NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk gave the New Jersey Devils 100 million reasons to smile on Tuesday night when he helped rally the home team to a 3-2 preseason victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Prudential Center.
Kovalchuk, who inked a 15-year, $100 million dollar contract with the Devils in the off-season, connected off a splendid individual effort with just 2:19 remaining in the third to give New Jersey coach John MacLean his first victory behind the Devils' bench -- albeit in the preseason. The Devils are 1-0-3 in the preseason and Flyers fell to 3-1-1.
"It's always nice to get a win," MacLean said. ""The last couple of games I felt we did good things and it was nice to win at home. Hopefully, we can build off of this."
There's no question all eyes will be fixed on Kovalchuk this season. On this night, he didn't disappoint. With the Devils trailing, 2-1, the veteran drew a tripping penalty on Flyers forward Ben Holmstrom at 13:45 that led to the eventual equalizer by Travis Zajac just 55 seconds later.
Zajac stormed the net and redirected a picturesque pass from the left circle by Jason Arnott at 14:40. The goal was the Devils' first with the man advantage this preseason; the team finished 1-for-5 on the power-play on Tuesday.
"I just made an entry on power-play and Arnie made a great play to get me the puck," Zajac said. "We weren't making the easy play (on the earlier power-plays). And that's when we get in trouble."
Kovalchuk then sent the locals home happy when he controlled a feed from rookie Mattias Tedenby in the neutral zone and stormed into the Flyers' end on his left wing. After curling a Flyers' defenseman in the circle, he beat goalie Brian Boucher at the left post for his team-leading third goal of the preseason.
"I think it went short side, but Tedenby, he made a great play," Kovalchuk said. "He could have just got it deep, but he made the play and I was able to just go around the guy. So, it was a great play by him."
MacLean and Zajac were also impressed.
"Yes, that was a pretty nice goal," MacLean said. "It was a great goal, great shot and everything. They moved the puck up. Tedenby made a nice little pass to get it back to him, to get him going with some speed. He just bounced it back to him, which was a nice play by the kid."
Said Zajac: "Kovy played hard and, in the third period, was the best player on the ice. That third goal … that's a big-league goal right there. It was really good to see and hopefully we continue to get better."
Kovalchuk opened the game on right wing alongside Zajac and Brian Rolston. With Patrik Elias and Zach Parise listed as healthy scratches for the Devils, MacLean also had Arnott center the second line with Jamie Langenbrunner and Tedenby. Tedenby looked sharp throughout, finishing with one assist and a plus-1 rating in 15:06 of playing time. He also equaled Rolston for the team lead in shots on goal (4).
"Tedenby got a lot of minutes … we threw him right into the fire there, but that's how you get the experience and get an opportunity to play," MacLean said. "He's got the speed for sure. The more he plays, the more he'll begin to find the space and make the reads that go with playing in an NHL game."
The Flyers opened a 2-1 lead when Nikolai Zherdev connected with 4:13 remaining in the second. The Flyers are holding out hope that Zherdev, who had a goal, one assist and a plus-2 rating while earning 16:22 of ice time, can produce between 25 and 30 goals this season. He worked the wing with center Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk.
Carter gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead just 1:28 into the first when an attempted centering attempt to Zherdev deflected off Brodeur and into the net. The Devils pulled into a 1-1 tie at the 8:42 mark when center Adam Mair redirected a shot past Boucher. David Clarkson made the play happen with a deft pass from the right circle; defenseman Anton Volchenkov also assisted on the play.
Volchenkov, who inked a six-year deal with the Devils in the off-season, was physically active throughout his 22:57 of ice time. The big 6-foot-1, 226-pound Russian, who was paired with Mark Fraser much of the evening, finished with a game-high six hits. MacLean admitted that defenseman Bryce Salvador is fine after taking a big hit from van Riemsdyk in the first. Salvador took one more shift after the collision before calling it a night, leaving the Devils with five defenders.
"I'm saving the goals for the regular season," Clarkson joked. "We're adjusting to the little things and, eventually, everything will fall into place. Johnny Mac has been great so far and even (assistant coach Adam Oates) has been a tremendous help. He's given me little things that, as a player, you don't think of. But when you're learning something new every day, it makes it fun to be here. There's always something new to learn -- it's been exciting."
Clarkson, who had two assists for the game, worked primarily on a line with center Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus. He also enjoyed Kovalchuk's power-move in the end.
"Not many goalies in the League will stop that and when you saw Kovy winding up and get going, it was pretty to watch," he said. "He played well and that was huge for us. It was a beautiful goal to watch, even from the bench."
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (26 saves) was pretty sharp throughout, making some key saves in each frame, including all eight shots faced in the third.
"We were so-so in first and second periods but the third was better," Brodeur said. "We definitely are looking for more of an effort like we showed in the third. Every year it's the same thing … we have to play 60 (minutes). Kovy really opened it up for us the way he started to handle the game by himself. He drew that penalty that enabled us to tie and then scored a goal on his own. It was pretty nice to watch."
Boucher, who will be the team's starter for the foreseeable future now that Michael Leighton will be sidelined a month with a bulging disc in his lower back, finished with 25 saves.
The Flyers had Mike Richards centering Claude Giroux and Bill Guerin on the top line. Guerin, who is in training camp on a tryout, was relatively quiet -- generating no shots in 10:16 of ice time.