The Washington Capitals lowered the curtain on the 2017 portion of their 2017-2018 regular season at home against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. When it was over, the Caps had a 5-2 win and the top spot in the Metropolitan Division to end 2017.
The best thing that could happen playing a team coming in for the second of a back-to-back set of games would be to get an early goal. The Caps did just that less than three minutes into the contest when Christian Djoos carried the puck behind the Devils’ net, came out the other side, and found Tom Wilson parked at the top of the crease for a one-timer that beat goalie Cory Schneider to the blocker side. The Caps had a 1-0 lead 2:26 into the game.
Nine minutes later the Caps doubled their margin, and Djoos doubled his points. He started the scoring play, carrying the puck down the left wing, leaving it for Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle. Ovechkin sent the puck across to Nicklas Backstrom at the bottom of the right wing circle, and Backstrom closed the loop, finding Djoos in left wing circle for a lay-up into the open side of the net that Schneider vacated trying to defend Backstrom. Caps had a 2-0 lead at the 11:09 mark.
The Devils got on the board late when John Moore converted a cross-ice pass from Travis Zajac for a one-timer that beat Braden Holtby at 17:35 of the period.
Although the Caps had a shots and shot attempts advantage for much of the period, the Devils finished the frame even with the Caps in shots with 12 apiece, while the Caps had a 22-21 advantage in shot attempts.
The Caps got their first power play of the game in the period’s sixth minute, and they made it count. The Caps wore down the Devils in the second minute of the man advantage by maintaining offensive zone control. Finally, Nicklas Backstrom peeked out from behind the New Jersey net and lifted a pass over the stick of defenseman Sami Vatanen and right into John Carlson’s wheelhouse. Carlson smashed a screaming one-timer over Schneider’s blocker, and it was 3-1 at the 7:01 mark.
It would be the only scoring in the period as the Caps denied the Devils a goal on a New Jersey power play late in the frame. Washington out-shot the Devils, 10-7, and had a 22-20 edge in shot attempts for game totals of 22-19, Caps, in shots and 44-41, Caps, in shot attempts.
The Caps had been playing one of their best games from a passing standpoint through two periods, and they carried into the third period to score a goal that looked a lot like the Djoos goal in the first period. Matt Niskanen was the defenseman starting the play in the offensive end, again carrying the puck, as Djoos did earlier, down the left side. Niskanen left the puck for Alex Ovechkin, who sent it across to Devante Smith-Pelly. With Schneider once more getting over to defend the player in the right wing circle, Smith-Pelly sent it back across to Niskanen, who had a lay-up into another all but empty net to make it 4-1 4:25 into the period.
New Jersey got that goal back less than five minutes later when Travis Zajac converted a feed from Marcus Johansson to beat Holtby from the doorstep at the nine-minute mark.
Nicklas Backstrom added an empty net score with 41 seconds left to close out the scoring and give the Caps a 5-2 win.
-- Alex Ovechkin (0-3-3), John Carlson (1-2-3), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) finished with three-points. It was the second time this season that the Caps had three players with three-point games (Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on December 6th).
-- Christian Djoos’ goal and an assist gave the Caps four players with multi-point games, tying their season high in players with two or more points. One of those times was against this same Devils team, in a 5-2 win on October 13th.
-- Tom Wilson was a force in front of the net again, planting himself at the top of the crease to convert a Christian Djoos feed. His sixth goal closed to within one of his career best, reached in each of the last two seasons. And, it was his fifth straight game without a penalty minute, a season high.
-- Jakub Vrana did not have a shot attempt in 10:38 of ice time. On a night where the Caps were flinging the rubber around, this stood out as odd.
-- Jay Beagle and Taylor Chorney also did not register a shot attempt. Beagle was 13-for-16 on faceoffs, though (81.3 percent).
-- Alex Ovechkin’s three-assist night was his third of the season (the win over Chicago in December and against Edmonton in late-October). It was the 14th game of his career with three or more assists.
-- The Caps lifted their record to 8-5-2 when awarded two or fewer power plays, 6-5-1 when holding an opponent to two or fewer power plays, 3-3-1 when both they and their opponent were held to two or fewer power plays.
-- The Caps are now 17-0-0 when scoring four or more goals in a game this season.
-- Braden Holtby won his seventh straight game on home ice. He has a GAA in those games of 2.26 and a save percentage of .926.
-- Marcus Johansson recorded assists on both New Jersey goals for a successful (on an individual level) return to Washington.
In the end…
The Caps finished 2017 as they started it, with a win. More important, they finished the calendar year at the top of the Metropolitan Division. Compare that to January 1st, when they were in fourth place in the Metro. This game showed off the Caps’ ability to pass, although for the glass-half-empty crowd it might be viewed as a case of getting off easy with too many instances of one too many passes. Still, though, things clicked in a way that they have not in many instances this season. Every pass it seemed was on someone’s tape. For the glass-half-full crowd, it might be seen as the team finally getting a sense of itself and what it is. What they are, at least in one area, is what they have been for a decade – hard to beat at home. Their 16th win on home ice this season tied them with Tampa Bay for the league lead in home wins. And, it was a milestone win for head coach Barry Trotz, whose 737th career win passed Lindy Ruff for fifth place on the all-time list. All in all, a nice way to end the year and something off which to build in the new year.