The New Jersey Devils, as they are constructed now, are a team built for the future. Sure, winning now would be nice and they have been in the mix of things in the Metropolitan Division all season long. But when you see them pitted up against a team like the Washington Capitals, it becomes clear that there is much room for growth.
They were scrappy, fought hard and had a few leads on the night. But in the end, when you are dealing with the firepower that the Capitals can throw at you, you know that you are going to be in for a long night.
The Devils hung in against them and were unable to come away with a point. They are quickly falling out of the playoff race, but are showing some grit along the way.
Some lineup changes did occur for the Devils, who did not get a morning skate due to Georgetown basketball earlier in the afternoon at Verizon Center. Out was Bobby Farnham along with Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson. Back in was Tuomo Ruutu possibly to spark some offense and possibly as a way for the team to “showcase” the veteran as possible trade bait with the trading deadline quickly approaching.
The Devils goaltending saw Cory Schneider get the nod again. Some are talking that should the Devils make the playoffs, Cory would be in the running for the Vezina Trophy. The main competition standing in his way was the man standing in the crease down the rink from him: Braden Holtby. Holtby will almost certainly be making the playoffs, barring an injury. Cory made 28 saves on 32 Washington shots and Holtby was 21 for 24.
Cory was tested early and often by the best offense in the NHL: on the first Capitals power play of the night, he robbed Alex Ovechkin off a beautiful pass from TJ Oshie and at 14:49 of the first, a Devils giveaway in the slot made things a little tough for him. But almost right after that, at 15:28, Kyle Palmieri skated down the wing, making a move, drawing the Washington defender towards him. He tried a wraparound with Holtby out of the net. The puck bounced to Reid Boucher who knocked it over to Travis Zajac who fired his ninth of the season behind the Washington netminder. It was 1-0 Devils early.
But in what would become the story of the night, less than two minutes later, Ovechkin scored his league-leading 38th goal from Dmitry Orlov. In a blink, the Caps had tied the game at one.
But before the period would end, the Devils would regain the lead. With just about 30 seconds left in the first frame, Boucher would give the puck to Palmieri from the half wall and Palmieri would skate to the goal line, shooting from an impossible angle and beating Holtby over the right shoulder. The Devils had taken a 2-1 lead.
In the second period, the Caps would tie things up at 9:16 when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored from Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. And from there, it was an all-out assault for most of the period. The Devils were able to weather the storm with good defense and Cory, again, coming up big.
That would pay off in the third period. The Devils seemed to have things under control. Early on in the period, the teams traded posts as Stephen Gionta hit one for the Devils and Andre Burakovsky nailed iron for the Capitals.
Then, at 11:04, the hard work seemed to pay off when John Moore dug the puck out of the corner and got it to Zajac who slid it to Boucher at the point. He released a great wrist shot to handcuff Holtby and suddenly the Devils had a 3-2 lead.
But then the Washington Capitals took things into another gear. From here on out it was all Caps. At 13:55, Oshie scored his 17th from Orlov and Brooks Orpik. The game was, frustratingly for the Devils, tied again.
Then things fell apart when, at 16:02, Orpik scored on a wrist shot from Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals had done what the Capitals do and had taken a 4-3 lead late.
The Devils tried to pull Schneider, but repeated icing calls kept bringing the faceoffs back to their offensive zone, which put an end to trying to tie things. Although Jacob Josefson did have a great chance to tie things but missed high on an empty Washington net.
The Devils penalty kill was once again big for them. They kept the Caps from scoring on three power play chances. The Devils power play was 0-for-1.
Again, the Devils played well. They were, in the words of coach John Hynes “competitive” on the night but the Capitals are just on another plane at this point.
Next up comes a big one: the Rangers arrive at The Rock on Tuesday for a rivalry game. Some would say the rivalry game. The Devils again find themselves up against a team in the Metropolitan Division firmly entrenched in a playoff position for the third game in a row. And once again, New Jersey finds itself trying to end a losing streak against their hated rivals from across the Hudson.
We will find out if the game in DC demoralized the Devils or has energized them to come out on Tuesday and have a great game against a Ranger team that has been playing well of late. This game will go a long way in letting up find out if the Devils are real playoff contenders this year.