It was a homecoming (of sorts) for Defenseman Paul Martin as he returned to the rink that he called home for all 6 seasons of his NHL Career before joining the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer. But his former fans didn’t lay out a welcome mat, instead they showered him with boo’s every time he touched the puck. He answered their lack of love with an assist and an empty net goal to help break the Penguins’ two-season, seven game losing streak against the Devils, and put an end to their 2009/10 season winless record. Alex Goligoski and Mark Letestu also scored for the Penguins who won their first game of the season by a score of 3-1. Brent Johnson got the nod in lieu of Marc-Andre Fleury and played a very strong game, nearly getting a shutout.
The Penguins played without the services of Brooks Orpik after he was a no-show at the warmup skate, and then lost Zbynek Michalek in the 2nd period due to an apparent upper body (shoulder or arm) injury that he sustained when he was checked into the boards behind the Penguins’ net. This left the Penguins with just 5 defensemen (Martin, Goligoski, Letang, Lovejoy, and Engelland) to distribute the minutes amongst throughout the latter half of the game. But the Devils were even more short-handed, dressing a franchise low 15-players for the game due to salary cap limitations and injuries to key players Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston. They also waived forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond on the day that he was to serve a one-game suspension for instigating a fight against Washington.
The Penguins picked up their first goal of the game with just a little over a minute remaining in the first period. Eric Tangradi put a nice check on Ilya Kovalchuk as he tried to carry the puck across his own blueline. The force of the check free’d up the puck for Alex Goligoski who jumped on the chance, skated in, and unleashed a slap shot from the high circle that beat Martin Brodeur glove side just inside the far post. The Penguins struck again just 2:32 into the second period while Patrick Elias was in the penalty box for holding. Kris Letang shot the puck in on net from near the high circle, and it deflected off from a Devils’ player, then off Mark Letestu and into the net.
Despite an attempt by the Penguins to wear down the Devils’ shortened bench through the first two periods, New Jersey came to life in the 3rd period and outshot the Penguins 18-5. The Devils finally converted after Jason Arnott won a faceoff and moved the puck to Elias, who fired a slap shot that beat Johnson at 8:20 of the third. Despite the ensuing barrage of shots, Brent Johnson stood tall and made 9 saves over the last half of the period to hold the Devils to just 1 goal. Paul Martin added the empty net insurance goal with 10.4 seconds left to go. Brent Johnson made 30 saves in all to earn the win, while Martin Brodeur stopped 28 for the Devils.
With a win finally under their belts, the Penguins return back to the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night to host the Toronto Maple Leafs and try and find their first win in the new barn. Despite the excellent play of Brent Johnson, we expect to see Marc-Andre Fleury back in net on Wednesday night. The status of Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik for Wednesday night’s match remains unknown.