NEWARK, N.J. – For the first time all season, Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils are playing like the team that was a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
Although the Devils still have the NHL’s worst record, they’re scoring goals, playing defence and most of all, they’re finally winning.
Brodeur and the suddenly revived Devils took advantage of the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 on Thursday night.
“It has been a hard season,” said Brodeur, who stopped 23 shots in his record 114th regular-season shutout. “Hopefully, we’ve turned the page and we’re moving on. I know I need to continue to work on the right things in my game to be able to play like that every night.”
Brodeur had a relatively easy night in posting his fourth shutout of the season and giving New Jersey points in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1).
The Devils’ forwards bottled up Pittsburgh in the neutral zone and the 38-year-old goalie had a clear view on most of the Penguins’ shots.
“Shutouts are always fun but it’s all about winning, especially now,” Brodeur said. “They will happen when you play well. Guys commit themselves and I’m going to make the saves that need to be made.”
Brian Rolston and rookie Nick Palmieri scored for the Devils (14-29-3), who are still more than 20 points out of a playoff spot.
The Devils’ current streak started when Brodeur took back the starting job from Johan Hedberg. During that span he has allowed 10 goals and the offence has responded with 20.
The Penguins didn’t offer much resistance with Crosby and Malkin sidelined in the same regular-season game for the first time since the 2006-07 season, Malkin’s rookie year.
Crosby has missed seven straight games because of a concussion. The Penguins did not say what was wrong with Malkin, but his left knee has been bothering him recently.
“We’ve been up and down since Sid’s been out,” Penguins defenceman Paul Martin said. “With our top two guys out, it’s tough to shuffle lines and try to get things going. We just couldn’t do it tonight.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t buying the excuse that the Penguins were depleted.
“I think the players we had didn’t execute very well,” he said. “We made some mental mistakes early on that allowed them some opportunities, and we didn’t put ourselves any kind of situation to have success in this game the way the players on the ice were playing this game.”
Brodeur’s best saves came in the third period. He stopped a backhand attempt by Jordan Staal on Pittsburgh’s only power play early and close-in attempts by Chris Conner and Aaron Asham in the final six minutes.
Rolston gave Brodeur the only goal he would need when he scored on New Jersey’s first shot of the game against Brent Johnson, who was making his first start since Jan. 6.
Devils defenceman Andy Greene made the outlet pass to Rolston, who gave the puck to Patrik Elias and then took a drop pass from the all-star forward. Rolston let a shot go from above the left circle that beat Johnson 82 seconds after the opening faceoff.
“It’s huge,” Rolston said. “We’ve had trouble scoring goals and I think it took a little bit of wind out of their sails. Even though they are missing their two big guys that’s a good hockey team over there.”
Palmieri got a gift at 9:51 of the opening period for his third goal of the season. Former Devils defenceman Paul Martin tried to bank the puck off the end boards to the other side of the net and Palmieri intercepted it alone in front and beat Johnson with a backhander.
NOTES: Penguins centre Maxime Talbot was twice called for goaltender interference in the first 33:28. Matt Cooke shoved Brodeur to the ice late in the second period and got a free pass from the officials. … The Penguins have killed off 21 straight road power plays, including all four by New Jersey on Thursday. … Pittsburgh won the first two games with New Jersey this season. … Forward Dustin Jeffrey, who was recalled from Wilkes Barre on Wednesday, was in the Pittsburgh lineup. … Minnesota shut out the Penguins 4-0 on Jan. 8.