By Pat Pickens
It seems strange to say, but the New Jersey Devils continue to outdo themselves.
After a lackluster first period, the Devils rolled, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second straight day, 3-1, on Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
David Clarkson potted two goals, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored once as the Devils won their fifth straight, sweeping the home-and-home series with Pittsburgh.
Johan Hedberg, who would make a pretty-good pinch hitter if he played baseball, stopped 23 shots, and has now surrendered just two goals in three games this year. Hedberg is 2-0-1 in three starts and has just a 0.65 goals-against average in three starts.
Pittsburgh managed just a third-period power-play goal by James Neal. The Penguins fell to 8-5-0, dropping their second straight.
A day after potting his first NHL goal, Stefan Matteau also increased his modest point-streak to two with an assist on Kovalchuk’s goal.
The Devils defense is back.
While New Jersey scuffled through a three-game losing streak, it was downright dreadful in its own end. Yet, the Devils ‘D’ — with Adam Larsson in the lineup — looks good.
New Jersey blocked 14 shots and got into Pittsburgh’s passing lanes. I thought Mark Fayne had a terrific game as well for the second straight day.
Marek Zidlicky‘s assist on Clarkson’s power-play goal also enhanced the defense’s point-streak to 12.
Perhaps the defense’s only true flub was Anton Volchenkov‘s delay of game penalty for that silly “puck over the glass” rule.
I mentioned that the Devils were lackluster in the first, and Pete DeBoer shared my sentiments.
New Jersey didn’t gain a shot until the 8:58 of the first and were outshot 10-4. DeBoer, during a second-period interview with NBC Sports Network’s Brian Engblom, admitted– despite Clarkson’s goal– he was happier with their second period.
“I didn’t like our first period at all,” DeBoer told Engblom. “I think now we’re playing more of our game and spending more time in their end.”
Kovalchuk netted his fourth at the end of the interview, beating Vokoun cleanly with a wrist-shot on a two-on-one break.
We are going to have to think of a name for this Adam Henrique–Patrik Elias-Clarkson line.
We’re open to suggestions, but whatever the line is called, one thing is clear: the trio will be playing together.
“Those guys are helping me a lot,” Clarkson told Engblom postgame.
Besides Clarkson’s pair of tallies, Henrique increased his point streak to five– or every game he’s played– when he got an assist on Clarkson’s first-period goal. Elias also had the primary assist on Clarkson’s second-period goal.
Clarkson, by the way, is on pace for 36 goals now.
Stephen Gionta had a rough game.
The junior Gionta took two penalties– including a slash which led to Neal’s goal. He played just 12:07 and survived a scary moment in the second when he lost an edge and slid head-first into the boards.
He was okay though.
Neal’s goal snapped the Devils’ consecutive penalties-killed streak at seven.
The Devils also held Sidney Crosby pointless for the second straight day. Evgeni Malkin had an assist on Neal’s goal.
Pittsburgh connected for a power-play goal against the Devils for the second straight day. If you recall, Brandon Sutter scored early on Saturday afternoon.
Vokoun did not look particularly sharp to me.
He failed to control the rebound on Clarkson’s second-period goal, and he let a few pucks leak through him. Maybe it was a lack of sharpness on his part– he hadn’t played since he beat the Caps last Sunday– and it wasn’t like he was bad, he just wasn’t particularly good.
Ryan Carter and Robert Bortuzzo decided to drop the gloves just four seconds into the game.
The first period featured some significant snarl as well. Deryk Engelland put a big hit on Carter in the first, Andy Greene answered with a check on Malkin, who decided to retaliate with a big hit on Gionta.
Clarkson’s power-play goal extended New Jersey’s man-advantage goal streak to five.
The Devils were 1-for-1 on Sunday and are now 7 for their last 24 (29.1%).
The Devils’ white-hot power play has jumped to 14th-best in the NHL, converting at 20.1 percent.
Atlantic Division Standings
NEW JERSEY 8 1 3 19
PITTSBURGH 8 5 0 16
N.Y. RANGERS 6 5 0 12
PHILADELPHIA 5 6 1 11
N.Y. ISLANDERS 4 6 1 9
The Devils’ 19 points are tops in the East, and second only to Chicago. The Rangers have suddenly won two straight. The Islanders have lost four straight.
Up Next: The Devils return home to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday 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 email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter here.