The Caps twice had two goal leads in the third period, but allowed the Devils to come back to tie the game, then win the game in overtime, 5-4.
After the Devils scored the first goal – a one-timer from the left wing circle by Marek Zidlicky on a Devils power play in the first period – the Caps came back with a vengeance in the second period. Joel Ward got the first scoring play started by digging the puck out from the left wing wall and chipping it along to Martin Erat in the corner. Erat eased the puck along the wall to Jason Chimera, who was lost by the Devils’ defense, allowing him to circle around the cage to try to stuff the puck past goalie Martin Brodeur. His first attempt was unsuccessful, but with no Devil close enough to challenge Chimera, he got another whack at it and batted it under Brodeur to tie the game.
Four minutes later the Caps took the lead. It was a tic-tac-toe play starting with Troy Brouwer in the left wing corner getting the puck into the high slot for Eric Fehr. From there, Fehr had the option to shoot or pass. He chose to take a half step around defenseman Eric Gelinas to open a passing lane to Mikhail Grabovski stepping out from below the goal line. Fehr hit Grabovski, and Grabovski snapped the puck behind Brodeur to make it 2-1, Caps.
The third goal in the Caps’ sequence came in the last minute of the second period. It started with a pad save by Braden Holtby that allowed the Caps to break out in numbers. Mike Green carried the puck into the New Jersey zone on the right side and unloaded a slap shot that Brodeur handled a bit clumsily. His right pad save allowed for a long rebound onto the stick of Joel Ward. With Brodeur still down, Ward buried the rebound in the back of the net, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.
New Jersey started their comeback in the sixth minute of the third period. New Jersey won a power play faceoff in the Caps’ end, despite the puck lying tantalizingly free at the top of the circle after Travis Zajac pulled it back from the draw. Patrick Elias was first to the puck, but Andy Greene chipped it off Elias’ stick into open ice where he took control. Greene maneuvered around a diving John Carlson and circled around the Caps’ net. With Carlson down, his partner Karl Alzner slid over to cover Zajac at the front of the net. That left the ice to the left of Holtby open, and who should be there but old nemesis/friend/nemesis Jaromir Jagr. From behind the Caps’ net, Greene had only to get the puck to Jagr’s stick. He did, and Jagr chipped the puck into the open net behind Holtby to get the Devils to within a goal.
The Caps restored their two goal lead less than three minutes later. Patrik Elias could not clear the puck out of the Devils’ zone from the left wing circle, as he was being challenged by Marcus Johansson. The puck made it only so far as the stick of Karl Alzner at the blue line. Alzner, perhaps knowing his role, found the shooter rather than take the shot himself. He bump-passed the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who wristed the puck through the pads of Brodeur to make it 4-2.
Then things took a turn. Zidlicky got the Devils to within a goal when Zajac wriggled free of Jason Chimera behind the Caps’ net and found Zidlicky coming down the slot. Zajac’s pass barely eluded the stick of Joel Ward, but it did, and Zidlicky buried it to the far side of Holtby to make it 4-3.
Getting a chance in the slot figured again for the Devils just over two minutes later. Holtby tried to clear the puck around the boards from behind his net and got the puck to the top of the circle along the wall where Zajac picked it off. Zajac threw the puck at the net, and Dainius Zubrus – another nemesis/friend/nemesis of the Caps – who was steaming down the slot, beat Carlson to the puck and deflected it past Holtby to tie the game.
That is how things ended in regulation, but it took little time to settle things in overtime. In the first minute of the extra session the Devils moved deliberately out of their own zone, the puck making its way to the stick of Patrik Elias on the right wing outside the Caps blue line. Elias gained the zone, then fed Jagr, who wristed the puck at Holtby. The initial shot was stopped by Holtby, but it popped into the air to his right where Andy Greene was arriving. The puck struck Greene and tumbled into the net for the game-winner just 43 seconds into overtime, giving the Devils a Christmas gift, a 5-4 overtime win.
-- OK, now we are concerned about Braden Holtby. Not every goal is a goaltender’s fault, and the Devils had a hall pass to the slot all night. However, in his last five appearances he is 1-2-1, 4.92, .863. Here are some other numbers… .895, his even strength save percentage over those five games… .650, his save percentage on the penalty kill… three, the number of consecutive games now that he has allowed two power play goals. On the power play theme, he has allowed at least one power play goal in nine of his last 12 appearances.
-- The goalie is said to be the team’s best penalty killer, but there is a team aspect to it, too. And right now, penalty killing is killing, alright. It is killing the Caps’ chances of advancing further in the standings. New Jersey scored on both of its power play chances last night. That leaves the Caps 23-for-31 in December, a 74.2 percent penalty killing rate.
-- Another game, another goal. Alex Ovechkin has goals in four straight games, five of his last six, six of his last eight, and…well, you get the point. In the modern era of hockey (since the 1967-1968 expansion), only six players had 30 or more goals in each of their first nine seasons in the league – Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Brian Trottier, and now, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is the first to accomplish the feat since Kurri posted his ninth straight 30-goal season to start his career in 1989. Ovechkin is the only one of the six to do it having to hit the 30-goal mark in an abbreviated season.
-- At least the Caps had balance. Nine different players shared in the scoring for the evening. The third line was conspicuous in this regard. Martin Erat had a pair of assists, Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera had a goal. The trio combined for seven of the Caps’ 22 shots on goal and nine of the team’s 37 shot attempts.
-- It was a hard night for John Carlson. He was on ice for all five Devils’ goals. His partner, Karl Alzner, escaped that result only because he was not paired with Carlson on the overtime winner; Carlson was on ice with Dmitry Orlov.
-- Jaromir Jagr has found the fountain of youth. His goal and two assists made it seven straight games with points (2-9-11), and he is now tied for 17th in the league in points (13-20-33).
-- Andy Greene had three points for the Devils (1-2-3). It was his first three-point game since he had three assists in a 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 29, 2008, 345 games ago.
-- Martin Erat seems to be taking to his role as a center. He has assists in three straight games and six of his last ten contests (0-7-7).
-- Joel Ward’s goal was his first at Verizon Center since November 12th in a 4-3 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
-- For Jason Chimera, his goal broke an even longer home goal-scoring drought. His goal was his first at Verizon Center since he scored a goal on October 10th against Carolina in a 3-2 loss. That is his only other home goal this season.
-- If you think possession is a crucial factor in determining outcomes, consider the Caps lucky to have come out of this game with a point. Their possession numbers were awful – 35.0 percent Corsi-for percentage in close score 5-on-5 situations, 38.6 percent Fenwick-for. Graphically, the Fenwick chart looks like this…
In the end…
The Caps opened the door for their guests, and the Devils came in and took the presents from under the tree. No team with bigger aspirations than merely contending for a playoff spot gives away two-goal leads in the third period. Washington has yet to lose in regulation when leading after two periods, but with two extra time losses, their winning percentage when leading after 40 minutes is merely middle of the pack. One could argue that the overtime winner was a bit of luck, caroming off Greene, or even a bit of subterfuge, the puck being knocked in with Greene’s glove. However, there is no way things should get to that state, because when you have the opportunity to close a club out and don’t, things happen. And not in a good way.