BUFFALO, N.Y. – In need of a win, the New Jersey Devils knew exactly who to turn to.
Martin Brodeur made 24 saves for his 111th NHL shutout, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored 53 seconds into overtime to lift the short-handed Devils to their first win of the season, 1-0 over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Brodeur, who came in with just an .859 save percentage, extended his NHL record for shutouts with his third career blanking of the Sabres. It was also his 23rd career 1-0 win, and it helped give Devils rookie coach John MacLean his first career NHL victory.
After playing with only 15 skaters Monday in a loss to Pittsburgh due to salary cap limitations and injuries to defenceman Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and forward Brian Rolston (groin), the Devils (1-2-1) increased their roster to 16 versus Buffalo—still two shy of a full allotment of players.
Once Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond cleared waivers and was assigned to Albany of the AHL, New Jersey freed up enough cap space to sign gritty forward Adam Mair and put him in the lineup against the Sabres, Mair’s former team.
“We’ve had a lot of changes, we’ve had injuries, and we’ve played with 15 players, and now 16 players,” Brodeur said. “It’s been chaotic a little bit. So for us to finally get one under our belt, now we can start playing our season.”
The Devils’ slow and sluggish start to the season wasn’t lost on MacLean, who was so angry and frustrated at the team’s morning skate that he sent his players off after just 20 minutes.
“It was almost like Mark Messier,” Brodeur joked. “We have to be prepared to play a certain way and act a certain way. He wants us to act like a professional and do what we need to do to get ourselves ready, and he wasn’t happy about what was going on at the morning skate.”
MacLean downplayed his eruption, saying the players took it upon themselves to come out with a clear focus on getting back to playing the type of game that has made the Devils so successful over the years.
New Jersey used stingy defence in the first and third periods to secure the victory, allowing only one shot in the opening 20 minutes, and eight in the third period.
Kovalchuk ripped a slapshot from the right circle that eluded Ryan Miller on the stick side for the winner. Miller made 34 saves for the Sabres (1-2-1), who have lost three straight since a season-opening win at Ottawa.
All three of the losses have come at home, the first time since 1993 the Sabres have lost their first three in Buffalo.
“We’re four games in, and there isn’t anything to freak out about,” Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers said. “We had a lot of chances, we just didn’t put them in.”
On the game winner, New Jersey rookie defenceman Matt Taormina first outbattled Sabres defenceman Andrej Sekera for a loose puck in the right circle, then slid a short pass to Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk then unleashed his blistering slap shot.
“I didn’t like the play with us coming back in the zone,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said of the goal. “We could have at least competed harder.”
Buffalo played without ironman Jason Pominville, whose 336 consecutive games streak ended. Pominville, the team’s third-leading scorer last season, sustained a concussion and gash under his eye after being hit into the boards from behind by Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson in Buffalo’s loss to the Blackhawks on Monday.
Hjalmarsson was given a two-game suspension by the NHL on Wednesday.
NOTES: New Jersey D Henrik Tallinder returned to Buffalo for the first time since leaving the Sabres and signing with the Devils during the off-season. Tallinder played seven full seasons in Buffalo. … Mair played seven seasons with the Sabres before becoming a free agent this summer. … These teams will meet again in 10 days in New Jersey. … The last game Pominville missed was on April 7, 2006, against Philadelphia when he was a healthy scratch. … C Nathan Gerbe replaced Pominville in the lineup. … Volchenkov, D Colin White, and C Travis Zajac were the only Devils players who entered with a positive plus-minus rating. … Taormina’s assist was his first career NHL point.