And Caps fans were hoping that point would be “we’re better.” But games are played on the ice, and the league-leading Caps visited the disappointing New Jersey Devils on Friday night in Newark, NJ. The Devils were dressed out in their best old-school, Christmas-hued finery, the old red and green scheme with white jerseys, but the old colors did not conjure old memories of glory for the home team. The Caps fell behind early but stormed back and won going away over the struggling Devils, 6-3.
After some early puck and territory dominance, the Caps took a penalty, and it cost them. With Jonas Siegenthaler sent off at the 2:50 mark of the first period, the Devils capitalized 70 seconds later when Nico Hischier found Kyle Palmieri at the top of the crease for a tap-in past the left pad of goalie Ilya Samsonov.
The Caps had a chance to tie the game barely two minutes later when Carl Hagelin, held by Sami Vatanen on a scoring chance, was awarded a penalty shot. In search of his first goal of the season, Hagelin shot the puck high and wide on goalie MacKenzie Blackwood, and it remained a one-goal game.
Another chance came for the Caps less than two minutes after the penalty shot try when Alex Ovechkin was sprung loose for a chance, but his shot was turned aside by Blackwood, who seemed to be the only thing keeping the Caps from turning the score around and into a rout.
New Jersey got their second power play chance of the period at the 15:46 mark when Brendan Leipsic was whistled for delay of game/shooting the puck over the glass. They failed to convert, and it would cost them in a case of turnabout being fair play.
The Caps tied the game, and then they took the lead in the last 95 seconds of the period. Nicklas Backstrom took a feed from Tom Wilson at the red line and skated the puck into the offensive zone. He slid the puck to Alex Ovechkin on his right and, from the top of the right wing circle, he snapped the puck past Blackwood’s blocker to make it 1-1 at the 18:25 mark. Just 70 seconds later, Wilson outfought Vatanen for a loose puck in the corner to Blackwood’s right. He fed the puck out to John Carlson, whose shot from the top of the zone was redirected by Backstrom past Blackwood, and the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
-- The Caps had a whopping 28-9 advantage in shot attempts for the period, 11-6 in shots on goal.
-- Backstrom (goal, assist) and Tom Wilson (two assists) made it multi-point games in the first period.
-- The Caps had shot attempts recorded by 16 of the 18 skaters in the period. Only Brendan Leipsic and Jonas Siegenthaler were blanked.
The Devils got the first goal of the period for the second time on the evening when John Carlson was caught up ice, and the Devils broke out on a 2-on-1. Blake Coleman avoided the back checking of Backstrom to slide the puck under Samsonov just as he and Backstrom were sliding into the net and nudging it off its posts. The game was tied, 2-2, at the 4:15 mark.
In the 12th minute the Devils went on their third power play of the evening, the Caps’ Dmitry Orlov going off for a slashing call on Palmieri.
Washington had a chance to take a lead when Evgeny Kuznetsov intercepted a blind pass and had nothing but time and open ice to solve Blackwood. He tried to go far side but could not elevate the puck enough over Blackwood’s left pad, and the game remained tied.
The Caps got their first power play of the contest late in the period when Vatanen was sent off for slashing. The Caps had two shots on goal on the man advantage but could not convert.
The teams went 4-on-4 in the final moments of the period, Garnet Hathaway sent to the box for the Caps and Miles Wood sent off for the Devils. With the additional open ice, the Caps were able to work the puck in deep to Orlov, who slid the puck to Backstrom at the edge of the crease for a tap-in to make it 3-2 with just 29 seconds left in the period. The teams got mixed up in some unpleasantries at the end of the period, Kunzetsov and Travis Zajac being the primary combatants. Nothing came of it, and the Caps took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.
-- The Caps had a 21-17 edge in shot attempts for the period and a 12-11 advantage in shots on goal.
-- Lars Eller was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff who was over 50 percent through two periods, going 4-for-5 (80.0 percent).
-- John Carlson led the Caps in time over the first two periods with 16:33 on a team-leading 18 shifts.
The Caps scored in the first minute on an usual play. From the offensive blue line, Backstrom fed the puck to Michal Kempny on the left side. Kempny skated the puck a couple of strides down the left wing wall and fed his defensive mate John Carlson steaming down the middle alone. Carlson batted the puck out of mid-air and under Blackwood to make it 4-2, 42 seconds into the period.
The Caps extended their lead to 5-2 in the seventh minute when Jonas Siegenthaler stepped up from the left point and wristed the puck through a maze of players and into the top corner on the far side over Blackwood’s glove. That goal ended Blackwood’s night in favor of Gilles Senn, who made his NHL debut.
Richard Panik closed the scoring for the Caps, taking a centering feed from Lars Eller and redirecting it through Senn to make it 6-2 at the 15:33 mark.
Wood put some window dressing on the outcome with a goal in the last minute for the Devils, but it was far too little, far too late, and the Caps skated off with the 6-3 win.
-- Carl Hagelin’s penalty shot attempt was the Caps’ second of the season. Jakub Vrana had one against the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist in a 5-2 win in October. His was unsuccessful, too.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and two assists, his first four-point game of the season and the 23rd of his career, second on the franchise list to Alex Ovechkin (28).
-- Richard Panik’s goal was his 78th career goal, and he crossed another team off the list of those against which he had not scored a goal. With the Devils off the list, he now lacks career goals only against Los Angeles and Winnipeg.
-- This was the second time this season that the Caps scored six goals in a game and first on the road. The Caps beat Buffalo, 6-1, on November 1st in Washington. The Caps also have a 6-5 win in Vancouver over the Canucks, but that was a Gimmick win.
-- Ilya Samsonov won his seventh game in seven tries on the road this season, tying Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Jim Carey for fifth-most road wins by a rookie Caps goalie in team history. He is the first rookie goalie in Caps history to win his first seven decisions on the road.
-- Washington got points from 12 skaters, four of them with multi-point games: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4), Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2), John Carlson (1-1-2), and Tom Wilson (0-2-2).
-- Brendan Leipsic was the only Capital without a shot attempt.
-- Dmitry Orlov led the team in ice time (21:31); John Carlson skated the most shifts (25).
-- The Caps finished with a 29-27 edge in shots and a 59-40 advantage in shot attempts.
-- Ovechikin’s goal was his first against MacKenzie Blackwood, the 139th goalie he has scored against in his career. That is almost half of all the goalies who have dressed for at least one game since Ovechkin entered the league (291, including Gilles Senn, who debuted in this game).
In the end…
The Caps are having a great start, especially on the road (now 16-3-1, best road record in the league); the Devils are struggling, especially at home (5-8-5, second-worst in the league). In that context, file this game under “taking care of business.” And, it was a reminder of how many memories and superb performances Caps fans have seen from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, individually and together, over the years. Not a bad way to get the holidays off and running.