Washington drew first blood in the fourth minute of the game. With the Caps advancing with speed through the neutral zone, Carl Hagelin fed Justin Schultz on the right wing. Schultz skated the puck down the right side and from the circle fed the puck across to Garnet Hathaway for a one timer into the short side of the net before goalie Mackenzie Blackwood could scramble across the crease. It was 1-0, Caps, 3:36 into the game.
Just over 90 seconds later, the Caps struck again. Brenden Dillon’s floater from the left point struck defenseman P.K. Subban, who was tying up Daniel Sprong, and the puck sailed past Blackwood, off the neat post, and in at the 5:07 mark to make it 2-0.
Lars Eller made it 3-0, finishing a 3-on-1 rush made possible when Will Butcher mishandled the puck just inside the offensive blue line. Eller led them out, feeding Conor Sheary when the trip reached the offensive blue line. Sheary looked left, then fed the puck to his right where Eller deposited it behind Blackwood at the 13:40 mark.
New Jersey got the game’s first power play when Conor Sheary was sent off for tripping at 18:09. It took the Devils seven seconds to convert. Off a set play, P.K. Subban fired a puck past the post and off the end boards. It caromed out onto the stick of Nico Hischier, who stuffed it inside the post to goalie Vitek Vanecek’s right, and it was 3-1, 18:16 into the period. That would be how the teams went off for the first intermission.
-- Fourteen of 18 skaters had plus ratings for the Caps in the period, John Carlson the only one at plus-2.
-- Washington led the Devils in shots on goal, 14-8, and they had the edge in shot attempts, 22-19.
-- The teams split 20 faceoffs down the middle, ten wins apiece; Nic Down was the only Capital over 50 percent (3-for-4/75.0 percent).
-- Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom had two takeaways apiece to lead the Caps.
-- Nick Jensen led the Caps in ice time with 7:23.
The Devils got the first power play of the second period, Alex Ovechkin going off for holding at 1:35. Washington killed the penalty, holding the Devils without a shot, and they held onto their two-goal lead. They did halve the lead, though, when Vitek Vanecek was knocked down in his crease, lost his stick, and then after scrambling to his feet, Pavel Zacha wristed the puck past him at the 6:09 mark to make it a 3-2 game.
Washington got their first power play or the contest at the 15:59 mark when Travis Zajac went to the penalty box to ponder his previous 1,001 NHL games, called for a holding penalty. The Caps failed to convert, recording no shots in the two minutes. The teams went to their respective locker rooms after 40 minutes with the Caps holding onto their 3-2 lead.
-- The Devils out-shots the Caps, 5-4, in the second period but were out-attempted by the Caps, 14-8.
-- Every Capital skater had at least one shot attempt through 40 minutes.
-- Garnet Hathaway led the team in credited hits through two period with three.
-- Giveaways can be awarded in arbitrary fashion, but Washington had only two in 40 minutes, while the Devils had 12.
The teams circled one another around the rink like Rocky and Apollo Creed in the last round of their first fight, but then the Devils ramped up their game. They could not find the equalizer, though, and it cost them. Jakub Vrana gave Washington a two-goal leadat 11:49 when Jakub Vrana got behind the Devils defense, took a lovely chip pass into space from the left wing boards by John Carlson, and scored though Blackwood’s pads on a breakaway.
New Jersey got a change to get closer with under five minutes left when Brenden Dillion went off for delay of game/puck over glass at the 15:29 mark. The Devils power play was wiped out when Kyle Palmieri went off for hooking at 16:00, putting the teams a 4-on-4. Neither team could score in that instance, but with the Devils’ net empty in the last two minutes, Nic Dowd iced the matter with an empty net goal at 19:06, the Caps winning by a 5-2 margin.
-- The five goals scored by the Caps made it five in consecutive games, the first time they did that this season and the first time since Game 66 and 67 last season when the Caps lost in overtime to the New York Rangers, 7-6, and followed that up with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
-- Eleven different Capitals had points, Carl Hagelin and John Carlson each with a pair (assists for both).
-- For Hagelin, it was his first multi-point game of the season and first since February 23rd last season when he had a pair of goals against Pittsburgh in a 5-3 win.
-- It was Carlson’s 113th multi-point game of his career, extending his lead among defensemen in Capitals history and tying Dale Hunter for eighth-place among all skaters since 1979-1980.
-- Fifteen Caps skaters finished with plus ratings, none with a minus. John Carlson was best at plus-3.
-- Carlson led the team in ice time (21:36); Dmitry Orlov led in even strength ice time (20:32), the only player on either team to top 20 minutes at evens.
-- The teams tied in shots on goal with 24 apiece, while the Devils out-attempted Washington, 47-45.
-- Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson led the team with three shots on goal apiece. Carlson led the club with six shot attempts.
-- Nic Dowd and Nicklas Backstrom each had ten faceoff wins for the Caps.
-- Vitek Vanecek stopped 22 of 24 shots (.917 save percentage); it was the third straight game in which his save percentage was over .900, a season high streak.
In the end…
The Caps had a great first 15 minutes, a good last dozen minutes, and an iffy middle, sort of like a sandwich made with two slices of artisanal bread and no filling. It was enough in this game because Vitek Vanecek did a lot to keep the Devils from establishing any momentum, especially at even strength (21 saves on 22 shots, and the goal scored after he was knocked down in his crease). That said, now the question is who the Caps start in goal on Sunday. Ride Vanecek in the back half of a back-to-back set of games? Give Craig Anderson his second start? Or activate ilya Samsonov? This is why they pay the head coach the big bucks. But that’s for Sunday. Saturday was a good day.