By Pat Pickens
The New Jersey Devils have not trailed through 120 minutes thus far this year.
They have the ageless wonder in net to thank for that.
Martin Brodeur was the star on Tuesday, as he recorded his 120th career shutout in the Devils’ 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in their home-opener at The Rock.
I hate to say I told you all so, but I predicted goaltending to be a strength this year, and thus far, Brodeur has not let me down. The 40-year-old goalie stopped 24 shots on Tuesday– and has stopped 42 of 43 thus far this year. The Devils have not surrendered an even-strength goal yet.
The Devils’ special teams were much better on Tuesday than they were in Saturday night’s opener on Long Island. New Jersey registered a power-play goal, thanks to David Clarkson. Ilya Kovalchuk’s penalty-shot tally came shorthanded.
Travis Zajac also made it two goals in two games, scoring just 1:07 into the contest.
A participant in our live-chat Saturday night suggested that Clarkson would score 30 goals for the second straight year.
Thus far, “Clarky” is still on pace for 48.
The gritty forward scored what coaches would call a “dirty goal”, when he banked his try off Ruslan Fedotenko at 19:36 of the first. Clarkson was a thorn in Philadelphia’s side all night; he drew penalties, and engaged in a second-period brouhaha with Scott Hartnell, after he freight-trained Kimmo Timonen after the whistle.
Clarkson was vocal about the Devils’ need to defend home-ice, and he spearheaded the charge. Through two games, he has dominated and was the best player on the ice Tuesday, despite nine penalty minutes.
Needless to say, the Devils and Flyers exchanged pleasantries on more than one occasion.
Clarkson picked up the Devils’ first fighting-major of 2013, when he squared off with Wayne Simmonds. Steve Bernier and Brayden Schenn also fought with 32.1 seconds left in regulation.
Clarkson and Hartnell battled in the second, as did Bryce Salvador and Max Talbot in the third period, plus the two sides engaged in a second-period tussle when Simmonds cross-checked Brodeur.
The Flyers appeared to lose their cool in the third; Claude Giroux took two third-period minors, including one on Kovalchuk.
As NBC Sports commentators Brian Engblom and Dave Strader articulated, it’s Devils/Flyers. What would you expect?
Stefan Matteau looked good for the second straight game
The 18-year-old played 10:37, mainly with Jacob Josefson and Bernier and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. In fact, he wrestled with Jakub Voracek midway through the second, after Voracek came after Clarkson.
Matteau also had three shots on net.
Though the Devils outscored Philadelphia 2-0 in the first, the initial period really belonged to the Flyers.
Although they were behind after just 1:07, Philadelphia outshot New Jersey 9-3 in the initial period and had two power plays. Only Brodeur’s stellar saves, his most notable stop came with his blocker on Hartnell at the 11:45 mark, kept the Devils in the lead.
Head coach Pete DeBoer told Engblom midway through the first, “We knew they’d come out strong, it’s a motivated group out there … right now they’re getting all the loose pucks.”
Braydon Coburn took the first of his two foolish penalties, an interference minor at 19:25 on Kovalchuk, which led to Clarkson’s goal.
Brodeur’s best save of the night came on Simmonds midway through the second, when he stacked the pads and stoned Philly’s gritty forward, just moments after Kovalchuk put NJ up by three.
Kovalchuk finished with a goal and an assist.
He now leads the team with three points, just one better than Clarkson and Zajac.
The Russian sniper drew a penalty shot, as he used his speed to generate a breakaway. Timonen hooked him, then Kovalchuk made Philly pay. He started on his forehand, deked to his backhand and roofed the puck over Bryzgalov, just under the crossbar to put the Devils up 3-0.
I called for Kovalchuk to deliver, and thus far he has.
Marek Zidlicky, despite his assist on Clarkson’s goal, had a rough night taking three penalties.
Salvador also had an assist on Zajac’s goal, which boosted the defense’s point total to three.
Zajac’s first-period goal would’ve made Zach Parise proud.
Dainius Zubrus made the initial play, as he circled the net then slid a pass to Salvador at the point. The Devils’ captain blasted a shot that Bryzgalov stopped, but Zajac was all alone in front and deposited the rebound, putting the Devils ahead 1-0.
Arguably the best Devils news of the night came off the ice.
DeBoer told the Devils media during Tuesday’s morning-skate that he expects center Adam Henrique to return in “seven to 10 days.”
The Devils have outscored their opposition 5-1 through two games but could use that extra scoring punch. New Jersey will play only four games between Tuesday and Feb 1, a 10-day span.
No other Atlantic Division foes played on Tuesday night.
Yet, through four days of regular season hockey, the division looks like this:
W L OTL PTS GF GA
2 0 0 4 9 4 PITTSBURGH
2 0 0 4 5 1 NEW JERSEY
1 1 0 2 5 5 NEW YORK ISLANDERS
0 2 0 0 4 9 NEW YORK RANGERS
0 3 0 0 3 11 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Philadelphia is in last place in the entire league, and they have the worst goal-differential in the game to date. Go figure.
Up Next: The Devils will host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Friday night at Prudential Center at 7 p.m.
Pat Pickens is a lifelong Devils-fan and New Jersey native. To pay the bills, he works as a sports reporter for Hearst in Connecticut. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter here.