Devils Cannot Repeat Magic, Lose to Caps 5-2

After defeating the Washington Capitals five days ago in the Capital One Arena in DC, the Devils were right back looking to take another one from the NHL’s best team.

They would not. They were downed 5-2 tonight as the Caps just rolled. It did not hurt that Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick either.

Some roster notes to get to first as the bug that got Jack Hughes in Toronto has apparently hit the rest of the team. Kevin Rooney missed tonight with illness. Also, Kyle Palmieri was placed on injured reserve retroactive to the last time these teams met on January 11. Mike McLeod was recalled from Binghamton to take Palmieri’s spot on the roster and, since Rooney was a game-time decision that could not go, played tonight. He centered a line with Jesper Boqvist and John Hayden. Mackenzie Blackwood was the other scratch as he is, according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter, very close to returning.

Which brings us to the goaltending situation. Interim coach Alain Nasreddine mentioned that the team would have to look at things coming out of the All-Star bye week, but that decision may have gotten a little bit easier for him.

Louis Domingue got the start tonight, but left after the first period with a lower body injury. He stopped 13-of-16 Washington shots for an .867 save percentage. He was making his fourth straight start. Cory Schneider came on in relief for the second straight game and made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 save percentage. Washington finished with 38 total shots. Ilya Samsonov went for the Caps, making 32 saves on 34 Devils shots for a .941 save percentage.

Domingue started the game making a big stop early on Ovechkin. The puck went over his shoulder, hit the post and he swept it out with his stick as it was going over the goal line.

That was followed, with 16:41 to go in the first period, by Carl Hagelin seeming to score when Lars Eller got the puck down low and passed to Hagelin, who was cutting towards the net. It went behind Domingue, but, after some discussion at the bench, Nasreddine decided to use his coach’s challenge, saying the Caps were offsides at the blue line just prior to the goal being scored.

Sure enough, replay showed that Michal Kempny, at the Devils blue line, was unable to keep the puck in and the call on the ice (good goal) was reversed to no goal. The Devils had seemingly dodged a bullet, but things would get bad soon enough.

It came on the while the Devils were down two men, with Travis Zajac going off for tripping at 13:39 and then Hayden at 15:12 for holding. It set up a 5-on-3 situation and Ovechkin would make this one count.

The Capitals won the faceoff in the Devils’ zone and got it back to John Carlson at the point. He passed down to Ovechkin in his “office” and he ripped a shot by Domingue to make it 1-0 Washington. Nicklas Backstrom had the secondary assist. That goal came at 15:17.

Ovechkin got his second with less than a minute to go in the first. At 19:08, Backstrom won another faceoff deep in the offensive zone and Ovechkin swooped in to grab the loose puck. He wristed it by Domingue to make it 2-0.

Cory came in in the second to relieve the injured Domingue. He had little luck with Hagelin, as he scored for real this time, 16 seconds into the period on a cold Schneider. It came when the Devils could not clear and Eller took the puck, making a slick pass to Hagelin, who scored from the slot. Richard Panik had the secondary assist. This made it 3-0 Washington.

But the Devils got on the board less than a minute later at 1:08 when Wayne Simmonds ended his 28-goal drought. Nico Hischier grabbed the puck down low and protected it, eventually finding Simmonds in front of the net and he shoveled it home to make it 3-1. Will Butcher had the secondary assist. All of the goal scoring in the second period happened within the first minute and a half.

So that took us to the third with the Devils trailing by two and about to go on the penalty kill 2:11 into the new frame when Butcher was called for holding.

But the Devils are always a threat to score shorthanded with Blake Coleman on the ice and that is exactly what happened. At 3:34, Coleman took the puck at center ice and broke in on Samsonov. He went backhand to score his third shorthanded goal of the year and cut the Caps’ lead to one at 3-2. Zajac had the lone assist.

But the Capitals would retake control of the game at 6:42 when Cory made several saves in tight. Eventually, the puck squibbed out to Jakub Vrana in the high slot and he shot, beating Cory unassisted to make it 4-2 and restore the two-goal lead.

Later on, with 7:02 to go, a turning point in the game for the Devils as Kempny was called for a double-minor for high-sticking on Nikita Gusev. When Gusev got hit, play was immediately whistled dead. However, once the call was made, the officials reviewed it and found that, while Kempny had swung at an airborne puck, his stick did not hit Gusev’s face. It was the puck that made contact with him and the penalty was overturned. The Devils would not be going on an extended power play.

Instead, at 15:42, Ovechkin would complete his hat trick and put Washington up 5-2. It came when the puck was misplayed in the Devils zone. Tom Wilson grabbed a loose puck along the near boards and blindly threw it towards net. He ended up connecting to Ovechkin tape-to-tape at the side of the Devils’ net and Ovechkin tapped it in. Carlson had the secondary assist.

And that was it. The Devils ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play with five shots. They also had four shorthanded shots, one of which they scored on. Washington was 1-for-5 with six shots. Three shots came on Domingue and three on Schneider. They added a shorthanded shot as well on Domingue.

The Devils won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Zajac winning 65-percent of his to lead and McLeod winning 60-percent of his draws.

The Devils outhit the Caps, 18-11, had more blocked shots at 18 to 13 and less turnovers at six to Washington’s 18.

PK Subban led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 23:30 (4:34 on the power play and 3:01 shorthanded), just edging Damon Severson, who had 23:07. Coleman led the forwards with 18:57 (including 5:42 shorthanded, where he is obviously very dangerous).

Stats-wise, Coleman led in shots on goal with six, Pavel Zacha and Connor Carrick led in hits with three apiece, Andy Greene led in blocks with four and Jesper Bratt led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils have one more game prior to the All-Star bye week. They will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in Ohio. I have a family function on Saturday, so I am recording the game and will eventually have the recap up a little bit later than usual.