough.
"I was getting tired of looking at that goose egg," he joked. "Twenty-five games and my agent's been all over me about getting into a scrap."
His younger brother Tom is a tough guy in the Columbus organization.
"I'll have to let my brother know we have a new fighter in the family," he said.