After an opening night loss at home in Newark on Friday night, the Devils were right back at it Saturday night in Washington, hoping to improve in their matchup against the Caps. While the score may have been a little ugly, it did not tell the entire story, as the Devils did make a little bit of progress and have something they can build upon.
A few Devils made their season debuts as coach John Hynes continues to tinker with the lineup. In were wingers Brian O’Neill and Stefan Matteau and defenseman Eric Gelinas. Sitting from opening night were Reid Boucher, Tuomo Ruutu and Damon Severson. Cory Schneider got his first night off of the year with the back-to-back and Keith Kinkaid started for New Jersey.
Washington got on the board at 12:04 of the first on a goal from Jason Chimera, which set up a five minute flurry of goals as the Capitals took a 2-0 lead on Brooks Orpik’s tally at 13:32 before the Devils jumped back in and whittled it down to 2-1 with a goal from Adam Henrique at 14:54 (Jiri Tlusty and Kyle Palmieri with the assists) before tying it at two with a power play goal from Gelinas (Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri with the assists).
And that was where the game stood through the second period, tied at two. Although that almost was not the case, as the Devils got in some penalty trouble late in the period when Gelinas went off for cross-checking at 14:39. While killing that off, Stempniak was whistled for holding. The Devils penalty kill did the job and things were looking good for the visitors.
In the third the floodgates opened when Alex Ovechkin finally broke free, scoring a highlight reel goal off an end-to-end rush at 6:33 into the period. From there, the Devils got in more penalty trouble and that cost them dearly. Adam Henrique was called for hooking at 11:48 and Marcus Johansson scored on the ensuing power play. About four minutes later, Stempniak again went off, this time for high-sticking and Matt Niskanen put the Caps up 5-2. The Devils had pulled Kinkaid to even things up on that penalty kill, so Niskanen’s goal was actually an empty netter. With Kinkaid still out of net, the Devils pulled to within two when Cammalleri got his first goal of the season and second point of the night, unassisted at 18:39.
Kinkaid made 22 saves on the night, including on a key breakaway while the game was still tied at two, keeping the Devils in the game for the time being. The main problem for New Jersey was not being able to finish some of their great offensive chances on Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who made 21 saves on the night.
But offensive finishes will come over time as the team gets used to Hynes’s new up-tempo style. A lot of the forwards are fairly young and will grow into their roles. Another key issue to take away from this game was penalties. Spending too much time short-handed is not a good way to win games period, let alone against the team with the top power play in the league last year.
Next up for the Devils is a two game homestand against Nashville on Tuesday and San Jose on Friday. The Sharks game will feature the return of Pete DeBoer to The Rock and will continue the Devils’ run against tough opponents. Four of the Devils’ first five games come against teams that made the playoffs last season (Winnipeg, Washington, Nashville and the Rangers – who they play next Sunday in a 1 PM matinee at the Garden) and the fifth game is against a much improved San Jose team. It will be a rough stretch for the Devils, but hopefully they can come out of it and continue to build on each game and improve.