The Devils wanted to give the Washington Capitals “a game.” The team felt that they had not played the Caps well at all in their twin 5-2 losses in two games against them this season and for the most part, they were right. Tonight, the Devils conceded a point to the Metropolitan Division leaders, but took the full two by defeating the Capitals 4-3 in overtime. Washington is definitely one of the elite teams in the NHL and the Devils wanted to show that they could skate with them.
The Capitals had had some travel problems getting into Newark. They had just come off of their bye week and could not get into New Jersey in time for a practice yesterday, due to weather problems in DC. They just got in a morning skate earlier today.
Some roster moves for the Devils first, as the lineup remained largely the same as the one that defeated the Islanders Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Some good news for the Devils on the injury front as Mirco Mueller is back and was sent to Binghamton of the AHL on a “conditioning assignment.” Blake Coleman and Jimmy Hayes were the healthy scratches along with Steven Santini, who had been optioned to Binghamton to make room for backup goalie Ken Appleby. But Cory Schneider was back – although he did not play tonight – and, thus, so was Santini.
Cory did not start tonight, not because he was still sick, he is better, but because he had lost five pounds in one-and-a-half days and has not skated. So Keith Kinkaid made a back-to-back start coming off of his win in New York Tuesday. It was a relatively light night for him as he made 16 saves on just 19 shots total against. Going against him was Braden Holtby, one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL right now to be sure. He made 28 saves on 32 shots against. Kinkaid was the last Devils goalie to defeat Washington with a 2-1 shootout win last season.
One of the main themes of the night was the special teams. In their two other games against the Devils this season, the Caps were 4-for-7 on the power play total. Tonight the Devils certainly gave the Capitals the chances, but limited them to 0-for-5 on the night with just five shots. The Devils were 0-for-3 with three shots on goal. It was dicey, but the penalty killing unit really came through for New Jersey.
The Devils took the early lead 8:01 into the first period when alley-ooped a pass to Drew Stafford behind the Washington defense. Stafford skated in on Holtby, went backhand and beat him with Devante Smith-Pelly backchecking hard all over him. Just like that, the Devils had the 1-0 lead.
However, it would only take about four minutes and nine seconds for the Caps to respond. Brett Connolly scored at 12:10 from TJ Oshie and Brooks Orpik to tie the game up.
The next goal came within a milestone game. Andy Greene was playing in his 750th NHL game (and coming off of his first NHL fight in his 749th game) and would put the Devils up by one just 3:33 into the second period. It came when Taylor Hall gained the Capitals’ zone before stopping and putting the puck on Nico Hischier’s stick in front of the Caps’ net. Hischier had the presence of mind to simply tap it over to Greene, cutting in back door and Greene put it between Holtby’s left arm and the goal post to make it 2-1 Devils.
New Jersey got a lift when Brian Boyle came to the aid of Brian Gibbons. Gibbons had absorbed a hard hit from Capitals’ tough guy Tom Wilson. Boyle dropped the gloves with Wilson and the two had a spirited bout. Unfortunately, Boyle took the instigator penalty along with five for fighting plus a ten minute misconduct. The Devils would be killing off the instigator penalty and be without the services of Boyle for ten minutes. Wilson only got a five minute major for fighting.
The Devils would kill that penalty off and tack on an insurance goal at the 10:55 mark of the second when Miles Wood used his speed to create a goal. It happened when Hischier won a defensive zone draw back to Sami Vatanen. Vatanen looped the puck up ice to Wood, who snuck in behind the Washington defense on a breakaway. His shot trickled through Holtby’s five hole to put the Devils up 3-1.
The Washington comeback began quickly, however. Dmitry Orlov scored less than a minute after the Wood goal. He got assists from Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle. That would make it 3-2, New Jersey.
Then the other shoe would drop. It would take until the 16:12 mark of the third period, but Connolly scored his second of the game from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Wilson to tie things up at three. The Capitals had spent a lot of offensive time in the Devils’ zone at that point and the ice certainly looked tilted in their favor.
Time would expire in regulation and, although the Devils had gained at least a point against Washington for the first time this year, there was still a bit of a let down throughout the Prudential Center. But all it would take was 34 seconds of overtime to end things.
Vatanen chipped the puck free to Hall, who slipped past Kuznetsov and was off to the races. He beat Holtby glove side on the breakaway and the Devils had gotten the 4-3 win. Hall notched his team-leading 17th goal of the year on that play and the Devils got two points against the Capitals for the first time this year. Hall was also named the game’s first star, Connolly the second and Wood the third.
Stat-wise, Greene led in time on ice with 23:39 while Hall and Wood tied for the shots lead with four each. Ben Lovejoy led in hits with six and in blocks with three. The Devils won 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
So the Devils pick up a point on the Caps, but Washington still leads the Metro Division by four points with 60, but the Devils closed the gap a little bit by getting points 55 and 56.
Next up, the Devils take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. This will be the second meeting between the Turnpike rivals this month. The Flyers have been coming on strong in the Metro. How will the Devils fare in this 1 PM matinee? We will find out Saturday afternoon.