The Devils were trying to put together a three-game winning streak for the first time this season, their mission to get there: defeat the 24-6-5 Washington Capitals.
Well, make that the 25-6-5 Washington Capitals, as the Devils fell tonight at Prudential Center, 6-3.
Some milestones for both teams, as both Andy Greene of the Devils and Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals were playing in their 900th NHL game. Greene’s 900 games makes him the current leader among undrafted players in the NHL in games played. Travis Zajac was playing in his 956th game, tying him with Scott Stevens on the list of most career games by a Devil. Both Greene and Zajac have played their whole careers in New Jersey. Nico Hischier played in his 180th game tonight, putting him first in his Draft class in games played, as well.
It was the final home game for the Devils prior to the Christmas break and they were wearing their heritage green, red and white uniforms to celebrate.
The Devils got the scoring kicked off when Kyle Palmieri scored on the power play just four minutes into the game. Washington’s Jonas Siegenthaler was called for hooking Miles Wood (who had quite a game) and the Devils were on the man advantage at the 2:50 mark. PK Subban faked a shot and passed to Hischier down low. Nico then threw it to Palmieri in front of the net. Palmieri put it behind Caps’ goalie Ilya Samsonov to give the Devils the quick 1-0 lead.
The Devils finished the game 1-for-3 on the power play with six shots. They also had a shorthanded shot. New Jersey kept the powerful Washington power play off the ice, taking only one penalty and killing it. The Caps were 0-for-1 with two shots as well as a shorthanded shot.
One thing the Caps did have was a penalty shot. At 6:09 of the first period, Carl Hagelin was in on a breakaway and Sami Vatanen was called for a hold as he tried to impede Hagelin from scoring. Hagelin was awarded a penalty shot and fired high and wide over Devils starter Mackenzie Blackwood’s net. The Devils dodged a bit of a bullet there, but things were not over yet. Before the end of the period, the Capitals would take the lead.
It began at the 18:25 mark when Alex Ovechkin scored to tie it. Tom Wilson got the puck up to Backstrom from the Capitals’ zone and Backstrom and Ovechkin criss-crossed with Ovechkin shooting through a screening Backstrom.
Then, 1:10 later, Backstrom logged his third of four points on the night when he scored to make it 2-1 Washington. Wilson got the puck to John Carlson at the point. Carlson shot and Backstrom tipped it by Blackwood to give the Caps their first lead of the night. We headed into the first intermission with the game 2-1.
But the Devils kept things close in the second. Just 4:15 into the new frame, Blake Coleman made it 2-2 when he and Nikita Gusev broke in on a 2-on-1. They were sprung by a blocked shot in the Devils’ zone. Coleman took a pass from Gusev on the odd man rush and crashed into the net. Referee TJ Luxmore immediately indicated that the puck crossed the line before Coleman crashed into the net, dislodging it. He called it a goal and that was where it stood. We were now tied up at two.
But Backstrom would strike again with his second goal of the night. It came with 29 seconds to go in the second period and came while the teams were at 4-on-4 (Garnet Hathaway of the Caps and Miles Wood were both off for roughing at 18:50). Damon Severson lost his stick, essentially putting the Devils down 4-on-3. This allowed Ovechkin to get the puck to a wide open Dmitry Orlov (who Kyle Palmieri was supposed to be covering – Palmieri moved away to give his stick to Severson). Orlov then found Backstrom alone on the side of the net and he did not miss. This made it 3-2 Washington going into the second intermission. Things were still close for New Jersey.
But in the third, things would fall apart. Just 42 seconds into the new period, Carlson scored to make it 4-2. The Caps cycled the puck to Michal Kempny and he found Carlson cutting into the slot. The Colonia-raised player then batted down the pass from Kempny and scored his 13th of the year. Backstrom had the secondary assist.
Washington scored an insurance goal at 6:53 when Siegenthaler found the back of the net. Former Flyer Radko Gudas went point-to-point with Siegenthaler and he stepped up to shoot from the top of the near faceoff circle. He wristed the puck by Blackwood’s glove to make it 5-2 Caps. Nic Dowd had the other assist.
It was after this goal, with 11:35 left in the period, that Blackwood was pulled in favor of Gilles Senn. Senn was making his NHL debut in a move that allows coach Alain Nasreddine to use Blackwood again tomorrow night in Columbus if need be.
Midway through the third, at the 13:07 mark, Wood found an unlikely dance partner when he fought Nick Jensen. There were no punches thrown as Wood just kind of pushed Jensen over to take him down. It was a strange fight since, as MSG’s Steve Cangialosi pointed out, Jensen did not have a penalty this season, let alone a fighting major!
A few minutes after the fight, Richard Panik made it 6-2 in favor of Washington when he scored at 15:33. A turnover by the Devils saw Lars Eller break into the Devils’ zone and drop the puck for a trailing Panik. Panik shot and beat Senn five-hole as Senn just got a piece of the puck, but not enough of it. Hagelin had the secondary assist.
Wood would come within an assist of a Gordie Howe hat trick when he scored with 23 seconds to go in the game. The puck banked back to Damon Severson at the point. His initial shot was blocked in front, but came right back to him. He passed to Wood at the side of the net and Wood slammed it home to make the score a little more respectable at 6-3.
The Caps took a clean sweep of the three stars with Backstrom being first, Carlson second and Ovechkin third.
In goal, Blackwood stopped 21 of 26 shots against for an .808 save percentage. Senn came on in relief and stopped two of the three shots he saw for a .667 save percentage on the night. The Caps finished with 29 total shots. For Washington, Samsonov stopped 25 of the 27 shots he saw for an .889 nightly save percentage.
The teams tied in faceoffs, each winning 50-percent. The Devils threw 16 hits to the Capitals’ 13 and had more blocked shots at 14 to the Caps’ ten. Washington had less giveaways at eight to the Devils’ 12.
Individually, Severson led in ice time with 23:46 (including 59 seconds killing the Devils’ lone penalty) while Hischier led the forwards with 19:19 (3:09 on the power play and 38 seconds shorthanded). Coleman led in shots by a wide margin with six, hits were led by Wood and Mirco Mueller with three each, blocked shots by Mueller and Severson with three each and takeaways by Coleman, Pavel Zacha, Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, Greene and Subban with one apiece.
So with that, the Devils will try to begin another streak by taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets (who the Caps actually played in their last game before this – on Monday – and lost to 3-0) tomorrow night. I will actually be attending another family gathering, but am recording the game. I should have a recap up later on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Have a great weekend everyone and happy holidays to all!