Backstrom Hat Trick, Holtby Stifle Devils in Washington

It has not been easy for the Devils on the road this season. Put them up against a surging defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, and you had a bit of a recipe for disaster. The Devils fell 6-3 at Capital One Arena tonight.

The good news, however, is that that score was not fully indicative of how the Devils played. They played well, but just ran into a brick wall in Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby. When the Devils beat Washington 6-0 back in October, they faced backup Pheonix Copley. Tonight, they got Holtby and he was brilliant. He stopped 33 of 36 Devils shots, but that only tells half the story. Especially for a period of time in the mid-to-late second period, the Devils threw everything but the kitchen sink at Holtby and he was consistently equal to the task. He stopped several key breakaways by the Devils, including one by former Capital Marcus Johansson and two by Brett Seney.

Keith Kinkaid went for the Devils and stopped 25 of 29 shots he faced. Kinkaid was just as good, but did have one mental gaffe that led directly to a goal in the second period, which we will get to.

Some roster moves to deal with before we get started, as the Devils placed J-S Dea on waivers in order to try to get him to clear and send him down to Binghamton. He was reclaimed by Pittsburgh off of waivers. Coming up to take his place from Binghamton was Mikey McLeod. The Devils’ 12th overall pick in the 2016 Draft made his NHL debut tonight slotting in for Stefan Noesen, who was a healthy scratch. Drew Stafford and Egor Yakovlev were the other scratches. Johansson was back after missing one game due to injury and Mirco Mueller slotted back in on defense. Joey Anderson is week-to-week with a broken ankle suffered a few games ago when he crashed into the net. He had surgery on the ankle.

McLeod finished the game with an even plus/minus rating, won 17-percent of his faceoffs all in 5:36 of ice time (including four seconds on the power play). He had three goals and seven assists in the AHL this season so far for a total of ten points.

A little bit of fun trivia before we get started as the linesmen for the game, Brandon Gawryletz and Travis Gawryletz are brothers. According to Steve Cangialosi of MSG+, they had only worked one other game together at the NHL level prior to tonight.

Backstrom got the Capitals off to a roaring start when he scored at 3:51 of the first period from Alex Ovechkin and Michal Kempny. Ovechkin caught the Devils in a change and turned on the jets to skate the puck into the Devils’ zone. There he fed Backstrom who scored his first of the game to make it 1-0 Washington.

At 18:38 of the first, former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly took an interference call against Andy Greene. The Devils would be on the power play and when the horn sounded, would have 36 seconds of carry over time to the second.

But, just eight seconds into the second frame, the Caps’ Tom Wilson took the puck off the backboards on a Matt Niskanen clearing attempt. He then scored from a strange angle as Kinkaid was not able to handle the puck cleanly on the wrap around. Lars Eller, who won the faceoff to begin the period, was given the secondary assist on the goal. It was now 2-0 Caps on that shorthanded goal by Wilson.

But the Devils would grab one back when Travis Zajac scored a shorty of his own at the 9:23 mark of the second. Taylor Hall had taken a tripping call and the Devils were killing off a penalty. But then Blake Coleman stood the Capitals up at the Devils blue line and was on his way with Zajac on a 2-on-1. Coleman shot and Holtby made the initial save, with Zajac following up and hammering home the rebound to cut the Washington lead in half 2-1.

Overall, on special teams, the Devils were 0-for-5 on the power play with four shots on Holtby. They also had two shorthanded shots, of which they scored on one. The Caps were 1-for-4 on the power play with seven shots, plus one shorthanded shot (on which they scored).

Late in the second, everything hit the fan, so to speak. We talked about Brett Seney’s breakaways and on his second one, after he was turned aside by Holtby, Wilson plowed into the zone and leveled Seney from behind. Although it was actually shoulder-to-shoulder, it was from behind and Seney was without the puck and, because of Wilson’s reputation, he received a match penalty at 17:39. Wilson was gone from the game, with an automatic hearing with the league for possible supplemental discipline and the Devils were on a five minute power play.

However, the Devils would not score on that five minute power play, one which could have ultimately tied the game up at two. Instead, Washington continually stopped the Devils from getting a clean zone entry and set up.

There was 2:39 of carry over power play time into the third period, but once the Caps killed that off, they would begin to open the flood gates. Andre Burakovsky scored at 5:45 of the third from Kempny and Backstrom as he split the Devils defense and beat Kinkaid on a partial breakaway.

The wheels then began to seemingly fall off for the Devils as 8:26 of the third, Miles Wood was assessed a double minor for butt ending Dmitry Orlov with his stick. Then, at 10:17, Sami Vatanen was called for hooking Jakub Vrana and Washington would have two minutes of 5-on-3 power play time. And that is just poking the bear that is the fourth-ranked power play unit in the NHL. Backstrom scored at 10:57 to make it 4-1. He took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and shot the puck under the crossbar and in. John Carlson had the secondary assist.

In what was already a strange game, the Devils were not through yet. They began the long climb back into things at 12:35 when Nico Hischier finished a play started by Hall. Hall drove to the Caps’ net with a nice power move and Nico put the rebound away. That goal made it 4-2 and gave the Devils some life.

The Devils would cut the Capital lead to one at 18:10 when Johansson scored on his old team from Hall and Hischier. This one came when the three rushed up the ice and Hall fed Johansson as Marcus was crashing the net. He shoveled the puck in from right on the doorstep and made it 4-3.

We seemed to be headed for a dramatic finish, as the Devils pulled Kinkaid with about 1:30 remaining in the game. But things were not to be as Ovechkin grabbed the puck at his own blue line, knew he had time and sent it down the ice to score into the empty net. That put Washington back up by two at 5-3.

But the Devils felt that they still had time and they pulled Kinkaid again with a little over a minute remaining. Backstrom then broke in on the empty net with Ovechkin, who fed him to score into the open goal mouth and finish off his hatty. That made it 6-3 Capitals, which was our final.

The Devils had a good night statistically, out shooting Washington 36-31, winning 53-percent of the game’s faceoffs, out hitting the Caps 12-6 and having less giveaways at 12 for the Caps to the Devils’ nine. Washington registered more blocked shots at 14 to 11.

Individually, Vatanen led all skaters for the Devils in ice time with 21:59 (3:26 on the power play and 1:04 on the penalty kill) while Hall led all forwards with 21:38 (6:48 of PP time and four seconds of PK time). Four players led in shots on goal with four (Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Johansson and Damon Severson) while Wood led in hits with four. Blocks went to Greene with three and five players registered a takeaway (Hall, Brian Boyle, Hischier, Coleman and Severson).

Next up, the Devils have to regroup fast. They will be facing another elite team in the Winnipeg Jets at home tomorrow at 7 PM. They are now winless in their last four games and will look to rectify that tomorrow night. We will, of course, have that for you right here tomorrow.

Devils Rout Caps 6-0 in Home Opener Proper

Call it a dream or call it just an all-around awesome night, but the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals came into Prudential Center and left thoroughly defeated. The Devils returned to the Prudenial Center for the first time in a month – their last home game having been the preseason opener against the Rangers.

In front of a house full of raucous Devils fans, made all the more impressive considering the New York Giants were playing a home game up the road at MetLife Stadium on Thursday Night Football against the rival Philadelphia Eagles, it was the Devils who put up the touchdown. They defeated Washington 6-0 and improved to 2-0 on the young season.

The Devils played a complete game in dismantling the champs. From perfect defensive coverage against the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov to topping the Caps in scoring chances a whopping 32 to 13.

Healthy scratches for the Devils included Eric Gryba, Steven Santini and Drew Stafford. The lineup was exactly the same one coach John Hynes put out against Edmonton in Gothenburg, Sweden. Jesper Bratt remains on injured reserve with a broken jaw. He has resumed off ice training.

We can start in net, as the Devils went with Keith Kinkaid again, with Cory Schneider still on injured reserve (he is skating with the team now), he stopped all 21 Washington shots he saw. Kinkaid ended up posting the fifth shutout of his career and the team’s first against the Caps since November 14, 2014 when Cory notched it.

To put what Keith did in perspective, the Capitals had scored 18 goals in their first three regular season games. They are, of course, an offensive powerhouse. But while most of the credit for the shutout obviously has to go to Kinkaid, the Devils played some good system defense. Washington did not even register their first shot of the game until the 13:51 mark of the first period. By then, the Devils had already peppered the Capitals’ net with five shots.

Going for the Capitals was young Pheonix Copley, from North Pole, Alaska. He was starting with the Caps playing the backend of a back-to-back – having defeated the Vegas Golden Knights last night in a Stanley Cup Final rematch down in Washington. He came over to the Caps from St. Louis in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade and had only a single NHL decision prior to this game. He stopped 30 of 36 Devils shots against, but the 6-0 score does not do him justice. He came up big a few times for the Caps, including stopping Pavel Zacha a few times during the course of the evening. Zacha played a good game, but Copley just seemed to have his number early and often.

Special teams-wise, Hynes was quoted as saying that the Capitals’ power play kept him up last night. But the Devils’ penalty kill was just as effective in keeping things in check there: Washington went 0-for-4 with just two shots on net. They also registered a single shorthanded shot. The Devils, however, were 1-for-4 with the extra man while also clocking two shots on the power play and one shorthanded.

Getting the scoring going was someone very familiar. Kyle Palmieri became the first Devil in history to have multi-goal games in the team’s first two games of a season. His first came 7:02 into the game when he scored off of a goalmouth scramble to make it 1-0 Devils. Nico Hischier had the primary assist while Damon Severson posted the secondary assist.

His second came at 18:33 on the power play from Will Butcher and Taylor Hall. It came when Palmieri whiffed on a shot initially near the near half wall. He recovered and passed to Butcher who gave it back to him. He fired from the top of the near faceoff circle/slot area and blistered one by Copley to make it 2-0.

This power play goal had come after the Devils had gotten into penalty trouble when Severson and Kuznetsov were sent off for roughing along with Miles Wood. Wood had skated back into a scrum and went toe-to-toe with Ovechkin. He was called for roughing too, putting New Jersey down a man. They would, however, kill that off.

The Devils tripled their lead in the second when former-Cap Marcus Johansson scored from Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller. It came just 2:54 into the second frame and occurred when Zacha won a faceoff that was tipped back to Mueller. He went point-to-point with Vatanen, who one-touched it to Johansson just inside the blue line in the middle of the ice. He snapped the puck through a screen by Zacha in front and it was 3-0 Devils just like that.

The third period would see the Devils finish things off. First, Blake Coleman (who was playing center on the fourth line with Brian Boyle moved to the wing) scored at 5:49 from Ben Lovejoy. That came when Coleman won a draw back to Lovejoy at the point. Lovejoy lofted one into the right corner and Coleman, who was driving towards the net, grabbed it and spun around at the goal line. His shot snuck between Copley’s arm and the post and in, giving the Devils a 4-0 lead.

It would become 5-0 when Jean-Sebastien Dea scored his second career NHL goal and his first as a Devil from Boyle at 11:35. That one saw Boyle drive towards the net off a rush up the right wing. Copley made the save but the clearing attempt by the Capitals came right to the stick of Dea. He fired the puck five hole, beating Copley.

Boyle himself would complete the touchdown and make it 6-0 Devils when he scored from Stefan Noesen at 14:45 of the third. That one developed when Noesen worked the puck out of the far corner. He got it to the point where it was shot on net. The puck came back to Noesen, who gave it to Boyle behind the net. Boyle came out the near side, stuffing the wraparound chance by Copley to make it 6-0 and give us our final.

Statistically, the Devils were outhit by Washington 30-19, with Hall especially getting rocked by a Caps player at one point especially hard with a clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit. The Capitals definitely played the more physical game of the two. The Devils had 20 blocks to the Caps’ eight while both teams posted nine giveaways.

Individually, Sami Vatanen led the Devils with 24:45 total ice time – including 1:51 on the power play and 2:30 on the penalty kill. That is not surprising as Vatanen plays heavy minutes against the big guns and very few teams have the firepower the Washington Capitals do. For forwards, Noesen had the most ice time with 16:44 total and 2:07 on the PP and 41 seconds on the PK. Shots on goal saw Hall and Palmieri tie for the lead with five each. Severson and Vatanen each dished out three hits to lead there and Vatanen also led in blocks with five. Takeaways saw Noesen register three to lead in that category.

Next up for the Devils, another test as the San Jose Sharks come in on Sunday for the 1 PM matinee. The Sharks are one of the better teams out west. If the Devils can follow up their win tonight with another against the Sharks, that would go a long way in showing that they are able to hang with anyone. This is important because six of the Devils next eight games comes against teams that made the playoffs last season (including this one). The other two are against Florida and Dallas, two teams that just narrowly missed the postseason. We will see if the Devils can keep the momentum going after this huge win.

Capping Off A Great Season

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Washington Capitals and their fans can call themselves Stanley Cup champions. The Caps defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in game five tonight to finish off a great Stanley Cup Final. Washington won the series four games to one.

Washington had a tough battle to get to this point. They were down in the first round series to the Blue Jackets, finally slayed the dragon in defeating the Penguins in the second round and had to overcome the top team in the Eastern Conference in the regular season in the Conference Final.

When the series began with a Vegas win, it seemed to be business as usual in this playoff. The Golden Knights had steamrolled through the Kings, Sharks and Jets en route to the Final in their very first NHL season. It seemed nothing could stop the Knights on their way to the first Cup championship in their inaugural season.

But the Knights had not seen a goaltender the likes of Braden Holtby this playoff. He came up big when he needed to and was the difference for the Caps. Add to that the play of eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, Alex Ovechkin (he led the playoffs in scoring) and the Capitals were on their way to four straight wins for the Cup. Ovechkin also became the first Russian-born captain to hoist the Cup in NHL history.

Colonia, New Jersey-native, defenseman John Carlson also played a big role in the win. As did former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored some clutch goals in the final round and tied up game five at three goals to get the Caps rolling to a Stanley Cup win. Congrats to them and to Ovechkin, who really changed his philosophy and became more of a team player under head coach Barry Trotz.

Congratulations to the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and their players, coaching staff and fans on this “monumental” achievement. Also, congrats to the Golden Knights for representing Las Vegas well and having a hell of a first year in Sin City. They have really built a fanbase there and hopefully many great things still lay in store for that franchise.

That concludes the 2017-18 NHL season, but we will have plenty of coverage throughout the summer regarding the NHL Awards, the Draft and free agency as it relates to the Devils for you, so keep an eye right here!

Caps To Meet Golden Knights in Stanley Cup Final

The 2018 Stanley Cup Final was set last night when the Washington Capitals bested the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the final round for the first time since 1998.

They will meet the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, a team that has never lost a playoff series. The first-year Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in four games to one to advance out of the Western Conference.

The Capitals are kind of a weird team this year in that they are not as good as they have been in recent years when they have been picked by many experts to win it all. They lost pieces such as the Devils’ own Marcus Johansson and replaced them with players such as former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly. With all due respect to Smith-Pelly, he is not the same kind of player that Johansson is. Washington has arguably been weaker this year than in past years, but have been performing in the playoffs when, in years past, they did not.

But the irony is that the Caps have been playing their best this playoff. They came back from being two down to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round to win four straight and the series. They finally got over the Pittsburgh hump by beating the Penguins in the second round. And, although they blew a two games to none lead (after winning both of the first games of the series on the road no less) in the conference final, they still managed to take game seven from the Lightning on Tampa’s home ice.

The Golden Knights have had an easier time of it. They plowed through the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds, two aging heavy teams that could not keep up with the youthful Knights’ speed. After dropping the first game of the West final in Winnipeg, they rebounded to take four straight from a very good Jets team.

The story of the playoffs for Vegas, though, has to be goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has been lights out, putting the Knights on his shoulders and carrying them for most of the postseason. Vegas definitely has the edge between the pipes.

But the Caps have a motivated player of their own: captain Alex Ovechkin. He is very close to a Stanley Cup ring now and he is doing all that he can to shake the label of “choker.” The big Russian should give Fleury all that he can handle.

Then you have the factor of the crowds. Washington fans will be hungry for their first taste of the Stanley Cup Final since being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. This is also the first time in the Ovechkin era that the team has been this far in the playoffs. Add to that the team coming off of a huge game seven win in the Eastern final and the Capital One Arena crowd will be ready to make some noise.

Then there is Vegas. That building will be as noisy as it has been all season. This is uncharted territory, really. The last time an expansion team made the Stanley Cup FInal in its first season was 1968 when the St. Louis Blues did it. But there is a caveat there. The NHL put all of the six new expansion teams in a single division, so that an expansion team had to come out of that division to meet an Original Six team in the Final. The Blues were swept that year by the Montreal Canadiens. They were not on equal footing, that is for sure.

Prior to the Blues, you have to go back another 50 years, to the very founding year of the NHL, 1917-18, to find another first year team to challenge for the Cup. That year it was the Toronto Arenas, the team that would eventually become the Maple Leafs, that defeated Montreal.

The good thing for fans this time around, is that Vegas is not your average expansion team, as they have shown all season long. They were very shrewd in the Expansion Draft and during the season in making deals for players that could help them get to this point.

Yet another factor is time. The Final starts on Monday. Vegas will have had more than a week’s layoff while the Caps will have been idle for about three days. The series kicks off at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. How will the teams come out of their respective breaks? How much is too much of a layoff? How much rest is just right? Can the Knights last if Washington makes this a longer series, considering they have not played any really drawn out series yet?

The answers to these questions and more will begin to come to light on Monday evening when the Stanley Cup Final comes to the Silver State for the first time ever. Good luck to both teams!

Devils Fall to Caps in 2017-18 Season Finale

Patrick Maroon had a goal and two assists against the Capitals on Saturday. He has factored into every Devils’ goal for the final two games of the year. Photo: Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The Devils finished up the 2017-18 season with a 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. This puts a bow on what has been a fantastic (if not roller coaster-like) regular season and sets the stage for the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 2018 edition.

New Jersey was not fooling around with taking any chances tonight. They rested Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri in order to keep them healthy for the postseason. Keith Kinkaid did not dress, as Eddie Lack was called up from Binghamton to back up Cory Schneider – making his first start since March 20 at San Jose – and Marcus Johansson is still being held out. Deb Placey of MSG+ alluded to the fact that it might not be until further into the playoffs (should the Devils get there) that he will play.

Because of this, some guys were playing in what would be essentially an audition for the playoffs. Jimmy Hayes, Drew Stafford, Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson, who have all been healthy scratches lately, were all back in the lineup. How they played tonight will determine how the coaching staff form their lineup for the playoffs.

The Devils would likely have a dance partner for the first round by the end of the night. The only thing they knew was that they could not face the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the outcome of their game versus Washington, the Devils knew that they would be crossing over to the Atlantic Division as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They finished with exactly the same amount of points and ROWs as Columbus, but the Jackets took the season series against New Jersey, which is the next tiebreaker.

Whether it was Boston or Tampa Bay (whomever won the Atlantic would be their opponent), they would not know tonight. Boston won in regulation while the Hurricanes defeated the Lightning in overtime. The Bruins have a makeup game on home ice tomorrow against the Panthers that will decide the winner of the Atlantic. If the Bruins win that game in any fashion (regulation, OT or shootout), the Devils will face the Bruins. Should Boston lose, the Devils get the Lightning in the first round. The Bruins and the Cats are making up a game that was snowed out at TD Garden back in January.

Whew!

Between the pipes, Cory Schneider went for the Devils. As stated, Eddie Lack was called up from the AHL to dress as his backup. Schneider, of course, has not won a game in the 2018 calendar year, and was looking to get in some good work before the playoffs began, as the Devils need him to be in good shape for the playoffs. He stopped 21 of 26 Caps’ shots. He also weathered a storm of shots by Alex Ovechkin later in the game. More on why that was later.

For the Capitals, Braden Holtby was in action. He is having a similar season to Cory in that the former Vezina Trophy winner has not been playing up to his own high standards. He made 23 saves on 26 Devils shots.

Ovechkin was looking to reach 50 goals this year. He would need a hat trick to reach that goal but it was certainly within reach for him. He kicked off the game’s scoring with his 48th goal of the year when he scored from his usual spot. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson had the assists on that goal just 2:21 in to make it 1-0 Caps.

The Devils would respond a few minutes later at the 8:10 mark of the first when Nico Hischier scored his 20th of the year from Patrick Maroon and Severson. Severson came in with a well-timed pinch to move the puck to Maroon behind the Washington net. Maroon quickly passed to Nico, who was cruising into the slot. He fired and beat Holtby to the stick side. The game was tied up at one.

According to a tweet by the guys at the great Devils Insiders podcast, with that goal, Hischier reached one of his Schedule A bonuses for the year and would recoup $212,500. Congratulations to Nico on that accomplishment.

Washington would regain the lead with just seconds to go in the first period when Nicklas Backstrom scored from Brett Connolly and John Carlson at 19:32 to make it 2-1 Caps going into the first break.

Michal Kempny scored at the 3:44 mark of the second period to give the Capitals at two goal lead. He got assists from Shane Gersich and Chandler Stephenson.

The Devils would cut it to 3-2 with a little under a minute to go in the second. Miles Wood scored his 19th from Maroon and Pavel Zacha as that line continued their hot streak. Maroon won a puck battle behind the Washington net, trying to pass on his forehand to Wood on the doorstep. That pass was blocked by the Washington defender and bounced back to Maroon’s stick. He skated to the other side of the net and came out from around it, passing on his backhand to Wood in front. Wood shoveled the pass by Holtby on his glove side.

Maroon had now assisted on all of the Devils goals in the last two games. But he was not done. He would get one himself just 2:04 into the third (assists to Zacha and Wood) to tie things up at three. Wood batted down a clearing attempt by the Caps at their blue line. He knocked it right to Zacha, who found Maroon cutting towards the net from the far faceoff circle. He shot and beat Holtby glove side to make it 3-3.

Unfortunately, that was it for the Devils’ offense this game. But it is a good time for the Wood-Maroon-Zacha combination to get hot and we are anxious to see what they can do in the playoffs.

The rest of the scoring for third period saw Ovechkin get one closer to 50 with his 49th unassisted at 5:11. That is where he would end. The game broke down late into a bizzare attempt by the Caps to get Ovechkin the puck at all costs as he tried to get to that magic mark.

Andre Burakovsky would add a fifth goal for Washington at 11:50 from Kempny and Backstrom and that was it for the season.

On the power play for the night, the Devils were 0-for-1 with two shots on goal while the Caps were 0-for-2 with two shots on goal. The Devils also had two shorthanded shots on goal.

Overall, shots were even at 26, the Devils won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs, the Capitals out hit the Devils 15-10 and the Caps also had more blocks at 13-11. Individually, Severson led the team in ice time with 21:19 (including 55 seconds on the power play) while Brian Gibbons led the forwards with 19:03 (2:48 on the PK – he had a good game killing penalties). Shots on goal was led by Wood with five. Maroon led in hits with three. Andy Greene led in blocks with three and Brian Boyle and Mirco Mueller led in takeaways with two each.

Next up: the playoffs. The Devils will find out who they will be facing tomorrow following the conclusion of the Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers contest. So far in the East, Washington will take on Columbus, Pittsburgh will face Philadelphia and the Maple Leafs will face the loser of the Atlantic Division – the Devils will get the winner. We will be with you through the playoffs whenever they do start for New Jersey.

Note: if you enjoyed this post, please follow us on Twitter @LGDevilsNet, email us at LetsGoDevilsNet@gmail.com or simply leave a comment below. Thanks!

Devils Prevail in OT, Finally Beat Washington

The Devils wanted to give the Washington Capitals “a game.” The team felt that they had not played the Caps well at all in their twin 5-2 losses in two games against them this season and for the most part, they were right. Tonight, the Devils conceded a point to the Metropolitan Division leaders, but took the full two by defeating the Capitals 4-3 in overtime. Washington is definitely one of the elite teams in the NHL and the Devils wanted to show that they could skate with them.

The Capitals had had some travel problems getting into Newark. They had just come off of their bye week and could not get into New Jersey in time for a practice yesterday, due to weather problems in DC. They just got in a morning skate earlier today.

Some roster moves for the Devils first, as the lineup remained largely the same as the one that defeated the Islanders Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Some good news for the Devils on the injury front as Mirco Mueller is back and was sent to Binghamton of the AHL on a “conditioning assignment.” Blake Coleman and Jimmy Hayes were the healthy scratches along with Steven Santini, who had been optioned to Binghamton to make room for backup goalie Ken Appleby. But Cory Schneider was back – although he did not play tonight – and, thus, so was Santini.

Cory did not start tonight, not because he was still sick, he is better, but because he had lost five pounds in one-and-a-half days and has not skated. So Keith Kinkaid made a back-to-back start coming off of his win in New York Tuesday. It was a relatively light night for him as he made 16 saves on just 19 shots total against. Going against him was Braden Holtby, one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL right now to be sure. He made 28 saves on 32 shots against. Kinkaid was the last Devils goalie to defeat Washington with a 2-1 shootout win last season.

One of the main themes of the night was the special teams. In their two other games against the Devils this season, the Caps were 4-for-7 on the power play total. Tonight the Devils certainly gave the Capitals the chances, but limited them to 0-for-5 on the night with just five shots. The Devils were 0-for-3 with three shots on goal. It was dicey, but the penalty killing unit really came through for New Jersey.

The Devils took the early lead 8:01 into the first period when alley-ooped a pass to Drew Stafford behind the Washington defense. Stafford skated in on Holtby, went backhand and beat him with Devante Smith-Pelly backchecking hard all over him. Just like that, the Devils had the 1-0 lead.

However, it would only take about four minutes and nine seconds for the Caps to respond. Brett Connolly scored at 12:10 from TJ Oshie and Brooks Orpik to tie the game up.

The next goal came within a milestone game. Andy Greene was playing in his 750th NHL game (and coming off of his first NHL fight in his 749th game) and would put the Devils up by one just 3:33 into the second period. It came when Taylor Hall gained the Capitals’ zone before stopping and putting the puck on Nico Hischier’s stick in front of the Caps’ net. Hischier had the presence of mind to simply tap it over to Greene, cutting in back door and Greene put it between Holtby’s left arm and the goal post to make it 2-1 Devils.

New Jersey got a lift when Brian Boyle came to the aid of Brian Gibbons. Gibbons had absorbed a hard hit from Capitals’ tough guy Tom Wilson. Boyle dropped the gloves with Wilson and the two had a spirited bout. Unfortunately, Boyle took the instigator penalty along with five for fighting plus a ten minute misconduct. The Devils would be killing off the instigator penalty and be without the services of Boyle for ten minutes. Wilson only got a five minute major for fighting.

The Devils would kill that penalty off and tack on an insurance goal at the 10:55 mark of the second when Miles Wood used his speed to create a goal. It happened when Hischier won a defensive zone draw back to Sami Vatanen. Vatanen looped the puck up ice to Wood, who snuck in behind the Washington defense on a breakaway. His shot trickled through Holtby’s five hole to put the Devils up 3-1.

The Washington comeback began quickly, however. Dmitry Orlov scored less than a minute after the Wood goal. He got assists from Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle. That would make it 3-2, New Jersey.

Then the other shoe would drop. It would take until the 16:12 mark of the third period, but Connolly scored his second of the game from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Wilson to tie things up at three. The Capitals had spent a lot of offensive time in the Devils’ zone at that point and the ice certainly looked tilted in their favor.

Time would expire in regulation and, although the Devils had gained at least a point against Washington for the first time this year, there was still a bit of a let down throughout the Prudential Center. But all it would take was 34 seconds of overtime to end things.

Vatanen chipped the puck free to Hall, who slipped past Kuznetsov and was off to the races. He beat Holtby glove side on the breakaway and the Devils had gotten the 4-3 win. Hall notched his team-leading 17th goal of the year on that play and the Devils got two points against the Capitals for the first time this year. Hall was also named the game’s first star, Connolly the second and Wood the third.

Stat-wise, Greene led in time on ice with 23:39 while Hall and Wood tied for the shots lead with four each. Ben Lovejoy led in hits with six and in blocks with three. The Devils won 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

So the Devils pick up a point on the Caps, but Washington still leads the Metro Division by four points with 60, but the Devils closed the gap a little bit by getting points 55 and 56.

Next up, the Devils take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. This will be the second meeting between the Turnpike rivals this month. The Flyers have been coming on strong in the Metro. How will the Devils fare in this 1 PM matinee? We will find out Saturday afternoon.

Devils Fall to High Powered Caps

The Metropolitan Division still runs through Washington, DC. Despite the Devils great play recently, they will still need to be able to beat Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals if they want to be considered real contenders.

Unfortunately, last night they were unable to get that done. Ovechkin had three assists, Backstrom had two assists and a goal and John Carlson had a goal and two assists as the Caps beat the Devils 5-2 at Capital One Arena. The Devils’ second half of the season will feature more and more Eastern Conference, and especially, Metro Division opponents, so they need to get things going now if they are going to stay in contention. The loss last night put the Capitals ahead of the Devils by one point into first place in the Metro.

A trade to talk about before we get to the game, as the Devils sent Dalton Prout to the Calgary Flames in exchange for goalie Eddie Lack. Prout will report to the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, while Lack will report to Binghamton. A good move to trade Prout, as he was just not getting playing time with the Devils, a more speedy skill team now. This move will allow him to get some playing time while getting back a veteran goaltender for the Devils. Prout had cleared waivers on Friday and had been sent down to Binghamton. Good luck to him and I hope he gets some playing time with Calgary.

As for last night for the Devils, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford were the healthy scratches.

Marcus Johansson was making his return to Washington last night, his first such regular season trip (he played them there in the preseason and one regular season game against them in New Jersey). He got the special video tribute treatment and a standing ovation by the Washington crowd. One other milestone is that Travis Zajac played in his 800th National Hockey League game (all with the Devils) last night. Congrats to him.

In the nets, Cory Schneider was making his ninth straight start for the Devils. Coach John Hynes said that they went back to him basically because Cory is playing well, did not see much work against Buffalo and it was an important game for the Devils, as well. Cory has all the confidence of the coaching staff and is back to being the team’s workhorse. He made 30 saves on 34 shots faced. Braden Holtby, who has been one of the top goaltenders in the league for the past four or five years, including winning a Vezina Trophy, went for Washington and made 25 saves on 27 shots against.

Tom Wilson got the scoring off to a start just 2:26 into the game, getting assists from Christian Djoos (who pronounces his name as “juice”) and Jersey-native John Carlson. Washington quickly took the 1-0 lead.

They would go up by a deuce when Djoos scored at 11:09 of the first from Backstrom and Ovechkin. The Devils were not out of the first period yet and were in a bit of a hole.

But John Moore cut that lead in half at 17:35 of the first when he pushed the puck deep in the Caps’ zone, giving it to Johansson behind the Washington net. The former Cap gave it to Zajac, who found Moore setting up at the far faceoff circle. He passed across to him and Moore snuck it between the pipe and Holtby’s left arm, making the score 2-1.

The Capitals would retake the two goal lead at 7:01 of the second period when Carlson, from Colonia, New Jersey (who grew up a Scott Stevens and Devils fan) scored from Backstrom and Ovechkin on the power play. It was set up by Pavel Zacha taking a holding penalty against Djoos. The Caps’ power play on the night was 1-for-2 with four shots while the Devils were 0-for-2 with a pair of shots.

Some controversy on the Capitals’ fourth goal, which came at 4:25 into the third period. Matt Niskanen scored that from former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly and Ovechkin, but replays would show that the Capitals had six men on the ice. How four officials all missed that is anyone’s guess, but the goal counted and Washington had the 4-1 lead.

The Devils would get one back when Zajac scored at the 9:00 mark of the third. It came when the Devils got the puck down low and Sami Vatanen eventually got it at the near half wall. His pass rebounded off of a Capitals player’s skate right to Johansson. He found Zajac on the near side of the net and he just shoveled it in to make it 4-2 Caps.

Unfortunately, Backstrom would put the game away at 19:19 of the third, making it 5-2 and finishing the Devils off. He got a lone assist from Carlson on that goal.

So with that, the Capitals move slightly ahead of the Devils into first place in the Metropolitan Division with 51 points. The Devils fall to second with 50 points. The Devils also become the lastest team to get to double digit losses. Now only Tampa Bay and Vegas remain with less than 10 losses.

And now the Devils are done with the 2017 calendar year, their next game coming in 2018, on Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues. This will be yet another test for the Devils and hopefully they can get back on a winning track. The Devils will just need to shake the loss in Washington off and move on. Hopefully they are able to shake the Capitals buggaboo at some point before the playoffs start.

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to a very happy and healthy 2018!

Capitals Deal Devils FIrst Loss of Season

It’s Friday the 13th and the Devils were in action against the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center. Unfortunately, it would not be a lucky one for New Jersey, as the Devils fell by a score of 5-2 to be dealt their first loss of 2017-18.

The Devils’ sixteen goals for in their first three games was their highest total since the 1991-92 season, but the Caps have earned at least a point in their last eight meetings. It was a battle of special teams, where the Devils would really put their penalty kill to the test by taking a lot of extra penalties. Washington had been 40-percent on the power play and 90-percent on the penalty kill on the road coming into this game meaning that the Devils would need to on top of their special teams if they wanted to come out with the W in this one.

But it was not to be. As mentioned, the Devils spent way too much time in the penalty box and Alex Ovechkin and company had enough time to tee up.

That does not mean there were no positives to be taken from the game for New Jersey. Both Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri found the back of the net for their first goals of the season, getting two of the team’s more talented goal scorers on the scoresheet. As MSG’s Bryce Salvador pointed out, the Devils have gotten good secondary scoring from their bottom six forwards, which served them well when the big guys were having a little bit of trouble.

To the game highlights, as the contest kicked off with a weird incident. The Caps’ Nicklas Backstrom was hit in the head with a puck during pregame warmups. He was not wearing a helmet and was announced as a scratch in the arena before the game. However, he did end up playing and would make quite an impact, including being named the game’s first star.

For the Devils, Dalton Prout slotted back in while Mirco Mueller sat out along with Ben Lovejoy and the still-day-to-day with a lower body injury Drew Stafford.

In contrast to the Devils, who have gotten a lot of their scoring from their secondary sources, the Capitals have been relying mostly on the big guns, TJ Oshie and Ovechkin for their output. Ovechkin alone had two hat tricks in his first two games of the season. And that would change little in this game. Oshie scored the first goal of the game when he scored from Backstrom at 14:49 of the first period. It was now 1-0 Washington going into the first intermission.

Ovechkin would pot his ninth of the year in the second period at 8:01 on the power play. The goal was set up when Blake Coleman was called for closing his hand on the puck at 7:30. Ovechkin got assists on the goal from Backstrom and John Carlson. The Caps had doubled their lead to 2-0.

But at 15:41, the Devils would get on the board. Washington’s Brooks Orpik was sitting for interference and Taylor Hall would see to it that the Devils cut the lead in half. Will Butcher walked the blue line before passing to Kyle Palmieri at the far faceoff dot. Palmieri then went across the grain to Hall, who wristed a shot so hard that Salvador was saying he thought it would rip the net off of the goal cage! He did not want to miss as he had been putting some pressure on himself to get his first of the year. That cut the Caps’ lead to 2-1.

But before the period was over, with exactly one minute left in the second frame to be precise, Jakub Vrana redirected a shot from former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly to make it 3-1. Evgeny Kuznetsov had the secondary assist. That goal put the Capitals back up by two. This game was the first time in the young season that the Devils would be down by more than one goal.

Just 53 seconds into the third stanza, Kyle Palmieri would net his first of the season on a beauty of a play. It began when John Moore went D-to-D with Damon Severson, who launched a Hail Mary pass to Palmieri. Palmieri then went backhand on Caps goalie Braden Holtby and scored. The goal was Palmieri’s 100th career NHL goal, congrats to him on the milestone. The assist to Severson was his first point of the season. Palmieri would be named the game’s third star of the night as he had a goal and an assist for two points.

From there, though, the Devils’ discipline broke down and Washington would score their next two goals on the power play.

TJ Oshie scored his second of the game from Backstrom and Kuznetsov. That came at 5:26 of the third while Pavel Zacha was serving a double minor for high sticking Lars Eller. That same double minor yielded Backstrom’s goal from Ovechkin and Oshie, scored as Ovechkin shot the puck at Backstrom’s skate, using it to redirect the puck into the net. There was no kicking motion so the goal was a good one. Oshie would be named the game’s second star with two goals and an assist.

Blake Coleman had two fights on the night, his first coming when he unintentionally tripped up Dmitry Orlov, sending him flying awkwardly into the end boards in the Capitals’ zone. Andre Burakovsky would come to Orlov’s aid and he would get the instigator and a ten minute misconduct penalty with the fighting major. That came just 2:33 into the third period.

Coleman would fight again at the 12:31 mark when Tom Wilson took liberties on a hit on Andy Greene. Coleman came to Greene’s aid and fought the much bigger tough guy. Wilson was just getting back from a suspension in the preseason and one to start the season.

Goaltending-wise, Holtby, who was 12-3-0 all-time coming into the night against the Devils, made 21 saves on 23 Devils shots. Cory Schneider, making his fourth straight start for New Jersey, made 23 saves on 28 Capitals shots. Keith Kinkaid is expected to go tomorrow night in the second half of the back-to-back.

And speaking of that back-to-back, the Devils will be in Manhattan to take on the rival Rangers at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. Coming off of a tough loss like this one, there is nothing like a little rivalry game to get the Devils’ heads back into things. Plus, with the games on consecutive nights, they do not have time to dwell on the mistakes that they made. We will see you back here tomorrow night for Devils-Rangers.

Three Power Play Goals LIft Devils Over Caps in Preseason Finale

The Devils finished up the preseason tonight, traveling down to Washington to take on the Capitals. They would get another offensive outburst in the first period that would be enough to get them the victory and bring them to a final preseason mark of 5-1-1.

The teams met up in the newly-renamed Capital One Arena, as naming rights for the Verizon Center changed hands this past offseason.

Cory Schneider made the start for the Devils, going the distance and making 22 saves on 23 shots faced. Keith Kinkaid backed him up. For the Caps, Braden Holtby made the start and also played the whole game. He made 29 saves on 33 Devils shots. Cory had a good game, not seeing much rubber in the first period and then, when the Capitals adjusted a bit in the second period, coming up big a few times for New Jersey.

John Hynes’ squad was coming off of a big time offensive onslaught in Prince Edward Island on Monday against the Senators. It seemed to carry over in the first period with a little bit of help from the Caps’ undisciplined play and poor penalty killing.

It began when Dmitry Orlov took a slashing penalty against John Moore just 1:46 into the game. On the power play, Nico Hischier played catch with former Cap Marcus Johansson down low and finally took a shot from just at the near faceoff dot. He beat Holtby short side to record his third goal of the presesaon and put the Devils up 1-0. That came at the 2:21 mark of the first. Washington had spent nearly the entire first two minutes of the game trapped in their own zone due to the Devils’ strong forecheck.

Will Butcher’s goal at the 5:03 mark of the first did not come on the power play like the other three Devils’ goals, but it did come on a delayed penalty when the Devils were able to pull Schneider to get the extra attacker on. Marcus Johansson had been tripped up at the Capitals’ blue line and Adam Henrique picked up the puck just inside the zone. He dished it across to Hischier, who found Butcher trailing. Butcher unloaded past Holtby and suddenly it was 2-0 Devils.

The next goal was set up when Matt Niskanen was whistled for tripping Stefan Noesen at 8:24 of the first. The Devils were back on the power play and this time it was Jimmy Hayes unassisted. Hayes took a Caps’ clearing attempt, pivoted and fired, making it 3-0 at 9:02 of the first period.

It was at this point, about ten minutes into the game, that Cory Schneider had only faced one shot against. The Devils were really pushing the pace in the first and Washington was struggling to keep up.

The Devils’ final goal of the game came about when Brett Connolly took a slashing call against Hischier setting up another Devils’ power play. On that power play, Drew Stafford would light the lamp at 14:19. It came when Johansson dished off the half boards to Damon Severson at the near point. He fired on goal and Hischier gathered the rebound. His shot was blocked and Stafford buried home that rebound to make it 4-0 Devils.

Hischier finished the game with a goal and two assists for three points.

Washington would get one back in the second period when Jay Beagle skated around Butcher, who lost an edge. Beagle took a shot and Tyler Graovac put home the rebound to make it 4-1 at 2:41 of the second period.

Late in the second, Stefan Noesen and Brooks Orpik fought, with Orpik taking the instigator and a misconduct penalty, giving the Devils another power play. The replay did show that Noesen hit Orpik late from the blindside, which was why Orpik was so angry. The Capitals’ broadcast team (MSG+ was showing the CSN-Washington feed) speculated that that will be a suspension for Noesen and that the league will at least have to take a look at it.

Overall, it was a pretty good night for New Jersey. The Devils outshot Washington 33-23 and were 3-for-6 on the power play while the Caps were 0-for-2. The Devils also had more blocks, 16 to 11 and less giveaways (at 3 versus 9) than that Caps – which shows that the Devils have been getting to loose pucks, staying strong on the puck and retaining possession when the get the puck. Washington won more faceoffs at 53-percent and out hit the Devils 25-15.

At 5-1-1, it was a good preseason for New Jersey. The problem is, they now have a little more than a week until opening night (October 7 at The Rock against the Colorado Avalanche) and no games until then. Hopefully, they can stay sharp and be ready once the puck drops on the 2017-18 season. They are doing a team bonding exercise at West Point, New York at the military academy. But they will not be playing any more preseason games.

Here’s to another great season as the Devils begin their 35th season of play in the Garden State.

Devils Defeat Caps in Preseason Opener

The Devils opened their preseason slate at home against the Washington Capitals tonight. It was not televised in the New York metro area, so I am going on highlights and stat sheets for this write up.

The Devils came away with the 4-1 win over Washington. The Caps’ lone goal came shorthanded at 4:26 of the first period when Nathan Walker scored with an assist to Lars Eller. Special teams seemed to be a story in this game, with both teams going 0-for-7 on the power play for the night.

The Devils tied the game up just 1:39 into the second period when Joseph Blandisi won a faceoff cleanly and banked the puck off the half wall back to Mirco Mueller at the left point. He fired a slap shot that beat Capitals goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-1.

Speaking of the goaltenders, the Caps went with Holtby, who made 18 saves on 19 shots in 29:50 of ice time and Vitek Vanecek, who was 14-for-17 in 30:10. The Devils dressed Keith Kinkaid, who made 15 saves on 16 shots faced in 29:49 and Scott Wedgewood, who pitched a shutout with 14 saves on 14 shots in 29:57.

The Devils took the lead 11:33 into the second period when Stefan Noesen pushed the puck out of the Devils’ defensive zone to Jesper Bratt, who quickly gave to Blandisi as the Devils broke in on an odd man rush. Noesen cut through the Washington defense and took a pass from Blandisi, finishing to put the Devils up 2-1.

The Devils were not done in the second. They went up 3-1 when the Capitals could not handle the puck in the Devils’ zone. The puck found a streaking Kyle Palmieri off a bounce and he skated into the Washington zone and slid the puck between Vanecek’s legs to add to the Devils lead. That goal came with just 11 seconds remaining in the second period and was unassisted.

The Devils put the game out of reach in the third when first overall pick Nico Hischier scored his first NHL preseason goal unassisted at 15:46. It came when Hischier just skated through the Caps’ defense, stealing the puck from Kevin Elgestal and tucking it under Vanecek’s left pad. It was a nice goal and, hopefully, a sign of things to come.

The Devils outshot Washington 36 to 30, won more faceoffs, 53-percent to 47-percent, out hit the Caps, 26 to 20, had more blocks, 9-3 and less giveaways, 7 for Washington to New Jersey’s 4.

Stat-wise, that seems like a solid night for the Devils, but keep in mind that the Caps did not run out their full team. The youngsters wearing the new red Devils jerseys had a good game but were not facing Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Ovechkin.

Overall, though, the Devils, I am sure, would love to see some improvement, but are also happy with the results from tonight.

Next game comes Wednesday at the Rangers in Manhattan. That will be televised on MSG Network and I will get up a report as soon as possible.