NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer admits that while it wasn't the greatest performance by his team, there were a few individuals who certainly made it appear that way en route to a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday before a full house of 17,625 at Prudential Center.
"It wasn't our best effort from a system point of view, but we got enough individual efforts, starting with our goalie," DeBoer said.
Ah, the goalie. That would be 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, who made 24 saves to earn his first shutout of the 2012-13 season, his 10th against the Flyers and the 120th of his 19-season career.
"I've worked really hard to get to where I am, but the team is playing well and I'm just trying to play good hockey," Brodeur said.
The loss is the third straight for the winless Flyers, who have led for only 10:57 of 180 minutes in their three games this season. It also marks the third time in franchise history the Flyers have opened a season with three successive losses -- the others coming in 1989-90 and the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign.
The Flyers, who used seven different defensive pairings in the game, have never started a season with four straight setbacks. They'll host the New York Rangers on Thursday -- their fourth game in six days.
"It's no time for panic, but you have to tie the screws," goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said. "For us, after a bad start, we can't lose games anymore because you might never get out from the bottom of the standings … you don't have enough games. We must treat games like the playoffs."
Though they outshot the Flyers 26-24, the Devils were outplayed for long stretches of the game. But Brodeur was there time and again to bail out his team.
"Everybody will look at the departure of Zach [Parise] and think, 'What type of affect will it have?'" Brodeur said. "It's easy to say 'it's not too bad' after you win your first two games, but in the end, we're not going to replace him and guys have to step up.
"Right now, two guys doing that are Clarkie and Travis. They are taking on more of a role and I just hope that will happen all year because we're going to need guys to step up to fill that void [left by Parise]."
Kovalchuk scored his first of the season 2:44 into the second period on his fourth career penalty shot. After being pulled from behind by Kimmo Timonen during a shorthanded breakaway attempt, the big Russian was given his opportunity against fellow countryman, Bryzgalov. Kovalchuk broke in and deposited his third career penalty shot goal off a backhand over the goalie's right pad for a 3-0 lead that looked even bigger considering the way Brodeur was playing.
"The Flyers are tough to play against, but fun to play against, because it's always intense games," Kovalchuk said. "They have some great players on their side and it's always good to play against the best."
Dating back to last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Devils have won five straight against Philadelphia. While two victories to start the season is huge for the team's confidence, Clarkson and Brodeur know there's plenty of hockey left.
"We won't get ahead of ourselves … we're only two games in but happy," said Clarkson, who had the game-winner on Saturday in a 2-1 win at Long Island. "We've got to continue that confidence into the next game [against the Washington Capitals on Friday]."
"We're not a team that relies on one or two players," Brodeur said. "When we were successful last year, you noticed the depth of our hockey club. Our fourth line was playing more and, right now, we're playing 3 1/2 or four lines the whole game. We're keeping the top guys fresh."
Brodeur, who is seven games shy of 1,200 for his career, believes continuity along the back end is also a big reason for New Jersey's fast start.
"Playing in games is the most important thing and I'm feeling good," he said. "For the first time in many years, I have the same people in front of me as far as defensemen. When I was younger, I always played with the same guys, so we're creating that stability back there and it's easy for me because I can read the guys. I know their tendencies and that helps my game a lot."
After the Kovalchuk goal, the remainder of the game was highlighted by plenty of Philadelphia frustration.
During an offensive flurry 12:50 into the middle period, Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds delivered a mild cross check that sent Brodeur to the ice. Simmonds, expecting to get some attention, immediately tossed off hits gloves and began throwing rights at Jacob Josefson before Ryan Carter stepped into the fray. Simmonds was whistled for goalie interference and a double minor for roughing on the play.
"We're 0-3 and we're down 3-0," Simmonds said. "I think you gotta expect stuff like that."
That scuffle came a little over two minutes after Clarkson and Scott Hartnell exchanged pleasantries in front of the Devils bench after the New Jersey forward had dumped Timonen to the ice in the neutral zone. The third period included a pair of fights: Simmonds traded blows with Clarkson and New Jersey's Steve Bernier squared off with Brayden Schenn.
The Devils took a 1-0 lead just 1:07 into the game when Zajac connected off a rebound in the slot with Bryzgalov out of position. Kovalchuk sent a breakout pass to defenseman Bryce Salvador, who curled the Flyers cage and released a shot from the left circle that Bryzgalov could not handle. Zajac was there for his second of the season
The Flyers settled down after giving up the early goal but couldn't solve Brodeur, who made nine saves in the opening 20 minutes. His best stop might have been on Hartnell at the 11:48 mark when the Flyers forward was alone in the slot but denied by Brodeur's blocker. The Flyers were also foiled on two power-play attempts and finished 0-for-6 with the man advantage. Philadelphia is now 1-for-15 for the season on the power play.
Clarkson extended the lead to 2-0 by scoring a power-play goal with just 24.9 seconds remaining in the first. Clarkson, who finished with a career-high 30 goals in 2011-12, scored his second in as many games this season off a wraparound attempt that ricocheted off the skate of Philadelphia's Ruslan Fedotenko in the crease and went past Bryzgalov.
"It's just going to those areas and going to the net," Clarkson said. "I thought, as a team, we did a lot of good things and we played hard. We had to find our legs in that first period, but we started playing hard and getting in on the forecheck in the second and third."
The Flyers have allowed six power-play goals in 16 attempts in their first three games.
The Devils scored two goals on three shots in the first -- the only miss coming off the stick of Patrik Elias.
"We got a couple of breaks around the net, but they were a much better team early in that game," DeBoer said.
Brodeur agreed with his coach.
"We didn't play really well in the first," he said. "After scoring that early goal off the forecheck, we sat back and they took advantage of it. We got a break with the power-play goal at the end of the first and that kind of settled everyone down even after the bad period. In the second, we played well, and in the third I thought we played well with the lead."