NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils had no luck beating rookie goaltender Robin Lehner with their good shots, so maybe it was appropriate that a pass turned into their winning goal.
Dainius Zubrus scored on an attempted pass that deflected off Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips with 5:43 to play, and the Devils returned from the all-star break with a 2-1 victory over the struggling Senators on Tuesday night.
Zubrus said the game-winner was supposed to be a pass to Patrik Elias.
“I saw Patrik skating toward the goal and tried to get the puck to him,” Zubrus said. “It was a lucky bounce, but we’ll take it. If you look at the chances we had all game, we earned it.”
Phillips wasn’t surprised by the goal; it’s the way things have been going for the Senators this season. They are 1-9-4 in their last 14 games and the only reason they were in this one was Lehner, who made 31 saves in his second career start.
“Robin kept us in it,” Phillips said. “After the first 40 minutes we didn’t even deserve to have a chance, but we did. We set a goal of winning the third period. We came hard, had a lot of chances, played more the way we wanted to for the entire game and it didn’t come for us and they got the late one.”
Phillips said he went down to block Zubrus’ pass with his stick and the players’ sticks hit. The puck fluttered and went right into the net, catching Lehner a little off guard.
“It’s a tough bounce off the stick and went right in there,” Phillips said.
Zubrus said there was no way he was trying to deflect the puck off Phillips, noting his geometry is not that good.
“Sometimes, it just happens like that,” Zubrus said. “We got the break we needed. We have to keep working and keep creating and we’ll get chances like that. We stayed with it and went to the goal.”
Zubrus’ winning goal came just 12 seconds after Lehner made a save on a hard shot from the right circle by Elias. Brian Rolston regained the puck, gave it to Elias, who found Zubrus low in the right circle.
Nick Palmieri also scored and Martin Brodeur had a rather easy game in net with 15 saves as the Devils won for the seventh time in the last nine games (7-1-1).
“I think we’re a more consistent team now, playing more of a team game,” defenceman Andy Greene said. “We’re getting the puck deeper and getting better chances. It’s just little things like that. We’re playing a pretty simple system, but it’s working now and we have to keep it going.”
Alex Kovalev scored for Ottawa, which was limited to a season-low 16 shots on goal.
The Devils outshot the Senators 25-6 through the first two periods and skated off tied at 1-1.
The 19-year-old Lehner was the difference, even if he was a little lucky at times. A shot by Elias hit off the goalpost early in the second period with New Jersey ahead 1-0 and a couple of bad bounces cost the Devils potential chances in front.
After outshooting Ottawa 9-2 in the opening period, New Jersey took the lead 25 seconds into the second.
Greene took a shot from the point that forward Milan Michalek partially blocked with his stick. The puck lost steam and rolled to the left of the net where Palmieri converted a backhander with his second shot for his fourth goal in seven games.
Kovalev tied it less than five minutes later with the Senators enjoying a two-man advantage. Daniel Alfredsson set it up with a cross-ice pass from below the left circle to Kovalev for a slam dunk past Brodeur.
The goal came just 10 seconds after Zubrus was called for high sticking. He redeemed himself in the closing minutes.
NOTES: Devils D Colin White returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a lower body injury. … Lehner made his first career start in a 6-4 win over the Islanders on Jan. 13. … With only six shots in the first two periods, Ottawa threatened its franchise low for shots in a game—10 in a 3-1 loss to Toronto on Jan. 5, 2002.