The Washington Capitals opened a two-game set with the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps were trying to return to the winning ways that saw them cobble together a seven-game winning streak before it was ended by the New York Rangers last Saturday. They were also looking to go 5-0-0 against the Devils this season. New Jersey was looking to build on their own two-game winning streak and capture a fifth win in their last six games. The Caps seemed out of sorts for stretches during the game, but contributions from a variety of sources allowed them to hang on for a 4-3 win.
It took the visitors just 83 seconds to put the first marker on the board. A sliding puck made its way all the way to goalie Vitek Vanecek, but he suffered a brain lock in trying to figure out to whom he wanted to pass the puck. In the indecision, the puck slid off his stick, and Nick Merkley stuffed it between his pads to give the Devils the early 1-0 lead.
Washington tied the game 1:47 later when Dmitry Orlov took a cross-ice pass from Justin Schultz and from the left point fired a shot through a screen set up by Conor Sheary in front of goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, the shot hitting the far post and caroming in to make it 1-1.
The Caps went to the power play at the 6:13 mark when Yegor Sherangovich was sent off for hooking. The Caps managed a single shot on goal and were kept off the scoreboard. The Devils got their first power play 13:39 into the period when Zdeno Chara was hit with a slashing call. New Jersey had three shots on goal in their man advantage, but they were unsuccessful getting any of them past Vanecek.
The Devils got another power play at 18:15 but did not score before the period ended. The teams went to the first intermission tied, 1-1, the Devils carrying over 15 seconds of a power play into the second period.
-- New Jersey outshot the Caps, 11-4, and out-attempted them, 25-11.
-- Washington had a 12-4 edge in credited hits, Garnet Hathaway leading the team with three.
-- John Carlson led the team in shot attempts with three.
-- Nicklas Backstrom was a perfect 4-for-4 on faceoffs.
New Jersey did not score on the remaining 15 seconds of their power play to open the period, but they did take the lead back in the seventh minute when Miles Wood, shooting from a severe angle to Vanecek’s left, somehow found space between Vanecek, who was stapled to the left post, and the post to sneak the puck through to make it a 2-1 game at the 6:20 mark.
Washington tied it 55 seconds later when Alex Ovechkin one-timed a pass from Daniel Sprong and beat Blackwood from the left wing faceoff dot, tying the game at 2-2 7:15 into the period.
The Caps took their first lead of the game on a “let’s all meet at the net” play. Ovechkin started the play with a blistering shot from the right wing circle that Blackwood defended, but could not control. The puck popped into the air and fell into the slot as Brenden Dillion and Daniel Sprong caused havoc in front of Blackwood. Evgeny Kuznetsov came in late, collected the loose puck and circled down and to the right of Blackwood. His shot from just above the goal line snuck behind Blackwood and made it a 3-2 game 11:47 into the period. That would be the end of the scoring through 40 minutes.
-- Daniel Sprong had a pair of assists and was a plus-3 through two periods.
-- Washington outshot the Devils, 9-6, in the second period and out-attempted them, 18-17.
-- John Carlson was one of five Caps with two shots on goal and led the team with six shot attempts through 40 minutes.
The teams went back and forth to no productive end over the first half of the period minutes, but New Jersey was awarded a power play at the 10:38 mark, Nick Jensen going off for cross-checking. The Devils converted the power play chance to tie the game, Jesper Bratt one-timing a pass from Ty Smith from the right wing circle over the glove of Vanecek on the near side at the 11:04 mark.
Once more, though the Caps responded immediately. Justin Schultz fired the puck to the net from the right wing wall, a shot that was redirected by Kuznetsov and then off the skate of Devils defenseman Damon Severson past Blackwood to make it 4-3 12:06 into the period.
The Caps had a power play chance 20 seconds later when Sami Vatanen was sent to the penalty box for hooking. They did not convert and clung to their one-goallead.
New Jersey pulled Blackwood for an extra skater late, but they could not find the equalizer, the Caps skating off with a 4-3 win.
-- The Caps’ first, second, and fourth goals were scored just 1:47, 0:55, and 1:02 after New Jersey goals.
-- Evgeny Kuznetosv’s two goals were his first on home ice this season. It was his 16th career multi-goal game, tying Mike Green for 17th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, his 369th multi-point game of his career. He is the all-time leader in this category for the Capitals.
-- Daniel Sprong had two assists, the seventh multi-point game of his career and first for the Caps.
-- Justin Schultz had a pair of assists, his 40th career multi-point game and fifth with the Caps, all of them this season.
-- Jakub Vrana skated only three shifts in the third period after getting six shifts in each of the first two periods.
-- New Jersey outshot the Caps, 24-22, and out-attempted them, 55-49. Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on goal; John Carlson led in shot attempts with nine.
-- Garnet Hathaway was credited with eight hits, almost as many as the entire Devils’ team posted (nine).
-- Zdeno Chara had six of the Caps’ 16 blocked shots.
-- Nic Dowd finished the game winning 11 of 17 faceoffs (64.7 percent).
In the end…
The Caps started sluggishly in this game and were out of sorts for stretches throughout. However, they got a lot of contributions from different players, as the “other stuff” above indicates. They had the good fortune of playing a team without a lot of depth in skill, but it seemed more a matter of four-day rust accumulation since their last game on Saturday than lack of effort. With a rematch in less than 24 hours, more focus and energy should be sufficient to sweep this two-game set.