The Devils have had a hard go of it against the Washington Capitals in the last few seasons.
The understatement of the decade? Maybe. But when you consider that their last win over the Caps was February 27, 2020, nearly two years now (against a division rival that they play a lot – especially last season when the Caps swept the season series), you can understand the frustration.
But this afternoon down at the Capital One Arena, they (at least partially) got the monkey off their collective backs by defeating the Capitals 4-3 in overtime.
Both teams were dealing with some adversity. Washington was missing Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie – who were announced as out today with non-COVID illness. The Devils still have head coach Lindy Ruff on the COVID Protocol list. He missed the trip down to DC with Alain Nasreddine – who, coincidentally was behind the bench for the Devils last win over the Caps in 2020 when he was interim head coach taking over for the fired John Hynes – taking the reigns again today. Ruff was at home, but in contact with the coaching staff via Zoom.
The Devils, while going with the same lineup from the last two games, which were both wins, did recall Alexander Holtz and Nolan Foote from the AHL Utica Comets to the Taxi Squad. They did travel to Washington with the team.
Because of this, Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches along with goaltender Jon Gillies, who came off of the COVID Protocol list today.
However, getting the start again today was Mackenzie Blackwood, who made 27 saves on 30 Washington shots for a .900 save percentage on the afternoon. He was equal to the Caps’ one power play shot and their only shorthanded chance. At even strength, he stopped 25 of 28 Capitals shots. Of note was that his win over the Oilers on Friday was his first career victory when giving up five goals.
The Caps countered with Ilya Samsonov. He made 33 saves on 37 total Devils shots for an .892 save percentage. He stopped the Devils’ lone power play shot and both of their shorthanded shots. He made 30 saves on 34 shots at five-against-five.
Both teams went 0-for-1 on the power play, limiting their chances on the man advantage.
The first period would see the Devils build up a quick lead and the Capitals hang around, one of the stories of the day for this game.
The scoring began 7:15 into the game when Jack Hughes rushed up the left-wing side and got a quick shot off on Samsonov. The Washington goalie made the initial save on Hughes and it came right to Yegor Sharangovich, who was fighting to get to the puck while crashing the net. He put it in to give the Devils the 1-0 lead. PK Subban had the secondary assist.
Sharangovich now has points in four straight games with that goal.
It was around this time, early in the first period, when Dougie Hamilton took a puck to the face and left the game. He did not return after only playing 2:40, shortening the Devils bench to five defensemen for the majority of the game. According to Nasreddine in his postgame press conference, Hamilton went to the hospital to be evaluated and “is doing okay.”
The Devils doubled up their lead about 1:14 after the Sharangovich goal. This was a nice one as Dawson Mercer went to retrieve the puck out of the near corner and took a quick peek over his shoulder while doing so. He saw Damon Severson pinching in backdoor. Mercer made a nice pass to Severson, tape-to-tape. Severson finished by tapping the puck glove side, top shelf on Samsonov to make it 2-0 Devils. Janne Kuokkanen had the secondary assist.
But the Capitals are never far out of a game, as we all know and they proved that with just 47 seconds to play in the first period.
It was then that Dmitry Orlov gave to Michael Sgarbossa just inside of the Devils blue line. Sgarbossa dropped to John Carlson, who walked in and beat Blackwood to cut the Devils lead to 2-1.
That took us into the second period where the Devils wasted no time in retaking the two-goal lead.
Just 22 seconds in, Jonas Siegenthaler got the puck to Severson at the far point. Severson got off a quick snap shot that was headed wide of Samsonov’s net. Fortunately for the Devils, Nico Hischier was camped out in front and he tipped Severson’s shot into the Caps net to make it 3-1 Devils.
Blackwood made a huge stop following that as the Capitals had a 2-on-0 shorthanded and Blackwood made the save keeping the score 3-1.
The third period would be a rough one for the Devils.
It began midway through when Siegenthaler was also hit in the face with a shot that ran up his stick. He left to be checked with the Devils now down to only four defensemen but returned after having missed just one shift.
In the meantime, the Caps got to within one when Nic Dowd scored at the 13:22 mark. Garnet Hathaway settled a save that Blackwood was able to fight off initially in front of the Devils net and Dowd came by and chipped the puck up and over Blackwood to make it 3-2. Trevor van Riemsdyk had the secondary assist.
Hathaway unsuccessfully tried to goad Subban into a penalty after the goal in an attempt to further deplete the Devils defense corps but Subban wisely kept his head.
However, Washington would successfully tie the game on the big board on a boneheaded play by Blackwood at 16:13 gone by in the period.
The Caps dumped the puck in directly on Blackwood. Instead of covering up, Blackwood tried to keep the puck in play by sweeping it to Subban in the corner. Unfortunately, he fanned on it and it was picked up in front of the Devils net by Lars Eller.
Eller passed to Conor Sheary, trailing behind, who potted it to tie the game at three.
It was a costly mistake by Blackwood, but just how costly would it be?
At least a point as it turned out. The final horn sounded and the Devils – for their second straight game – were headed to overtime.
But just as they finished 2021 with a resilient OT win, they would do so for their first game of 2022.
It would be the captain who would get them there as well. At 2:56 gone by in the OT period, Nico Hischier scored his second of the game to lift the Devils. It came when the puck bounced to Hughes’ stick off of a broken play by the Caps. Washington was already off to the races in transition, thinking they had recovered the puck.
Instead, Hughes quickly hit Hischier with a pass. Hischier was set up at the right side of the Washington net and sniped a shot by Samsonov to win the game for the Devils 4-3.
The Devils had defeated the Capitals for the first time in more than two and a half years and had now strung together three straight wins.
New Jersey outshot the Caps 37 to 30. They won 53-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Mercer winning 71-percent of his and Michael McLeod winning 70-percent of his to lead the forwards personally.
Both teams finished with six total minutes in penalties. The Caps outhit the Devils 29-13 while the Devils had more blocked shots at 17 to Washington’s 14. The Devils had five giveaways as a team to the Capitals’ two.
With Hamilton missing, Severson led all Devils skaters with 29:52 of total ice time (including 1:28 on the power play and 1:46 on the penalty kill) to really step up and eat big minutes.
Hughes led the forwards with 20:17 (1:17 of that on the power play) while Hischier and McLeod led the forwards in shorthanded time with 1:06. Hischier played a total of 18:29 and McLeod played 14:51.
Three Devils had two points on the night as Hischier had two goals, Hughes had two assists and Severson had a goal and an assist to lead the team.
Subban led in shots on goal with five. Nate Bastian led in hits with five. Siegenthaler (who was making his return to Washington after being traded to the Devils) finished with six blocks to lead the team there. Giveaways were led by Kuokkanen, Hughes and Ty Smith, who each had one. Hughes led in takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils finish this brief road trip when they had up to Boston to play the Bruins on Tuesday. That game will begin at 7 PM and will be shown on MSG+.
We will, of course, have coverage for you here and update you on any news regarding Dougie Hamilton’s injury and such.
Have a great, happy and, above all, healthy 2022 everyone!