The Metropolitan Division still runs through Washington, DC. Despite the Devils great play recently, they will still need to be able to beat Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals if they want to be considered real contenders.
Unfortunately, last night they were unable to get that done. Ovechkin had three assists, Backstrom had two assists and a goal and John Carlson had a goal and two assists as the Caps beat the Devils 5-2 at Capital One Arena. The Devils’ second half of the season will feature more and more Eastern Conference, and especially, Metro Division opponents, so they need to get things going now if they are going to stay in contention. The loss last night put the Capitals ahead of the Devils by one point into first place in the Metro.
A trade to talk about before we get to the game, as the Devils sent Dalton Prout to the Calgary Flames in exchange for goalie Eddie Lack. Prout will report to the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, while Lack will report to Binghamton. A good move to trade Prout, as he was just not getting playing time with the Devils, a more speedy skill team now. This move will allow him to get some playing time while getting back a veteran goaltender for the Devils. Prout had cleared waivers on Friday and had been sent down to Binghamton. Good luck to him and I hope he gets some playing time with Calgary.
As for last night for the Devils, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford were the healthy scratches.
Marcus Johansson was making his return to Washington last night, his first such regular season trip (he played them there in the preseason and one regular season game against them in New Jersey). He got the special video tribute treatment and a standing ovation by the Washington crowd. One other milestone is that Travis Zajac played in his 800th National Hockey League game (all with the Devils) last night. Congrats to him.
In the nets, Cory Schneider was making his ninth straight start for the Devils. Coach John Hynes said that they went back to him basically because Cory is playing well, did not see much work against Buffalo and it was an important game for the Devils, as well. Cory has all the confidence of the coaching staff and is back to being the team’s workhorse. He made 30 saves on 34 shots faced. Braden Holtby, who has been one of the top goaltenders in the league for the past four or five years, including winning a Vezina Trophy, went for Washington and made 25 saves on 27 shots against.
Tom Wilson got the scoring off to a start just 2:26 into the game, getting assists from Christian Djoos (who pronounces his name as “juice”) and Jersey-native John Carlson. Washington quickly took the 1-0 lead.
They would go up by a deuce when Djoos scored at 11:09 of the first from Backstrom and Ovechkin. The Devils were not out of the first period yet and were in a bit of a hole.
But John Moore cut that lead in half at 17:35 of the first when he pushed the puck deep in the Caps’ zone, giving it to Johansson behind the Washington net. The former Cap gave it to Zajac, who found Moore setting up at the far faceoff circle. He passed across to him and Moore snuck it between the pipe and Holtby’s left arm, making the score 2-1.
The Capitals would retake the two goal lead at 7:01 of the second period when Carlson, from Colonia, New Jersey (who grew up a Scott Stevens and Devils fan) scored from Backstrom and Ovechkin on the power play. It was set up by Pavel Zacha taking a holding penalty against Djoos. The Caps’ power play on the night was 1-for-2 with four shots while the Devils were 0-for-2 with a pair of shots.
Some controversy on the Capitals’ fourth goal, which came at 4:25 into the third period. Matt Niskanen scored that from former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly and Ovechkin, but replays would show that the Capitals had six men on the ice. How four officials all missed that is anyone’s guess, but the goal counted and Washington had the 4-1 lead.
The Devils would get one back when Zajac scored at the 9:00 mark of the third. It came when the Devils got the puck down low and Sami Vatanen eventually got it at the near half wall. His pass rebounded off of a Capitals player’s skate right to Johansson. He found Zajac on the near side of the net and he just shoveled it in to make it 4-2 Caps.
Unfortunately, Backstrom would put the game away at 19:19 of the third, making it 5-2 and finishing the Devils off. He got a lone assist from Carlson on that goal.
So with that, the Capitals move slightly ahead of the Devils into first place in the Metropolitan Division with 51 points. The Devils fall to second with 50 points. The Devils also become the lastest team to get to double digit losses. Now only Tampa Bay and Vegas remain with less than 10 losses.
And now the Devils are done with the 2017 calendar year, their next game coming in 2018, on Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues. This will be yet another test for the Devils and hopefully they can get back on a winning track. The Devils will just need to shake the loss in Washington off and move on. Hopefully they are able to shake the Capitals buggaboo at some point before the playoffs start.
Happy New Year everyone and here’s to a very happy and healthy 2018!