Devils Dealt First Loss of Season by Capitals

As Steve Cangialosi put it on the MSG+ broadcast of the game, “they weren’t going to go 82-0.” The Devils were hit with their first loss of the 2021-22 season by their nemesis, the Washington Capitals, 4-1.

We begin with an update on Jack Hughes after the Seattle game on Tuesday. Hughes was put on Injured Reserve today with a dislocated shoulder (the Devils actually employed transparency with the announcement of his injury) and will not need surgery on it. Instead, he has started “physical therapy under guidance of New Jersey’s doctors and athlete care staff” as Sam Kasan of said. Hughes will be evaluated next week.

Hughes will join Mackenzie Blackwood (still recovering from heel surgery) on IR, although he skated today according to Erika Wachter of MSG+. Another player set to return soon is defenseman Ty Smith – who could be back as soon as Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres (also per Wachter).

Jonathan Bernier did not play tonight as he has a lower body issue that he has been dealing with since training camp.

As a result, goalie Nico Daws was recalled from the Utica Comets of the AHL to back up starter Scott Wedgewood. Also, with Hughes out, Freddie Gauthier made his Devils debut as he slotted into the lineup.

Michael McLeod moved up to center the second line with Hughes out as head coach Lindy Ruff stated that they did not want to move Pavel Zacha (who can play center) from the wing. This was a decision that can change, but that Ruff wanted to go with for now.

Wedgewood, in the starter’s net and looking for his first NHL win since March 18, 2021, made 23 saves on 27 total Washington shots for an .852 save percentage. He got both of the Capitals’ power play shots as the Caps were 0-for-3 on the man advantage and 21 of their 25 shots at even strength.

For the Caps, Vitek Vanecek only let in one Devils shot as he went 24-for-25 with a .960 save percentage. Vanecek turned aside the only Devils’ shorthanded shot, one of their two power play shots (the Devils went 1-for-1 on the power play tonight) and was equal to all 22 of New Jersey’s even strength shots.

Washington won all eight games versus the Devils last season, although the two teams will only meet three times this year – once at Prudential Center and twice in DC. This is due to the addition of the Seattle Kraken to the Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams playing all teams in the West at least twice (once at home and once on the road). This creates an unbalanced schedule.

This was also the Devils’ first Metropolitan Division game this season and the Caps’ first road game of the year.

The Devils found themselves behind for the first time this season just 4:14 into the game when Washington cleared off of a faceoff win in their own zone. The puck was chipped up the boards and the Capitals had numbers the other way. Daniel Sprong got the puck in the far corner in the Devils’ zone while Anthony Mantha went towards the net. Dougie Hamilton blocked the first pass to Mantha, but a second try from the slot reached him. He was all alone at the near post and tapped it in to make it 1-0 Washington. Sprong had picked up the blocked original pass that came back towards him. Trevor van Riemsdyk had the secondary assist.

The Caps made it two at the 9:33 mark of the first when Dmitry Orlov scored. It came when Orlov passed to Alex Ovechkin through the high slot. Ovechkin took a shot and Wedgewood made the initial save but was badly out of position when the puck came right to Orlov off of the rebound. Orlov buried it to make it 2-0. Evgeny Kuznetsov had the secondary assist on the goal.

The second period saw Sprong triple up the Washington lead. At the 9:58 mark of the middle frame, Tomas Tatar tried to move the puck up the boards to Dougie Hamilton at the far point in the Caps’ zone. Sprong, however, read the play perfectly, chipping the pass by Hamilton before the puck even got to the Devils’ defenseman. Sprong jumped past Hamilton and was off on his own, cutting in on Wedgewood and beating him one-on-one to make it 3-0. The goal, coming off of a breakaway, was unassisted.

Washington took that 3-0 lead into the third period. However, 9:16 in to the new period, Kuznetsov made it 4-0. Ovechkin got the puck down low as the Caps just whipped it around. Ovechkin centered to the slot and Tom Wilson chipped the puck past Ryan Graves’ stick to Kuznetsov, who was camped out at the near post. Kuznetsov had nothing to shoot at but simply jammed it by Wedgewood and the post.

The Devils would get on the board late, at the 13:18 mark of the third on the power play.

Carl Hagelin was called for hooking Hamilton at 11:37 and the Devils had what would be their only power play of the night.

On the ensuing man advantage, Janne Kuokkanen jumped on a loose puck following a broken pass to Damon Severson, who was down low. Kuokkanen got it in the slot and his shot went end-over-end as it beat Vanecek. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist and this was the Devils’ first power play goal of the season as a team.

Originally, Dawson Mercer was announced as getting an assist on the goal. This would have given him a three-game point streak to start his career. However, on the official scoresheet on, the assists were listed as Severson (primary) and Sharangovich (secondary) so as of now, and barring a change in scoring, Mercer’s career-starting point streak is over at two games.

Late in the game, McLeod was hit by Martin Fehervary along the boards in the Caps’ zone while in a vulnerable position. He did not appear to be hurt, but Hamilton did step up to defend him on the play. Moments later, Mason Geertsen came on the ice and took exception to the play, receiving a cross checking penalty against Nic Dowd for his efforts.

And that was it, our final was 4-1.

The Devils were narrowly outshot 27 to 26. New Jersey won 44-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod leading the centers with a 69-percent personal winning clip. The Devils doubled up the Caps’ penalty minutes at eight to four. The Devils led in hits at 18 to Washington’s 11. The Caps had more blocked shots at 16 to the Devils’ nine and the Devils had more giveaways at 13 to the Capitals’ six.

Personal stats-wise, Hamilton once again led everyone in ice time with 22:46 logged (including 1:09 on the power play and 1:43 on the penalty kill). Nico Hischier led the forwards with 19:03 (including 1:09 on the power play and 1:54 on the PK). Jonas Siegenthaler logged the most shorthanded ice time at 3:35 out of his 19:53 of total ice time.

Shots on goal for the Devils was led by PK Subban with four. The hits category was led by Geertsen with four. Damon Severson led in blocks with three. Giveaways were led by Andreas Johnsson, Siegenthaler and Subban, who each had two. Hischier, Tatar and Severson each led with two recovered turnovers.

Next up, the Devils’ slow crawl towards a season rhythm continues as they host the Sabres at Prudential Center on Saturday. The Sabres are 3-0-0 as of now, but they play on Friday at the Boston Bruins, so their record is subject to change.

That game is at 7 PM and we will see you then.

Preseason: Devils Down Caps, 4-1

The Devils remained undefeated this preseason, defeating the Washington Capitals 4-1 in Newark tonight.

Let’s get to this.

First, some personnel updates. Ty Smith remains out with an undisclosed injury as he has not played in a preseason game this year and will remain out “for a number of days” according to Lindy Ruff and quoted in an article by Sam Kasan.

Jesper Bratt was sick with a non-COVID-related illness also per Kasan. He was in the lineup tonight versus Washington and did play.

Kasan also reported that the Devils have loaned Chase Stillman back to his Ontario Hockey League team, the Sudbury Wolves. Nate Schnarr has been loaned to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League while Brian Flynn and Robbie Russo were placed on waivers, cleared and assigned to Utica. This happened Sunday.

In addition, the Devils claimed defenseman Mason Geertsen off of waivers from the New York Rangers on Sunday. A big blue liner at 6-feet, 4-inches and 227-pounds, he will add toughness and a gritty element to the Devils’ lineup as per Kasan. The 26-year-old Geertsen was slated to be assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL by the Rangers. He has played in 297 career AHL games with Hartford, the Colorado Eagles, San Antonio Rampage and Lake Erie Monsters.

He was originally drafted in the fourth-round – 93rd overall – by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013. He previously played in the Western Hockey League for the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Vancouver Giants.

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the business at hand.

In goal, the Devils started Mackenzie Blackwood. He played the first two periods and made 15 saves on 16 shots against for a .938 save percentage. This included making one save on two power play shots and getting all 14 he saw at even strength.

Scott Wedgewood came in for the Devils for the third period. He was equal to all five shots peppered on him – it was a relatively easy night for Devils goaltending. Wedgwood continued his shutout streak from the second two periods of the Islander game on Saturday.

The Caps finished with a total of 21 shots on goal.

For the Capitals, Vitek Vanecek played the whole game and saw 25 Devils shots. He turned aside 22 of them for a .880 save percentage. He let in two goals on four power play shots, got the lone shorthanded shot the Devils sent his way and saved 19-of-20 at even strength. Zach Fucale backed him up while Ilya Samsonov is sidelined with a lower body injury.

The Devils got on the board on the power play at the 19:00 mark of the first. Dawson Mercer streaked up the right side in the Capitals’ zone. Janne Kuokkanen hit him with a pass in the middle as he was cutting towards net. Mercer got the shot off and a trailing Alexander Holtz potted the loose puck to give the Devils the 1-0 lead.

Early in the second period, Michael McLeod made it 2-0 at the 2:39 mark. It saw McLeod drive towards the net and drop the puck for Kuokkanen trailing in the slot. Kuokkanen kind of flubbed his shot but was able to hit McLeod with a pass from his knees. McLeod snapped the puck by Vanecek to double up the Devils lead. Kevin Bahl had the secondary assist.

Washington would get on the board with less than a minute to go in the second (at the 19:18 mark) when, on the power play, Connor McMichael beat Bahl to the outside, taking a sharp angle shot which beat Blackwood to make it 2-1. Garrett Pilon (primary) and Hendrix Lapierre (secondary) had the assists.

That late goal made it 2-1 heading into the second intermission.

In the third, Pavel Zacha would make it 3-1 when the Devils were on the power play. Bratt worked along the near half wall to Dougie Hamilton (who was wearing an “A” tonight) at the point. Zacha was camped out at the top of the far faceoff circle and calling for the puck. Hamilton distributed to him and Zacha took the pass, hesitating with a little toe drag, freezing Vanecek and shooting back against the grain. He scored just under the crossbar as Zacha was showing a new aggressiveness in terms of shooting.

That goal came at eth 5:59 mark of the third.

Jimmy Vesey would add an empty net goal with ten seconds to go (Washington had pulled Vanecek with about two minutes left in regulation) from McLeod and Tomas Tatar to ice the game at 4-1.

The Devils ended the game 2-for-5 on a seemingly vastly improved power play. The Capitals were 1-for-3.

The Devils would end the game winning 60-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The Devils were edged in hits 17-16, had less blocked shots at 15 to five and had more giveaways as a team at eight to the Caps’ six.

Mercer led the Devils with two giveaways while Zacha led in shots with five. Ryan Graves and Vesey led in hits with three. Blocks were led by Mercer, Hamilton Graves, PK Subban and Christian Jaros who each had one. Zacha led in takeaways with two.

Kuokkanen (two assists) led in points for the Devils. Hamilton led in time on ice with 22:59 while Nico Hischier led the forwards with 19:23 of TOI. McLeod led in faceoff percentage with a 90-percent clip. Hischier and Zacha led in power play ice time with 4:42.

Next up, the Devils will travel across the Hudson River to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers on Wednesday. That game will be shown on MSG+ and we will have a postgame recap for you right here then. See you Wednesday!