Eight straight wins. Four straight home wins. Three straight over the Washington Capitals this season. The second win against the Capitals where the Devils came from a two goal deficit to win. 1,000 overall victories for the franchise. The team's first game scoring five goals this season; all from five different players and all of them were unanswered.
No matter how you slice it, tonight's 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals had many meanings. NHL.com has their recap up complete with the box score and additional stats. An embedded video of the highlights of this game are after the jump and it is a must-see. All five New Jersey goals were absolutely wonderful goals.
And they were important goals too. Despite the score, the play of the two teams was close from where I saw. I'd love to say this was a blowout. I'd love to say that the Devils dominated. But I really don't think they did. The Caps fans are understandably unhappy about how tonight went, especially after a quick-fire double on their first two shots of the game. Becca H's recap at Japers' Rink sums up the disappointment well. After the jump, I'll offer my thoughts on what I saw in tonight's game that will hopefully explain my feelings about the game.
First, watch this video.
In a way, the highlights tell the story of the game. Did the Devils dominate in puck possession, as I hoped for in today's game preview? No. They had their good shifts on offense - even some down right great ones. But overall I'd say the Capitals were better overall in terms of moving the puck up on the attack. That partially explains why the Capitals outshot the Devils 29-23 and enjoyed so much time on the attack.
Another partial explanation would be the Devils defense itself. They were inconsistent with respect to their clearances and plays on the puck. On some plays, they were excellent - stopping a Caps attack stone dead with a block or a takeaway with a proper pass up-ice. On others, they gave the puck right back to the Capitals, made an errant pass to a Devil in the neutral zone that led to another Capitals attack, or let a big juicy rebound go right to a Capital. I'm not saying the defense was awful; they had their usual solid moments; but they didn't look as solid as often as they have been in recent games.
So how did the Devils make this win happen while the Caps floundered? The old cliche of finishing their chances.
See, the Capitals got off to a quick start with two one-timers. One on a power play from a Matt Halischuk trip that I felt wasn't much of one. Tomas Fleischmann was the open man on the flank, the Capitals moved the puck especially well on their PP, and he applied the right shot. Shortly thereafter, Mike Green fires another one-timer from the high slot, tipped by Mathieu Perreault for a 2-0 Caps lead. And that was it from the Caps.
Later on in the game, the Capitals had some absolutely glorious scoring chances in the second period. Even when tied at 2 or down 3-2, the Capitals were able to get loose with the puck to fire a hard shot or get a rebound right at their sticks. Yet, Martin Brodeur became huge on those shots, both at the first and second chance. Even when the Capitals thought they got Brodeur in a untenable position for a save, they would duff the shot wide or glance it off the post. The Capitals even had a few chances in the third - not many, but a few - and Brodeur just denied them while the Devils defenders tightened up.
The Caps moved the puck better with more accurate, simpler passes and as such got more shots and got scoring chances later in the game. Had the Caps have better finishing tonight, the score would be justifiably closer. Instead, they didn't and so Martin Brodeur has some highlight saves that are easily viewable at NHL.com - in the embedded video above.
In contrast, as you saw from the highlight video, the Devils made the most of their chances. An open shot off a feed from the point? A goal from Colin White, likely one of the few he'll have this season. An open shot above the right circle? Another goal for Jamie Langenbrunner, and from the power play as well. Turning an Alexander Semin-produced giveaway into a breakaway that just made Jose Theodore look silly? A classic goal from Zach Parise. A cross-ice pass that was unloaded to the far post from the left circle? Goal - and congratulations to Tim Sestito for his first NHL assist and to Matt Halischuk for first goal of his career. A slap shot from the point right off a faceoff? Goal - and Cory Murphy's second of the season.
All of them were just well placed shots that just made Jose Theodore look silly. And to think, it could have been much more. As you saw in the video, Brian Rolston was absolutely robbed in the first period on a cross-ice feed from Langenbrunner. As you didn't see in the video, Dainius Zubrus spun with the puck to get free from a defender and was denied by the post mid-way through the third. Later in the game, the ZZ-Elias unit nearly cashed in at the crease. The Devils not only scored 5 goals through superior finishing, but they could have had much more.
Nonetheless, all Devils fans should be pleased with the win. I'm just saying it wasn't a dominating victory. Martin Brodeur bailed out the defense on more than a few occasions. The start of the game was poor. And the Devils didn't really boss the Capitals around in terms of puck possession.
Yet, when the Devils were down 2-0, it didn't bother them - or at least, that didn't show in their play. The Colin White goal and the Brian Rolston scoring chance was huge in that it gave the Devils something to build on in the second half of the first period and afterwards. I'm sure Lemaire reminded them of the last time the Devils were down 2-0 to the Caps at some point in the game. They showed the strength of their character by looking ahead despite the deficit; that and their superior shooting rewarded them with a 3 goal second period. In a stunning contrast, the Capitals looked down and perhaps even demoralized coming out for the third period - the Matt Halischuk goal was really the nail in the coffin (I guess that makes the Cory Murphy goal the dirt over the grave?)
I cannot stress enough how important finishing on a play is. Tonight was the perfect example. Most of the Devils' 23 shots were smart shots; they gave Jose Theodore trouble and beat him five times and could have done even more. Without the finishing, this game would have been much closer than the score indicates based on the run of play. In general, we don't normally see this from the Devils - usually it's the opposite case of the Devils not being able to finish a great number of scoring chances they generate. Clearly, it's nice to see what the other side of that is.
And it took the Devils into their eighth straight win by scoring five unanswered goals, their fifth come-from-behind win in their last six games, their fourth straight at home, their third straight over Washington, and their one-thousandth franchise win. That's something no one can really complain about.
Thanks for reading and commenting in the GameThread; big thanks to Steve for taking care of that. Please leave all your thoughts and questions and such about tonight's game in the comments. Lastly, if you haven't, please watch the highlight video from NHL.com. The Devils' goals alone are worth it.