The New Jersey Devils had their third straight road game, their third straight close game, and their third straight win as they came back at the Verizon Center to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in the shootout. The NHL.com recap is up, complete with links to all the stats you need like the box score, game summary, and event summary. Whereas the Devils had to make a miraculous equalizer happen against Tampa Bay last week, the Devils just kept getting better and better, got their equalizer, and came oh so close to ending it all before the shootout.
My Devil of the game is David Clarkson, though I would really like to honor the second line as a whole. Dainius Zubrus may have been bad on faceoffs (0 for 5!), but he worked his tail off, fighting for possession along the boards as well as in backchecking. Niclas Bergfors had 4 good shots on net and he definitely paid the price in a few cases, all to maintain possession. Good stuff from the rookie. But Clarkson not only got back onto a scoring line, but he made his case to stay on there loud and clear. 5 shots on net, inspired play along the boards with Zubrus and Bergfors, and the Devils' equalizing goal in the third period to cap off a magnificent shift by that line.
Check out Japers' Rink as their recap of tonight's game from the Caps perspective is up. The Washington faithful must be real unhappy that despite dominating early, playing very aggressive offense, and getting scoring chance after scoring chance, they only got two past Martin Brodeur. They can't be happy with 5 power plays generating nothing but shots (15 out of 33!), including an extended 5-on-3. They can't be happy with giving up the lead after having it for 2 periods. They can't be happy that they were sloppy at the end, outplayed in overtime, and beaten in the shootout to go winless in their fourth straight game.
The Devils, on the other hand, should be thrilled at sweeping the three game road trip. Not pretty at times and there's definitely room for improvement. But they are now over .500 at 3-2-0. Confidence has to have hit a new high among the team going into a back-to-back set at home at the end of this week.
Like the other two games on this road trip, it wasn't easy for New Jersey. The Devils got rolled in the first period and went down 2-0 early with the Capitals smelling blood. Alex Ovechkin was held to 7 shots and 0 goals, but he had two critical assists on the Capitals' goals. Bruce Boudreau made a change on the top line, replacing Alexander Semin with Mike Knuble - giving the Capitals at least two threatning lines. Ovechkin set up Knuble with a good shot down low, only for an uncovered Mike Green to pick the top far post corner for the game's first goal. Jay Pandolfo, I felt, should have at least looked for the offensive defenseman. How do you leave Green open?
About 5 minutes later, Paul Martin jumped up on an attack to carry the puck deep and feed Brian Rolston at the net. Jose Theodore stopped the backhand by Rolston, the rebound came to the Caps, and the counter attack was perfect. Alex Ovechkin fed Mike Knuble, allowing one hard shot. Brodeur slid over to stop it, but the shot was so hard, it bounced off him and in. Just a brilliant counter attack and Brodeur was caught in motion. If he was able to set his position, he probably stops that shot. 2-0 Caps and then they start rolling offensively.
The Caps definitely live by their offense. Often, there were two forecheckers in the zone, they moved the puck around to look for players around the ice, and their top two lines is loaded with scoring talent. They ultimately got 33 on Brodeur, and their crowning moment was the second period, where they were relentless in attacking and put up 12 on net. A poor hook by Ilkka Pikkarainen and a poor holding call on Oduya (poor by the ref) gave the Caps ample time to fire away on Brodeur.
Amazingly, that the Caps didn't score, in retrospect, soon became their downfall. Minutes after killing the Pikkarainen penalty, the Devils' third line struck beautifully on a 3-on-2, initially led by a Colin White block and feed up ice to Rob Niedermayer. Brian Rolston just kills it on this shot and only video really does it justice.
While the Devils benefitted from Brian Pothier getting caught with a hold (I think Clarkson drew it?), the lack of results on the power play helped Washington regain momentum after the Rolston goal and the storm kept brewing. Brodeur and the defense had to react quickly and, as the score indicates, they did - somehow. The Devils had trouble responding with offensive pressure of their own, but that was to come in the third period.
On paper, the Devils should have lost this game in the third period due to the following sequence of events. Four minutes into the period, Bryce Salvador hits a Cap high away from the puck in front of the ref and he sits for roughing. As Chico mentioned on the broadcast, that's getting called every time. During the ensuing power play, on one of his 31 saves of the night, Brodeur swings his stick wildly in the air and catches Brooks Laich in the face. Thankfully, there was no blood, but it's a clear case of high sticking. The Caps "enjoyed" a 5-on-3 for 53 seconds and things were looking grim. Given that the Caps' were running their unit of Backstrom-Semin-Knuble-Ovechkin-Green, you would the Devils would make them pay.
Amazingly, the Devils' penalty killers were massive and held the Caps to two weak shots with the two man advantage. The Devils kill that and then they kill off the rest of the Brodeur high sticking call. Then the stupidity sets in after the high sticking penalty, as the Devils got caught with 6 skaters on the ice on the breakout. Stupid job by Lemaire and the Caps had yet another chance. But Brodeur and the PK just denied them, ultimately killed off by Nicklas Backstrom when held Jamie Langenbrunner back (with his hands) on a shorthanded chance.
The Capitals had these opportunities to re-take the game on the scoreboard. They had the shots, they had the players, they had the situations, but it never happened! The Capitals began to look weak out there and the Devils recognized that. Their passing became crisper. Their desire to win the puck from the Caps was stronger. And then they made them pay thanks to an amazing shift by the second line about 12 minutes into the third period. They didn't just held the puck, Zubrus, Bergfors, and Clarkson just kept battling pucks away from Capitals defensemen. Along the boards, in open ice, wherever, the Devils kept moving it about. Mike Mottau stepped up and made some huge plays pinching in to keep the Devils on offense. And then this happened:
The game overall was quite exciting with both teams trading off scoring chances, but by the end of the period, the Devils looked to be the stronger team. This was definitely the case in overtime, where the Devils should have won it. After going 0 for 4 during the game on the power play, Brendan Morrison lazily trips Zach Parise early in overtime. Lemaire took a time out and then gambled with 4 forwards. Lemaire was nearly rewarded when Zach Parise received Jamie Langenbrunner's pass down low to Theodore's left. The first shot - hits the post. The second shot - robbed by Theodore. The third in the slot - over the net! Parise should have, could have, and certainly would have wanted to end it there. Poor Parise! It was not to be and the Caps came off with a big kill. Brodeur made some tough saves afterwards, but the momentum was on New Jersey's side going into the shootout.
In the shootout, Parise redeemed himself with a 5-hole-based goal, and Langenbrunner potted one off Theodore's blocker (I think), which went off his pad, and dropped in the net. Brodeur held it down after being beaten top corner by Backstrom by stopping a Semin slapshot (again, a slapshot in the shootout?) and spreading the legs to stop Ovechkin.
But there is much to improve with tonight's performance. Faceoffs were bad, as only Zajac and Niedermayer even won faceoffs - the team only won 40%. Yet, the Devils' power play - which should have ended this game in OT - needs work as they struggled to set up in regulation. The fourth line of Andrew Peters, Rod Pelley and Ilkka Pikkarainen wasn't effective. Peters did nothing of note and Pikkarainen took a minor; at least Pelley had a big hit. I'd like to see Halischuk in there for Peters, at least, and perhaps Leblond in as well for the next two games. Discipline should also be looked at closely, as the last 3 minors the Devils took were certainly unnecessary. Especially too many men on the ice. Bench minors are so aggravating, especially when coming off of a big penalty killing effort. Again, the PK effort was massive tonight so the Devils escaped paying for those moronic calls. Brodeur was great - and had to be, especially for those power plays against. The penalty kills by the Devils in the third period really led to the turning point in this game. I cannot stress that enough, in my opinion.
I do have to praise Lemaire for mixing up the lines in the third period, moving Rolston up with Parise and Zajac, moving Clarkson back to the second line, and putting Langenbrunner on the third line with Pandolfo and Niedermayer. This seemed to balance out the offense a bit more and it's good that Lemaire isn't keeping ZZ Pops together at all costs. I felt the change brought more out of Langenbrunner, as he got his only shot on goal of the game due to the move.
Most of all, the heart and attitude of the team must be praised. They didn't get depressed after being down 2-0 and being outshot heavily by Washington. The Devils made adjustments, they didn't give up on the game, and they worked to make the comeback happen. It didn't matter that the Caps have all these big name offensive threats. It didn't matter that they were on the road. It didn't matter that the Caps were leading after two periods. They killed the penalties and then went right to work for an equalizer. That takes a lot and that's very encouraging to see.
Once they tied it, they didn't settle - they took the opportunity for the win. A win over a "name" opponent like the Capitals to earn all the points on this road trip. I know spirits were definitely down after dropping their first two games, but tonight's win along with the last two will go a long way as evidence that the Devils are once again a tough opponent in the NHL.