Devils Dealt First Loss of Season by Capitals

As Steve Cangialosi put it on the MSG+ broadcast of the game, “they weren’t going to go 82-0.” The Devils were hit with their first loss of the 2021-22 season by their nemesis, the Washington Capitals, 4-1.

We begin with an update on Jack Hughes after the Seattle game on Tuesday. Hughes was put on Injured Reserve today with a dislocated shoulder (the Devils actually employed transparency with the announcement of his injury) and will not need surgery on it. Instead, he has started “physical therapy under guidance of New Jersey’s doctors and athlete care staff” as Sam Kasan of NewJerseyDevils.com said. Hughes will be evaluated next week.

Hughes will join Mackenzie Blackwood (still recovering from heel surgery) on IR, although he skated today according to Erika Wachter of MSG+. Another player set to return soon is defenseman Ty Smith – who could be back as soon as Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres (also per Wachter).

Jonathan Bernier did not play tonight as he has a lower body issue that he has been dealing with since training camp.

As a result, goalie Nico Daws was recalled from the Utica Comets of the AHL to back up starter Scott Wedgewood. Also, with Hughes out, Freddie Gauthier made his Devils debut as he slotted into the lineup.

Michael McLeod moved up to center the second line with Hughes out as head coach Lindy Ruff stated that they did not want to move Pavel Zacha (who can play center) from the wing. This was a decision that can change, but that Ruff wanted to go with for now.

Wedgewood, in the starter’s net and looking for his first NHL win since March 18, 2021, made 23 saves on 27 total Washington shots for an .852 save percentage. He got both of the Capitals’ power play shots as the Caps were 0-for-3 on the man advantage and 21 of their 25 shots at even strength.

For the Caps, Vitek Vanecek only let in one Devils shot as he went 24-for-25 with a .960 save percentage. Vanecek turned aside the only Devils’ shorthanded shot, one of their two power play shots (the Devils went 1-for-1 on the power play tonight) and was equal to all 22 of New Jersey’s even strength shots.

Washington won all eight games versus the Devils last season, although the two teams will only meet three times this year – once at Prudential Center and twice in DC. This is due to the addition of the Seattle Kraken to the Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams playing all teams in the West at least twice (once at home and once on the road). This creates an unbalanced schedule.

This was also the Devils’ first Metropolitan Division game this season and the Caps’ first road game of the year.

The Devils found themselves behind for the first time this season just 4:14 into the game when Washington cleared off of a faceoff win in their own zone. The puck was chipped up the boards and the Capitals had numbers the other way. Daniel Sprong got the puck in the far corner in the Devils’ zone while Anthony Mantha went towards the net. Dougie Hamilton blocked the first pass to Mantha, but a second try from the slot reached him. He was all alone at the near post and tapped it in to make it 1-0 Washington. Sprong had picked up the blocked original pass that came back towards him. Trevor van Riemsdyk had the secondary assist.

The Caps made it two at the 9:33 mark of the first when Dmitry Orlov scored. It came when Orlov passed to Alex Ovechkin through the high slot. Ovechkin took a shot and Wedgewood made the initial save but was badly out of position when the puck came right to Orlov off of the rebound. Orlov buried it to make it 2-0. Evgeny Kuznetsov had the secondary assist on the goal.

The second period saw Sprong triple up the Washington lead. At the 9:58 mark of the middle frame, Tomas Tatar tried to move the puck up the boards to Dougie Hamilton at the far point in the Caps’ zone. Sprong, however, read the play perfectly, chipping the pass by Hamilton before the puck even got to the Devils’ defenseman. Sprong jumped past Hamilton and was off on his own, cutting in on Wedgewood and beating him one-on-one to make it 3-0. The goal, coming off of a breakaway, was unassisted.

Washington took that 3-0 lead into the third period. However, 9:16 in to the new period, Kuznetsov made it 4-0. Ovechkin got the puck down low as the Caps just whipped it around. Ovechkin centered to the slot and Tom Wilson chipped the puck past Ryan Graves’ stick to Kuznetsov, who was camped out at the near post. Kuznetsov had nothing to shoot at but simply jammed it by Wedgewood and the post.

The Devils would get on the board late, at the 13:18 mark of the third on the power play.

Carl Hagelin was called for hooking Hamilton at 11:37 and the Devils had what would be their only power play of the night.

On the ensuing man advantage, Janne Kuokkanen jumped on a loose puck following a broken pass to Damon Severson, who was down low. Kuokkanen got it in the slot and his shot went end-over-end as it beat Vanecek. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist and this was the Devils’ first power play goal of the season as a team.

Originally, Dawson Mercer was announced as getting an assist on the goal. This would have given him a three-game point streak to start his career. However, on the official scoresheet on NHL.com, the assists were listed as Severson (primary) and Sharangovich (secondary) so as of now, and barring a change in scoring, Mercer’s career-starting point streak is over at two games.

Late in the game, McLeod was hit by Martin Fehervary along the boards in the Caps’ zone while in a vulnerable position. He did not appear to be hurt, but Hamilton did step up to defend him on the play. Moments later, Mason Geertsen came on the ice and took exception to the play, receiving a cross checking penalty against Nic Dowd for his efforts.

And that was it, our final was 4-1.

The Devils were narrowly outshot 27 to 26. New Jersey won 44-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod leading the centers with a 69-percent personal winning clip. The Devils doubled up the Caps’ penalty minutes at eight to four. The Devils led in hits at 18 to Washington’s 11. The Caps had more blocked shots at 16 to the Devils’ nine and the Devils had more giveaways at 13 to the Capitals’ six.

Personal stats-wise, Hamilton once again led everyone in ice time with 22:46 logged (including 1:09 on the power play and 1:43 on the penalty kill). Nico Hischier led the forwards with 19:03 (including 1:09 on the power play and 1:54 on the PK). Jonas Siegenthaler logged the most shorthanded ice time at 3:35 out of his 19:53 of total ice time.

Shots on goal for the Devils was led by PK Subban with four. The hits category was led by Geertsen with four. Damon Severson led in blocks with three. Giveaways were led by Andreas Johnsson, Siegenthaler and Subban, who each had two. Hischier, Tatar and Severson each led with two recovered turnovers.

Next up, the Devils’ slow crawl towards a season rhythm continues as they host the Sabres at Prudential Center on Saturday. The Sabres are 3-0-0 as of now, but they play on Friday at the Boston Bruins, so their record is subject to change.

That game is at 7 PM and we will see you then.

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