Caps Slip by Devils, 4-3

The Devils have played the Washington Capitals five times now this season and have been defeated by the Washington Capitals five times.

The Devils just cannot solve the elite Capitals. They play up to most good teams, but the Caps just kind of flummox them.

The lineup stayed the same from Tuesday in Pittsburgh with Will Butcher, Aaron Dell and Nikita Gusev were the scratches.

In net for the Devils was Mackenzie Blackwood. He was 18-for-22 for an .818 save percentage. He got all three Caps’ power play shots and was 15-for-19 at even strength.

For the Capitals, Vitek Vanecek was the man. He turned aside 21-of-24 for an .875 save percentage. He was 3-for-4 on the power play as the Devils went 1-for-3 with the man advantage (the Caps were 0-for-2) – but a word about the Devils and the power play in a second. Vanecek also got 18-of-20 at even strength.

Now about that power play (or lack of in this case). Twice the officials missed high-sticking calls. Once on Kyle Palmieri and once on Travis Zajac. The officials on both plays were looking directly at the play. I do not know what is happening here. Perhaps the refs are protesting Tim Peel’s firing?

Anyway, the Devils got on the board first when Nick Merkley scored 1:23. The goal was unassisted and came when Vanecek tried to poke check a puck away from Merkley and Merkley jumped on the misplayed puck and scored. That gave the Devils the early 1-0 lead.

But, in a pattern that would repeat itself all night, the Caps would respond. Dmitry Orlov scored at the 3:10 mark when Justin Schultz went D-to-D with Orlov. Orlove then fired a wrister from the top of the near faceoff circle that beat Blackwood to tie the score. Daniel Sprong had the secondary assist.

Just 6:20 into the second period, Miles Wood gave the Devils back the lead. Blackwood made a nice save at the other end to get the Devils going. Janne Kuokkanen banked the puck up to Wood on a change. Wood went down low and shot from a weird angle, banking it in off of Vanecek to give the Devils back the lead at 2-1, Damon Severson had the secondary assist.

But once again, 55 seconds later, Alex Ovechkin did what he did best to tie it up again. The Devils failed to clear the puck and John Carlson kept it in. He got it to Sprong, who set up Ovechkin in his office. Ovechkin scored and the game was 2-2.

Before the end of the second, Washington would take their first lead of the night. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored when Ovechkin shot and the rebound came to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov went wide and shot from an odd angle, much like Wood’s goal to make it 3-2 Caps. The goal came at 11:47.

That took us to the second intermission. In the third, Jesper Bratt got New Jersey back in the game when he scored on the power play. Bratt took a pass from Pavel Zacha and went high to Ty Smith. Smith gave back to Bratt, who shot a one-timer from the top of thet near faceoff circle and scored. That made it 3-3 at the 11:04 mark of the third.

But the Caps were not done. Kuznetsov struck again when the puck was came to Schultz at the far boards. He shot and it redirected in off of Kuznetsov and then Severson and in. That gave us our final of 4-3 at 12:06 of the third.

The Devils pulled Blackwood with about 1:45 left in regulation and had some chances, but to no avail. The Caps had the game won.

The Devils had 24 shots to the Caps’ 22. Wood led in that category with four. The Devils also led in faceoff win percentage with Michael McLeod leading the centers with a 75-percentage. Washington led in hits with 26 to the Devils’ nine. Merkley and Kuokkanen led there with two hits. Blocked shots were led by the Capitals with 17 to the Devils’ 11. Wood and PK Subban led the Devils there with two each. The Devils had less giveaways at two to the Capitals’ eight. Jack Hughes had two takeaways to lead the Devils in that category.

Subban also led in ice time with 24:05. Travis Zajac led the forwards with 19:21. Merkley led in power play time with 2:49.

Next up, the Devils take on the Caps again tomorrow in DC again. Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel (I think). Puck drop for that one is 7 PM. We will have a recap here for you after the game.

Until then, stay safe everyone!

Devils Return with Win Over Rangers

The Devils returned from their COVID-19-induced break and were set to take on their archrivals, the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They came back on a high note, winning 5-2.

There’s a lot to get to, so let’s begin.

First off, the Devils had six games rescheduled, which I will try to get to more specifically in tomorrow’s post.

They also restructured some roles at the top. In new management positions were former Devil goalie Scott Clemmensen, who took over the role of Director, Goaltending Development; Kate Madigan, who was made Executive Director, Hockey Management/Operations; and Jim Mill who will take on the role of Director, Pro Scouting.

These were all announced today and I wanted to get that in here.

In addition, a few days ago, the Devils made some player transactions. Goalie Aaron Dell was sent to Binghamton on a conditioning loan, Kevin Bahl and Nolan Foote were sent to Binghamton from the taxi squad and Gilles Senn was moved to the taxi squad.

These were all announced February 13, so of course there is a change. Mikhail Maltsev was originally sent to Binghamton with Bahl and Foote but was instead recalled to New Jersey and he played tonight, as did Nick Merkley, who was also recalled from the taxi squad.

Now to the game, as the Devils had not played in 16 days since a win over Buffalo on January 31. At one point, they had 19 players on the COVID Protocol list. Now it is down to three, but the Devils have played a league-low nine games. From here to the end of the season, it will basically be one game every other day.

The Devils only had one team practice before tonight’s game and there was worry there would be some rust, as Buffalo showed last night against the Islanders.

But the Devils instead were right back to it.

Between the pipes, Mackenzie Blackwood was making his first start since January 19 (coincidentally at the Garden in a win over the Rangers). He got sick before most of the others on the Protocol list and was also back sooner.

He stopped 37-of-39 shots, including both he saw shorthanded for a .949 save percentage. He stopped 35-of-37 at even strength.

Facing him for New York was Igor Shesterkin. He stopped 32-of-35 at even strength, was 0-for-1 on the Devils’ power play shots and totaled 32 saves on 36 Devils shots for an .889 save percentage.

The Devils were outshot 39-37 but edged the Rangers in faceoffs won with 51-percent, a step up over the pre-break games. New Jersey was also 1-for-2 on the power play and played a penalty-free game (aside from a scrap early in the game that we will get to). The Rangers outhit the Devils, 30-21 and the Devils did have more giveaways at 14 to the Rangers’ 10. The Devils edged in blocked shots, 17-16.

The scratches for the Devils were goalies Eric Comrie and Aaron Dell and defenseman Ryan Murray, who was ill, but the team did not confirm what the illness was.

Kenny Albert was calling the play-by-play on MSG 2, as Steve Cangialosi was out for reasons not mentioned.

Just 29 seconds into the game, Michael McLeod hit Mika Zibanejad along the benches. The hit was legal, but New York’s Chris Kreider took offense. He and McLeod scrapped as McLeod did answer the bell. It was a good way to get the juices flowing in a rivalry game.

Following a scoreless first, Ryan Strome seemed to score with about two minutes gone in the second. However, the goal was immediately waived off on ice as Strome had put his own rebound in with his hand.

The real scoring would begin at the 7:37 mark when Pavel Zacha made it 1-0 Devils. It came on the power play when Damon Severson moved the puck from the point to Zacha, who was at the top of the far faceoff circle. Zacha wristed the puck by Shesterkin, who did get a piece but could not stop it. Janne Kuokkanen had the secondary assist.

But in a pattern that would repeat all period, the Rangers would tie it. It came at 11:32 when the Rangers chipped the puck up ice into the Devils’ zone Brett Howden took a Devils turnover and gave the puck to Colin Blackwell, who snapped the puck by Blackwood to make it 1-1.

A few minutes later, at 17:14, it appeared Zacha had his second of the night when Will Butcher, playing in his first game this season, threw the puck at the net from the near wall. The puck deflected in off of Rangers’ defenseman Jacob Trouba and seemed to go in off of Zacha too, but it did not and Butcher got credit for the goal. It was the first goal for Butcher in nearly a year (February 18. 2020).

But the Rangers got back into it, tying it at two when, with a little more than 30 seconds to go in the period, Kreider passed cross-ice to Pavel Buchnevich, who collected the puck with his skate and got it to his stick. He shot and beat Blackwood to make it 2-2. Trouba had the secondary assist.

In the third, the Devils would finally pull away. That began with Yegor Sharangovich scoring to make it 3-2.

PK Subban took a shot from the point, it deflected off of Alexis Lafreniere’s stick and that was tipped by Shesterkin by Sharangovich in front. That came at 10:43 of the third period.

Nick Merkley made it 4-2 when Kuokkanen worked the puck around the net, feeding Merkley out of the near corner. Merkley scored one year to the day that he last found the back of the net to double up the Devils’ lead. That one came at 14:09 of the third and featured Kuokkanen’s third assist of the night.

Maltsev added an empty net goal with Kyle Palmieri picking up the assist 19:39. This was Maltsev’s first NHL goal, but why not?

That made it 5-2 and gave us our final.

Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 24:48 time on ice. Jack Hughes led the forwards with 18:59.

As mentioned, Kuokkanen’s three assists led in points. Ty Smith led in shots on goal with four, Severson led in hits with four, Subban led in blocks with five and Connor Carrick had a takeaway. McLeod led the centers in faceoff percentage with a 74-percent winning clip.

Next up, the Devils will ship up to Boston to take on the Bruins as they try to test themselves against a good team and get back in the swing of things.

Until then, stay safe everyone!