PITTSBURGH – One of the Atlantic Division’s two top teams from last season knew it would come out of a slide in this game. One breakout goal meant it was the New Jersey Devils who got that badly needed victory rather than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Patrik Elias ended an 11-game slump without a goal exactly when New Jersey needed him to, scoring with 5½ minutes remaining as the Devils couldn’t hold a two-goal lead but came back to beat the still-slumping Penguins 3-2 Monday night.
Jarkko Ruutu briefly left Elias undefended in the Devils’ end, allowing Elias to take the lead on a 3-on-2 break after New Jersey picked off Georges Laraque’s pass. Elias beat goalie Dany Sabourin cleanly off Brian Gionta’s cross-ice pass as Sergei Brylin cut down the middle, forcing Sabourin to defend against two potential shooters.
Elias’ goal was his third and his first since he scored twice against Atlanta on Oct. 13.
“They made something happen on that 3-on-2 and that’s what you need them to do,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “It’s a big goal obviously and it’s good to see Elias score. Hopefully this will give him some confidence.”
The Devils, division champions last season, are 7-8-2 and had dropped into last place in the Atlantic by losing three of four overall and five in a row on the road. Now the Penguins are last with a 7-10-1 record, a season after winning 47 games during the second-best campaign in franchise history.
“It’s easy to look at the way things have gone the last few games and be critical and be negative, but we probably played our best game in the last few,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We deserved to win it, but it didn’t happen.”
Despite goals by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins lost their fourth in a row and sixth in seven games, and their fourth in a row at home. They held New Jersey to one goal in six power play chances but, as usual, their production was limited to two players.
“We had our chances. We pressed in the third and made a mistake and they put it in our net,” Crosby said. “I know you have to work for your breaks, but sometimes that happens and it’s tough. … I thought we deserved a few calls in the third but we didn’t get them.”
Zach Parise also scored for New Jersey and set up Travis Zajac’s goal during the Devils’ two-goal first period against Sabourin, who turned aside only 18 shots as coach Michel Therrien again benched inconsistent starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
“It’s just too bad that one turnover cost us the game at the end,” said Sabourin, who is 3-3-1.
Therrien agreed, saying, “One scoring chance. It’s tough to win in this league if you are giving up bad goals. That’s happening to us right now.”
Kevin Weekes won his second in three decisions for New Jersey as Martin Brodeur, one victory away from becoming only the second NHL goalie to win 500 games, was held out before the Devils return home to play twice.
“I’m happy because I felt we deserved to win,” said Elias, nearly echoing Crosby’s words in the opposing dressing room. “We played well. Weekes had a great performance and I’m glad I was able to get such a big goal.”
Crosby made it 2-1 only 26 seconds into the second period with his 10th goal, working a give-and-go with Ryan Malone with a drop pass between his legs before cutting toward the net and putting a shot between Weekes’ pads.
Malkin tied it with his seventh midway through the third period on a power play, one-timing Sergei Gonchar’s pass to the top of the right circle inside the near post. Malkin has at least one point in 11 consecutive games.
The Devils put the Penguins down by two goals for the fourth time in Pittsburgh’s nine home games as Zajac and Parise scored about six minutes apart. Parise scored New Jersey’s first power-play goal in 20 chances over six games after setting up Zajac’s fourth goal.
“Our confidence level has been going up and down so far this season, so to be able to bounce back and win this game says a lot about us,” Weekes said. “We feel a lot better about ourselves.”
Notes: The Penguins have trailed in all but three home games. They are 3-5-1 at home. … Crosby has at least one point in his last 17 games. … Brodeur didn’t start after allowing nine goals in his first two games against Pittsburgh, including a 5-0 loss the previous Monday. He started the Devils’ previous eight contests. … The Penguins were 9-7-2 through 18 games last season, when they finished 47-24-11. … Parise has five points in three games against the Penguins.