The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Prudential Center Saturday as the hottest team in the East.
But they left New Jersey as frozen as the rest of the region.
Thanks to its suddenly hot power-play, the New Jersey Devils improved to 7-1-3 with a 3-1 win over the Pens at sold out Prudential Center.
Stefan Matteau potted his first NHL goal, and Bobby Butler scored his first as a Devil. Butler added an assist on Adam Henrique‘s third-period power-play goal, and Andy Greene and Ilya Kovalchuk each had two assists.
The Devils held Pittsburgh’s potent offense to just one goal– a power-play goal by Brendan Sutter just 1:23 into the game.
Though he did not earn a star, it could be argued that New Jersey’s most valuable player Saturday was Krystofer Barch.
The Devils’ tough-guy buzzed around the ice in his 3:52. But it was his first-period fight with Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland that both sparked New Jersey and will earn him points in the Devils’ dressing room. Engelland spent much of the first period trying to pick a fight with David Clarkson, and Barch stepped in to take the scrap.
Butler was great– even before recording his two third-period points. Jacob Josefson only played 12:14, but he was good too.
Butler suffered an unfortunate injury when Kovalchuk’s shot hit him in the leg in the third.
Remember the 2010-11 season where it seemed like the Devils lost nearly every game in the third period?
This year it feels like they’re winning every third period.
Though the Devils have only outscored their opposition 12-11 in the third this year, in their current four-game winning streak, they’ve outscored the Islanders, Rangers, Lightning and Penguins 8-2.
The Devils’ man-advantage clicked for a pair of third-period power-play goals, with Henrique’s at 10:56 breaking a 1-1 tie. Butler’s shot hit the post, but Henrique was johnny-on-the-spot, beating Marc-Andre Fleury.
New Jersey was 2-for-7 on its power-play on Saturday.
The Devils have scored two power-play goals in each of the last two games and are beginning to frustrate their opponents late in games. Pittsburgh took six third-period penalties, with Evgeni Malkin earning two of his three minors in that third period.
The Devils frustrated Tampa Bay during the third period on Thursday too. Maybe this is a trend?
New Jersey frustrated both Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
The dynamic duo was pointless despite 11 combined shots on goal. Martin Brodeur also stoned Malkin late in the game, with a brilliant glove save in the waning seconds of the contest.
The Penguins’ five-game win streak was snapped, as they fell to 8-4-0.
Malkin also authored one of the wildest stretches late in the second, when he nearly beat Brodeur from center-ice. Brodeur went to retrieve his errant stick in the corner, and Malkin whipped a shot from far out that hit the post, hit Brodeur’s skate, then hit the post again.
The play was whistled on an offsides, so it wouldn’t have counted.
Matteau’s dad Stephane, is notorious among Devils fans for his series-winning goal in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.
Yet, it appears Stefan may score some goals in the National Hockey League too.
His was a goal-scorer’s goal, which put New Jersey on the board at 16:31 of the second. Matteau took a stellar cross-ice pass from Greene, settled the puck to his forehand and beat Fleury.
“It was a great pass by (Greene),” Matteau told MSG-Plus’ Deb Placey. “I went to the net and had my stick down, and I got lucky.”
A week ago, we were unsure whether Stefan would stay up or be recalled back to juniors. He’s grown in leaps in just seven games in New Jersey and appears to finally be getting comfortable.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Matteau told Placey. “It’s definitely one of the best of my career so far.”
Looks like the Devils made the right choice about keeping him up.
Kovalchuk played a game-high 30:01 Saturday.
Keep in mind, he’s a forward.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer plays Kovalchuk shorthanded, power-play and even strength. Kovalchuk, even without his two assists, had an eventful game. He now has points in consecutive games after his four-game pointless drought.
Seems like he’s earning his money.
The Devils’ defense was outstanding again Saturday.
Forget that Greene had two assists, and that Adam Larsson had one as well, New Jersey is finally starting to play tough in its own end. Even Marek Zidlicky, who I’ve been quite hard on, was great Saturday– both offensively and in his own end.
Bryce Salvador blocked a team-high two shots and was his typical solid self.
It appeared as if the snow and the early start time may have wreaked havoc with the Devils again.
Pittsburgh was better for the first five minutes, with Malkin drawing a penalty on Clarkson and Sutter’s re-direction goal that gave the Pens the lead.
New Jersey killed the subsequent five Pittsburgh power plays.
The Devils are now the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, with 17 points.
Only the Chicago Blackhawks have more points overall.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic:
Philadelphia (5-6-1) 4, Carolina (5-4-1) 3 (OT)
Buffalo (5-6-1) 3, N.Y. Islanders (4-6-1) 2
Up Next: The Devils trek to the Steel City to close the home-and-home with Pittsburgh on Sunday at 7:30 at CONSOL Energy Center.
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.