Backstrom-led Caps Slip Past Devils

The Devils traveled down to DC to meet up with the Washington Capitals for the third and final time this season.

In a rare turn of events, the teams were actually tied in the season series at 1-1. The last time the Devils had won more than one game in Washington came in 2011-12. Should they have defeated the Caps tonight, the 2021-22 Devils would have achieved that feat as well. (Remember the Devils won at Washington in overtime back on January 2 on a Nico Hischier OT winner – also the game that Dougie Hamilton got hit in the jaw with a shot and injured his jaw.)

That was going to be a tall feat considering this year’s edition of the Devils have just eight victories on the road so far.

Instead, the Devils were edged 4-3 following goals by both Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

Lineup-wise, defensemen Colton White and Kevin Bahl were healthy scratches while forward Mason Geertsen was also a healthy scratch. Forward Pavel Zacha remains day-to-day with his injury. The only change to the lineup saw Ty Smith slot in on defense – on the third pairing with PK Subban.

AJ Greer remained in the lineup on the left-wing on the fourth line with Nathan Bastian on the right side and Michael McLeod centering.

In goal, Nico Daws was back in and made 18 saves on 22 total Caps shots for an .818 save percentage. On the power play, he made two saves on three total shots for Washington. The Capitals were 1-for-2 as a team on power play opportunities. At even strength, he made 16 saves on the 19 shots he saw.

The Capitals went with Vitek Vanecek between the pipes. He turned aside 35 of the 38 total Devils shots he saw for a .921 save percentage on the night. On special teams, he saved all three shorthanded shots and all three power play shots the Devils mustered. As a team, the Devils were 0-for-2 on the power play. At five-on-five, he made 29 saves on 32 shots from New Jersey.

Vanecek was a career 5-0 versus the Devils coming into tonight’s start.

The Caps were sporting a familiar uniform and a new/familiar face back in their lineup. Their uniforms were the navy blue set with the big “W” on the front (they debuted them at an outdoor game – I think the Stadium Series – a few years ago) and the face was none other than former Capital-turned-Devil Marcus Johansson still in his trademark number 90. Johansson was reacquired by Washington at the trade deadline from the Seattle Kraken. He is already slotting in on the right-wing of the top line with Alex Ovechkin on the left and Evgeny Kuznetsov centering.

The start of the game was delayed a bit as the Capitals were honoring Nicklas Backstrom in the pregame. Backstrom recently recorded his 1,000th career NHL point (an assist, appropriately enough). That would actually factor into the flow of the game later on in the night.

The teams played to a scoreless first period where the Devils outshot the Caps 10-7.

The best chance of the period for either team came just as time was running down in the frame. The Devils were killing off a power play and Jesper Bratt hit the post and the outside of the goal cage with Vanecek totally beaten. Bratt was shooting from a sharp angle and was unable to convert for the New Jersey shorthanded goal.

The Devils would, however, take just 55 seconds into the second period to finally grab a lead.

That goal saw Dawson Mercer gain the Caps zone through the middle of the ice. He took a shot and the rebound was collected by Yegor Sharangovich, who saw Jack Hughes coming on the ice from the New Jersey bench. Hughes went to the high slot immediately and Hughes beat Vanecek with the Washington goaltender down.

The Devils held that lead for a little less than two-minutes when, at 2:47 gone by, Tom Wilson tied things for the Capitals.

That happened when Smith turned the puck over in the Caps zone to John Carlson. The Devils were caught in the middle of a change and Carlson was able to spring Conor Sheary, who was In on a rush with Wilson. Wilson was fed and beat Daws on a one-timer to make it 1-1.

Wilson – and this is just one of the greatest examples of the Capitals’ amazing depth that they have amassed over the last decade or so – notched his 20th goal of the season with that one.

McLeod and Nick Jensen would square off in a fight at the 6:12 mark of the second when Jensen sparked things by elbowing McLeod prior to the fight. He would get an extra two for the elbow while McLeod received an extra two minutes for roughing.

The Devils would take the lead back over prior to the first intermission when Damon Severson found the back of the net at 7:17 gone by.

This one started on a faceoff win in the Washington zone. Jesper Boqvist won a faceoff cleanly back to Ryan Graves who quickly moved it to his defensive partner in Severson.

Severson made a nifty move to draw Anthony Mantha in towards him and bite that he was going to go one way with the puck. Mantha bought it hook, line and sinker and Severson was able to step around him, and with tons of room, let loose a bomb from the point that beat Vanecek cleanly to put the Devils back in front at 2-1.

That was Severson’s tenth goal of the season and the 50th of his career, which moved him even in fourth place all-time in goal scoring among Devils defensemen. He is now tied with Joe Cirella – although that could actually be the franchise mark, not the Devils mark, as you will recall that Cirella had a handful of goals that he scored while the team was in Colorado. I will hope to clarify that by tomorrow night’s post.

The Devils would take that 2-1 lead into the second period largely due to a great back checking effort by Hughes midway through second period.

Kuznetsov was attempting a wraparound with the entire left side of the goal cage open. Hughes made the effort to get back and get his stick on the puck before it went in, preventing the goal.

But while the Devils were looking good heading into the third period, the Caps would end up dominating the final frame.

It began when Washington tied the game 2:08 into the period.

A delayed penalty was about to be called on the Devils allowing the Capitals to get Vanecek off the ice for the extra attacker. With the extra man, Connor McMichael passed from behind the Devils net to Carlson, who one-touched a pass to Justin Schultz. While this was happening, McMichael had snuck around to the far post. Schultz passed back to him and he tapped the puck in to tie the game at two.

Then came the second time Nicklas Backstrom would delay the game – though through no actual fault of his own.

At 6:58, the Devils attempted to clear their own zone while the puck was bouncing wildly around. Anthony Mantha was able to guide it to Backstrom. Backstrom collected the puck with his skate to his stick, shot and scored to give Caps a 3-2 lead.

And with that came a torrent of foam apples raining down from the crowd at the Capital One Arena. Since Backstrom was being honored for his 1,000th point and being that most of those points are assists (Backstrom is the Caps’ all-time leader in assists) and being that in hockey slang, assists are known as “apples,” the fans were given foam apples upon their entry.

Those apples were now being used as projectiles as they rained down on the rink.

It was a sight not dissimilar to a minor league “chuck a puck” event but with the help of players from both teams, the ice crew was able to get things cleaned up in reasonable amount of time and the game continued on.

Washington would end up putting things away on the power play at the 11:48 mark of the third when Ovechkin got on the scoresheet.

It began when Smith was called for hooking on Kuznetsov at 10:40 gone.

A little over a minute into the man advantage, Backstrom moved the puck around the half wall to Kuznetsov down low. He whipped it to Ovechkin in his “office” at the near side and Ovechkin buried it for the power play goal to make it 4-2 Caps.

It was actually more fitting that Backstrom got that assist (as I think he and Ovi would both tell you) than the goal he scored earlier.

The Devils were now down two goals and would pull Daws for a sixth skater with about 2:30 left in regulation. They would then use a stoppage to be able to call their timeout with about 1:20 to go in the game.

It would pay off a bit as, with 31 seconds remaining in the game, Nico Hischier skated up the left-wing side and connected on a cross-ice pass to Hughes. Hughes snapped off a shot and Bratt was there on the doorstep to put the rebound in to make it 4-3.

But that would end up as our final as the Devils could muster no more.

And with that, while Nico would record the assist on Bratt’s goal, his streak of straight games with two points was ended at four.

The Devils outshot Washington 38-22 and won 57-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

McLeod was again the clubhouse leader among the centers in faceoff percentage with 83-percent of his personal draws won. Keep in mind though that McLeod only playe a total of 6:08 as his ice time has been cut back a lot of late.

Hughes actually led the forwards in ice time with 23:33 played and won 38-percent of his faceoffs while Hischier won 57-percent over 21:19 of ice time logged. Boqvist rounded out the centers by winning 60-percent of his faceoffs over 12:46 of total ice.

Each team accumulated 11 penalty minutes as a team while the Caps outhit the Devils 25-20. The Caps also led in blocked shots with 18 to eight. Team turnovers saw the Caps with ten while the Devils had one less at nine.

Severson led all Devils skaters in total ice time with 25:01 logged (including 3:05 on the power play and 2:46 shorthanded – which also led the defensemen in both special teams categories).

As for the forwards, Hughes led in total time with 23:33 as noted (this included 3:10 on the PP and 11 seconds on the PK). Hischier led in shorthanded time with 1:50 to go with his 3:05 of power play time and 21:19 of total time on ice.

Hughes led in points for the Devils with a goal and an assist for two points total. Hischier, Mercer, Bratt, Severson and PK Subban each lead in shots on goal with four. Bastian and AJ Greer led in hits with three each. Mercer, McLeod, Greer, Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, Smith, Seveson and Jonas Siegenthaler each led in blocks with one apiece. Personal giveaways were led by Mercer with two while personal turnover recoveries were also led by Mercer with three on that side of the ledger.

Next up, it’s a very quick turnaround. Back up the coast to Newark to host the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow at 7PM.

It will be the first meeting between the teams since the Habs’ disastrous outing against the Devils in Montreal back in February.

That game will be broadcast on MSG+2 and we will have coverage for your right here tomorrow night following the game.

Until then, enjoy your Sunday afternoon everyone!

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