NEWARK, NJ – “Things can be accomplished if your team has success,” New Jersey Devils’ Head Coach Brent Sutter said after Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Sutter could have been referring to a few different things happening in the Devils organization.
The win over Phoenix marked a team-record ninth straight home win, which comes after the team has clinched its 17th straight winning season and 12th straight 40-win season.
New Jersey is in second place in the Eastern Conference with 91 points, and has 15 more games to reach the 100 point plateau.
Individually, Martin Brodeur is one win away from tying the all-time record for career wins, making 26 saves against the Coyotes for his 550th career victory.
Zach Parise notched his 40th goal of the season 18 seconds into the game, giving the league’s second-leading goal scorer a 40-goal, 40-assist season.
All four lines scored against the Coyotes, and the defense is a collective +25 over the last seven games.
Sutter was not kidding when he said that “things” can be accomplished.
Standing in the path of the storming Devils were the extremely young Phoenix Coyotes.
To put in perspective how young the Coyotes are, the team’s average age is 25.68, with Ken Klee (37), Shane Doan (32), Steven Reinprecht (32) and Ed Jovanovski (32) being the team’s elder statesmen.
On the Devils, the age of 32 would make you a junior senator.
New Jersey used that experience to control the puck and the game from the beginning.
With the early 1-0 lead, defenseman Johnny Oduya pushed the puck up the right wing to John Madden at 2:56. Madden stuck his stick out and tipped the past goaltender Josh Tordjman to extend the lead.
“I got pretty lucky. Johnny Oduya made a great play to get us on net. I was going hard to the net, I actually thought their goalie was going to poke-check the puck before I got there so I stuck my stick out hoping I would beat him to it and I found the lane on that shot and I was pretty lucky,” Madden explained.
Phoenix made things interesting in the first period when Dainius Zubrus was called for a double-minor high sticking penalty when his stick caught Jovanovski in the mouth at 8:58.
Less than a minute later, Devils’ defenseman Colin White attempted to clear the puck out of the New Jersey zone with his skate, but Scottie Upshall took the puck away and fired past Brodeur, who was still recovering from stopping a previous shot.
The score remained 2-1 through the end of the first period, despite the Devils out shooting the Coyotes 16-5.
“It helps when guys are scoring goals and you don’t have to worry about the next goal being maybe a game-changer,” Brodeur said.
The Devils used the middle of the second period to insure their lead and remove any pressure from their goaltender.
Zubrus fired a one-timer from the right circle off of a backwards pass from Brendan Shanahan. Tordjman did not have a chance.
“Once Shanny got it, he cycled it quickly, and he put it on his backhand with a lot of guys around him. I bounced off and he read what I was going to do and put it right on my tape, so it was an awesome play by him,” Zubrus said.
Turnovers were key to New Jersey’s control of the game. The Devils took the puck away 11 times from the Coyotes, using the puck control to get a head start on the offense.
At 13:03, Brian Gionta and Patrick Elias forced an odd-man rush, and Gionta on the left side passed the puck through the wide open middle of the ice to Elias on the right. Elias fired a wrister that Tordjman initially stopped, but the puck took a bounce and trickled into the net.
Sutter had switched up his second and third lines during the second period of Tuesday’s game against Calgary, moving Zubrus to the third line with Shanahan and David Clarkson and bringing Brian Rolston up to the third line to center Gionta and Elias.
Another recent development in the Devils game plan has been using Rolston at the point for one of the power play lines instead of a defenseman. That move paid off for New Jersey’s fifth and final goal of the game.
Upshall was penalized for hooking at 3:39 in the third period, and at 4:41 Dmitri Kalinin put the puck over the glass and was called for a delay of game penalty, giving New Jersey a 5-on-3 situation for 55 seconds.
It only took 18 seconds for Rolston to fire a shot from the left point that went on net. Travis Zajac was ready on the opposite side and pushed in the rebound for his 19th goal of the season.
With the game in hand, the Coyotes got frustrated and began to instigate the Devils.
Clarkson crashed the Phoenix net with only six minutes to go, and the Coyotes took exception, shoving Clarkson around after the whistle. But it was Clarkson who ended up in the penalty box for roughing.
Immediately after serving his time, Clarkson got on the ice and found Brandon Prust, who had already fought Bryce Salvador in the second period, and began an altercation. Clarkson got in the majority of blows on Prust, and once the two were separated, they immediately reported to their respective locker rooms to serve their five minute penalties.
The Coyotes seemed to be invigorated by their teammates’ boxing match, and Steven Reinprecht tried to make the score more respectable at 17:52 by putting the puck past Brodeur.
But the comeback attempt was thwarted, and the Devils did reach nine straight wins at home, the longest current streak in the league.
“We certainly have been a focused group here through this. I still think it’s a very good accomplishment to do what we’ve done, but we’re not patting ourselves on the back. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played here. We want to be a good team down the stretch,” Sutter said.
The Devils go on the road this weekend to face the Montreal Canadiens, Brodeur’s hometown team, on Saturday. If New Jersey wins with Brodeur in net, he will tie Patrick Roy’s career win record.
New Jersey then returns to the Prudential Center for a St. Patrick’s Day game with the Chicago Blackhawks, a possibility for Brodeur to make history at home.
If Brodeur does take the record on Tuesday, they may have to switch the holiday to “St. Marty’s Day.”