The New Jersey Devils hit town Wednesday full of tension. They had no wins under new coach John MacLean and $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk had no goals in three games. They were playing with just 16 skaters due to salary cap trouble and getting criticized for it by hockey experts across North America.
When you need to relieve the pressure, you turn to your money man and your Hall of Fame-bound goaltender. Kovalchuk's first goal of the season and Martin Brodeur's 111th career shutout produced the Devils' 1-0 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Kovalchuk initially downplayed his laser past Ryan Miller at 53 seconds of overtime.
"Who cares about goals? It's about wins," Kovalchuk said curtly.
Reminded that most people feel he needs to score goals for the Devils to be successful, the most controversial free agent in NHL history didn't relent much on his stance.
"We deserved the win," he said. "In hockey, it's not about individuals. Not on our team. It's all about the team. I'd take one goal all year and go win the division. Whatever. It's not about how many goals you score. It's about how many points you have."
"He's a sniper," Brodeur said. "He doesn't need 25 chances to score. He didn't get many, many shots today [only four] but he's there Johnny on the spot. Players like that find ways and that's why they're so great."
Kovalchuk made no mistake with his drive off the far post that beat Ryan Miller after Matt Taormina outworked Andrej Sekera in the Buffalo zone.
"That's where you want to go -- high," Kovalchuk said. "We all know Miller is a butterfly goalie and he will go down."
Brodeur normally keeps a puck from all of his NHL-record run of shutouts but gave this one to MacLean, his former teammate. MacLean had kicked the team off the ice during the morning skate for their lax attitude in the face of their 0-2-1 start and they responded.
"It's not fun atmosphere-wise when you don't have a win," Brodeur said. "We went from injuries to playing with 15 players, now 16 players today. It's chaotic a little bit. For us to finally get one under our belt, it's like now we can start playing our season."
The Sabres look like they'll be shuffling their defense for Friday's game with Montreal. Sekera's spot might be in jeopardy because of the Kovalchuk goal and Shaone Morrisonn suffered a groin injury on his final shift.
"Initially it doesn't look good," said coach Lindy Ruff, who has Mike Weber and Chris Butler at his disposal to make changes.
Making their first appearance as visitors after long runs with the Sabres were New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder and center Adam Mair.
Tallinder, who had played all 468 games of his NHL career with the Sabres, got a four-year, $13.5 million deal with the Devils over the summer. Mair just signed Tuesday after waiting for the salary cap-strangled team to clear some space to get an extra forward.
"It's really weird," Tallinder said. "You used to have the routines here for eight years. You always knew what it was going to do. I don't know what happened. July 1 hit and the Sabres gave me a two-year deal and I wasn't too happy about that. For me, it's turned out great here."
Both players had hoped to stay in Buffalo. Tallinder said the Sabres never called him again after the two-year offer and Mair said General Manager Darcy Regier never called him after his end-of-season exit meeting.
Mair, 31, had to wait until just before training camp to get his tryout offer as it was a rough summer for older free agents.
"It's a lot of times a cookie-cutter league," Mair said. "The success of Chicago after a couple years using their young players makes teams want to mimic that and get their young players into the fold. That makes it harder for your veteran player that's not a star player to get something done."
Ruff was not happy about the two-game suspension handed to Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson for his blindside hit Monday night against Jason Pominville.
"It was exactly what I guessed," Ruff said. "I understand [the NHL's] feelings towards it. Personally I don't think it is [enough]. If I had to play commissioner, I would have went more. Two games isn't a long time sitting in their case. They play a couple games this week and it's over in three days."
Pominville's streak ended at 336 consecutive games played with his first absence since April 7, 2006. Ruff said Pominville felt "no different" than he did on Tuesday.
The gold "Pominville Population" banner that hangs on the wall above Section 312 was in its normal spot but next to it was a white banner that read simply, "Get Well Soon."