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Devils start '09 on right skate

by Brian Hunter / NHL.com
If the New Jersey Devils made a New Year's resolution to bear down and play better hockey after their loss in Dallas on Wednesday night, they started the 2009 portion of their season by keeping to it.

Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner each had a goal and an assist to back a 33-save performance by Scott Clemmensen, and the Devils beat a banged-up squad of Montreal Canadiens 4-1 at Prudential Center on Friday night, moving to within two points of the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.

John Madden ended a long goal drought and Brian Gionta also scored as New Jersey bounced back from a 4-2 loss to the Stars on New Year's Eve, a game in which they yielded 44 shots on goal and were outshot 19-2 during the decisive second period, angering coach Brent Sutter.

"I thought it was a good game for us," said Clemmensen, who made his 10th straight start. "We had a tough time there at Dallas where we didn't think that we played all too well -- and even the game before that in St. Louis (a 4-3 win Tuesday) we were fortunate, we felt, to come out of there with the win, where we didn't exactly play 60 minutes.

"I thought it was very good for us to come back home and play against a very good team that challenged us, and I thought we put together more of a 60-minute effort than we had in the past two games."

Clemmensen, who last month became the first Devils goaltender other than Martin Brodeur to start a game against the Canadiens in more than 11 years, helped New Jersey to its second victory in as many meetings with Montreal this season.

Max Pacioretty lit the lamp in his first NHL game, but the Habs saw their three-game road winning streak come to an end. Jaroslav Halak made 19 saves but was pulled after two periods, having allowed the first three Devils goals. The Canadiens played without Carey Price, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Christopher Higgins, among others.

"Giving them three goals and the lead makes it really hard," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "I'm sure Jaro wished he had a few back, but it's too late now. When that team is up by one or two goals, it's really hard to come back on them."

Parise snapped a 1-1 tie late in the first period with his team-leading 22nd goal. The Devils took advantage of a turnover by defenseman Andrei Markov in his own zone and Langenbrunner fed Parise for a shot from the bottom of the right circle that beat Halak with 1:35 remaining.

"We're playing well," Parise said of his line, which Travis Zajac centers along with Langenbrunner on the other wing. "We play simple, smart, we cycle the puck pretty well and we got a couple of the cycle tonight."

Madden had the lone goal of the second period when he sped into the Montreal zone on a 2-on-1 with Mike Rupp. Madden elected to keep the puck and ripped a shot by Halak at 11:11 for his first goal in 25 games, dating back to a two-goal effort against Dallas on Oct. 22.

Langenbrunner, who hadn't scored in 11 games, capped the scoring with 6:49 left in the third. He finished a nice pass from behind the net by Parise and beat Marc Denis, on in relief of Halak. Langenbrunner's score snapped a 12-game streak in which the Canadiens hadn't allowed more than three goals.

"A good play by Zach, good pass, kind of snuck through Markov and on my tape, and I don't think the goalie really saw it coming out so quickly," Langenbrunner said.

Clemmensen stopped all 21 shots he faced over the final two periods to protect the lead. The career backup and minor leaguer ranks in the top 10 among NHL goalies in wins (14), goals-against average (2.16) and save percentage (.926) despite not making his first start of the season until Nov. 9.

"I just want to come to the rink and give my team a chance to win and play consistently well night after night," said Clemmensen, who was named the game's first star. "You do that enough and you compile some wins together -- it's nice to get the first stars and the shutouts and whatever it is, but the main thing it lets you know, for me personally, is I'm coming to the rink with my lunch pail and I’m playing the best I can night after night."

 
 


Said Zajac: "He's been playing with a lot of confidence and making big saves for us, and that's the key. It's great to see because he definitely works hard and he deserves it."

Gionta opened the scoring with 5:39 left in the first, picking up his 10th goal on a hard drive from the top of the right circle. Pacioretty, the Canadiens' top pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, made his NHL debut one to remember by knotting the score 2:09 later, zipping around defenseman Andy Greene and firing the puck into the net.

"I'm glad to get the first one out of the way," Pacioretty said. "I know I have to play a lot better to stick around here. I think I'll be able to play better now that I got the first one out of the way. I wasn't handling the puck too well. Maybe it was the nerves."

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.







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