Enroth had gone nearly a year without losing in regulation and was a perfect 6-0-0 this season. But the Devils got goals from five players to send the Swedish rookie to the bench midway through the third period as they beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 at First Niagara Center on Wednesday night.
One of those players was Kovalchuk, whose power-play goal 5:21 into the game made it 2-0. Getting Kovalchuk back after he missed five games with a leg injury was a major boost to the Devils, even though the goal was just his third of the season.
"I'm not looking at the stats with him. I'm looking at how he plays and I think he's in a good place," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think the numbers are going to come.
"You could see he was a little bit rusty, but even rusty he's a pretty good player."
For his part, Kovalchuk was just glad to be back on the ice. When asked how he felt after the game, he replied, "Good. It's better than sitting in the press box with you guys."
Enroth, who made his second straight start in place of injured Ryan Miller, allowed five goals on 19 shots before being replaced by Drew MacIntyre. He was 13-0-1 in his last 14 decisions since a 1-0 loss at Pittsburgh last Nov. 24.
"It was a real bad game from my side," the Swedish rookie said, "The guys played really well, but I gave up a couple of bad goals.
"I gave up five goals tonight, and that's not good enough."
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New Jersey's Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots, including a big stop on Jason Pominville's point-blank blast with six minutes left in the second period and the Sabres trying to climb out of an early hole.
"Brodeur is always Brodeur," Enroth said. "He's one of my favorite goalies, and it was fun to play against him. I really enjoyed seeing him play. He played good." Tyler Myers, returning after a one-game benching, had his first two goals of the season for the Sabres.
The Devils' special teams helped them jump to an early 2-0 lead. Zach Parise scored a shorthanded goal just 2:06 into the game, and Kovalchuk snapped a shot from near the left faceoff dot into the top right corner for a power-play goal to make it 2-0.
The Devils were coming off a 4-3 loss at Boston on Tuesday, and DeBoer felt the early goals gave his team a much-needed boost.
"We were a little down after the game in Boston, losing in the last two or three minutes and we needed a shot of energy," he said. "Obviously, Kovalchuk back in the lineup and getting those two goals early really got us into the game."
Myers beat Brodeur with a backhander for a power-play goal at 18:56. But Mark Fayne restored New Jersey's two-goal lead when his wrister from the right point went through a screen and past Enroth at 8:36 of the second period.
Patrik Elias increased the lead to 4-1 at 3:09 of the third period. Buffalo got some life when Myers scored again at 7:35, but after a couple of near-misses in the New Jersey zone, David Clarkson took a breakaway pass from Andy Greene, deked Enroth and scored on a backhander at 8:23.
"We're playing well. We're playing the system the coach wants us to play," said Clarkson, who played for DeBoer as a junior in Kitchener. "We're playing as a team, and it's fun in there -- a lot more fun than we were having last year."
Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold capped the scoring with 4:53 remaining. Leopold said the Sabres paid the price for a bad start.
"It's not the first time this has happened, and it's something we'll have to address," he said. "The game wasn't won or lost in the second or third periods; it was lost in the first period. We had plenty of opportunities to create some momentum and we didn't do it."
Material from national and team media was used in this report.