The winning streak ended tonight with a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. As the score would likely indicate, the Capitals were clearly the better team if only for one thing. They got the job done on the power play, resulting in the Devils' doom. For other thoughts, Josh at 2 Man Advantage did a livecap; as did the Ookies of IPB. For a Capitals' perspective, J.P. at Japers' should have something up later and will likely be pleased with the results (On Frozen Blog's staff certainly is!).
The first power play the Devils gave up was entirely avoidable, with David Clarkson and Mike Rupp (I thought it was Rupp) giving Donald Brashear a facewash instead of one of them going to the bench for a change. I can only describe the action as "moronic." That's an easy too many men call and there is a popular While the Devils penalty killers did great at first, they got burned. Alexander Semin hit Mike Green across the ice - how come that pass wasn't tipped, defenders? - and Green burned Scott Clemmensen for the goal.
On the second power play the Devils gave up, the killers were just seemingly frozen. Almost right off the faceoff, the Capitals got it down low, threw it in the slot, and Brooks Laich put it in easily. 2 straight power play goals against in the first is no way to win hockey games. As it turned out, the Devils didn't.
In the beginning of the second period, the Capitals got lucky when Clemmensen fouled up a covering of the puck. It got loose and Michael Nylander scored the first half of his eventual brace. At this point, you're just looking up - at your celing, the celing of the Rock, whatever - just wondering what exactly happened to the Devils that won 8 games in a row? Also, you're just wondering how can Clemmensen be so sloppy with the puck sometimes. It happened against Boston, and it happened tonight! Where is the goaltender who was doing so well? Is he on the bench, perhaps?
It must be said that the Devils didn't really "fall asleep" in the game save for a few stretches (like the last 4 minutes of the first period). They had plenty of shots on net (34!), many forced turnovers, four power plays, and many loose pucks for second chances. But the Devils weren't as fortunate or as lethal as the Capitals' forwards. From what I saw, a lot of opportunity for goals were left on the doorstep for one reason or another. Most notably among the forwards were Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. He was creating shots out of nearly nothing from the first shift onward. I felt good about his chances at scoring - it never came, though. Elias was setting up people and taking shots, 5 to be exact. Scoring was not to be for either, though assists for each came later. Regardless of the number of opportunities, I feel it added to the woes of the Devils tonight. What really did them in was on special teams play.
The Devils would make a game of it later on, when Brian Rolston blasted home a slapshot on a 5-on-3 power play to break the shutout. They pulled within one early as the Devils were killing a David Clarkson hooking call that overran the intermission. Jamie Langenbrunner was sprung on a breakaway and he cooly beat Theodore up high to pull the Devils within one. The crowd became more animated, the Devils had momentum, anything could happen. Even Mike Rupp was shaking off a defender and taking the puck to the net like a beast possessed!
And that eventually became the killer. Rupp fell into Theodore en route to the net. The ref called it goaltender interference, which was astonishing. Rupp wasn't intending to hit Theodore; a Capitals defender was right behind him whacking at him, and even then, it's Mike Rupp. If you thought he was going to be able to stop on a dime, you're crazy. Gulitti reports that the Devils weren't happy with the call. I don't blame them! Unfortunately, unless Lou has a DeLorean, it doesn't matter. It still led to the game icing goal from Nylander. A strong kill for about 1:40, but with 10 seconds left, the Devils closed off the passing lanes for Nylander. Not a bad idea to try and have him shoot from an odd angle. Only, um, he scored. Eric Fehr tossed in an empty netter late to further seal the win for the Capitals.
Ultimately, you have to look at this plain fact: The Capitals went 3 for 4 on the power play. Even though the Devils penalty killers looked to be in control on the majority of 2 of those power plays that resulted in goals, it wasn't enough. This is a team where giving them a small window of opportunity is like asking to be punched in the face from a boxer. They'll do it, and they did tonight. Going 1 for 4 on the PK, shorthanded goal aside, is just poor. Plain and simple.
Furthermore, I'd like to point out that aside from the 5-on-3, the Devils didn't make the Capitals pay the price on the man advantage. Shots and pressure? Yes. But when these power plays occurred, the Devils really needed some goals. I think it's further proof that special teams play was the major factor in tonight's loss.
In any case, while I'm not happy with how the Devils performed, there isn't a whole lot to complain in the bigger picture. They did just win eight games in a row. I don't see a reason to panic. The loss really means they need to tighten up their performance - namely, their special teams - and bounce back this weekend against Atlanta on Friday and LA on Saturday. This could be like the 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh in between winning streaks back in November and December in 2008, if the Devils respond accordingly. Let's hope for that.