PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The New Jersey Devils are not worried when they have to play short-handed.
Adam Henrique’s short-handed goal turned the momentum, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainus Zubrus also scored and the Devils handed the Pittsburgh Penguins their fourth consecutive loss, 3-1 on Saturday night.
New Jersey did not allow a goal on either of Pittsburgh’s power plays to improve the league’s best penalty kill to 91.2 per cent this season. Henrique’s goal was the Devils’ NHL-high ninth while short-handed.
After having played exactly half its schedule, New Jersey has been outscored only 10-7 while playing 4 on 5. It’s been outscored by a much wider margin (83-70) playing 5 on 5.
“(Short-handed goals) have been a weapon for us all year, thankfully,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “Our penalty killing has been great and we’ve found a way to score short-handed goals. It’s been a big part of our success this year.”
Kovalchuk and Henrique each added an assist, Zach Parise had two assists and Martin Brodeur made 41 saves for the Devils, who beat the Penguins for the second time in eight days and moved past them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Evgeni Malkin scored for Pittsburgh. One month ago, the Penguins were in first place in the conference and the Devils were 12th. New Jersey has climbed to fifth, and Pittsburgh fell to eighth when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat Detroit on Saturday.
“There’s so much parity in the league right now,” Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “You can play well, but with the way the standings are right now, a team can really outshoot you bad, but as long as you win, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Penguins also have outshot each of their past four opponents, including a 42-27 edge Saturday.
Pittsburgh has scored a total of five goals in losing its past four—all to Atlantic Division opponents. It’s the Penguins’ longest losing streak in more than two years.
For the third time during their skid, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead during the opening six minutes only to lose it. Pittsburgh was 14-3-3 when scoring first before the losing streak began Dec. 29.
Malkin scored 4:48 into the game on a one-timed slap shot from the point, his first goal since the December NHL player of the month had a hat trick Dec. 17.
But that was the only goal that Brodeur allowed in improving to 44-25-5 against Pittsburgh.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who grew up in Quebec idolizing Brodeur, made 24 saves in a losing effort appearing in his 400th game.
Fleury had a shutout going through 28 minutes, but the Devils had three breakaways on Fleury during a Penguins’ power play midway through the second—the second of which resulting in Henrique’s 12th goal of the season.
Fleury stopped the rookie’s initial shot, but before he could cover the puck, Henrique poked it loose and swatted it into the net. Officials did not award the goal until after a video review.
Henrique’s third short-handed goal of the season tied him with Parise for second in the league.
“It’s a big boost, and it turns the tide in games a lot when you’re able to do that,” Brodeur said. “We’ve played really well killing penalties this season and it’s important that we keep doing that, but I think the plus is that it changes the momentum of the game when you score a goal like that.”
Less than three minutes later, Kovalchuk scored his 15th on a similar shot from a similar spot on the ice as Malkin.
Zubrus added a power-play tally, his 12th, 1:28 into the third.
Already without captain Sidney Crosby as he deals with his concussion, Pittsburgh was down another centre.
Jordan Staal was injured as a result of a knee-to-knee hit from the Rangers’ Mike Rupp in a loss on Friday. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the severity of the injury had yet to be determined.
Pittsburgh was without five regulars Saturday and has lost 210 man-games to injury this season.
“We’ve had our share this year, definitely, but it happens to other teams too,” Fleury said. “You’ve got to find a way to battle through it and as a team play well and get wins and get points.”
Notes: RW Nick Palmieri played 7:17 for the Devils after being recalled from Albany of the AHL earlier in the day. The club placed D Anton Volchenkov on injured reserve due to a lower body strain. … Penguins C Dustin Jeffrey took part in the optional morning skate, cleared to take to the ice with his teammates for the first time since he sustained a knee injury on Nov. 3. … The most recent time the Penguins had endured even a three-game skid was losing five consecutive Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010. … Despite losing two straight earlier this week, New Jersey is 11-4-1 in its past 16. … Parise has five points in his past three games.