A majority of fans leaving the Verizon Center must have been shaking their heads. They must have been in disbelief. Not at what just happened but in that they had to see this once again. All season long, the Washington Capitals have been like a colander. Attempts, shots, and goals against have flown through them like water draining through food. Their strength is their offense, with Alexander Ovechkin destroying goaltenders and a supporting cast that helps light up defenses. The Caps have been involved in plenty of comebacks this season as they've went beyond regulation fourteen times. While plenty of teams are close, Washington leads the league in that mark and they've done well: ten wins with eight in the shootout and three losses in the shootout. Tonight, they suffered their first overtime loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Surprisingly, it was in a high-scoring affair where the Devils took it 5-4.
I'm sure the Caps faithful were all kinds of confident after forty minutes into the game. They were up 3-1 after going into the second down 1-0 (the one being a power play blast by Marek Zidlicky). Martin Brodeur looked pitiful on two of them. He assumed he had the puck after stopping a wraparound attempt from Jason Chimera. He didn't and Chimera poked it in. Minutes later, Mikhail Grabovski was wide open at the left post. The fourth line got stuck up high, Eric Gelinas was unaware, and when Eric Fehr made the pass down low, it only took a second for the lamp to be lit. Near the end of the second period, the Caps survived another offensive shift from the Devils. The Devils opened the period with eight shots in the first four minutes and had multiple opportunities to score. But not only did they get survive a long shift, but they got a rush up ice in response. Mike Green fired a shot, Brodeur dumbly kicked the puck out, and Joel Ward pounded the rebound back into the net. The home team had a lead against a low scoring squad that had to be down on themselves after not adding to their lead. If they felt confident, then they had every right to be.
But the third period proved that while Brodeur was bad, the Capitals' defensive effort was far, far worse. The Devils opened up the period with several shots in a row. Alexander Ovechkin interfered with Patrik Elias in New Jersey's end. The Devils made the most of the power play when Andy Greene fed Jaromir Jagr down low. Jagr was on Holtby's right flank and finished the play. The comeback effort took a hit - and the hometown fans' hope rose - when Elias made a terrible giveaway to Karl Alzner. Alzner threw it to Ovechkin who just torched Brodeur's five-hole to make it 4-2 on Washington's first shot of the period. But the Caps conceded the neutral zone and struggled to get clearances more and more. To pull a term from Spring 2012, their plan was to "Swarm It Up." Travis Zajac, like his linemates, just controlled the puck behind the net and found Zidlicky right in front. Pass, shot, score to make it 4-3. Minutes later, a dump-in was collected by Holtby and he flung it past his D. No winger followed Zajac, so he took a chance on net. Dainius Zubrus had position on John Carlson and tipped the shot through Holtby while skating across. It was 4-4 and the Devils came close to breaking through afterwards. The Caps only put up four shots after Ovechkin's goal; they didn't really keep New Jersey honest. Once again, the Caps conceded a point to their opposition. The fans' dread must have set in despite Washington's great post-regulation record.
Then the Devils struck off their first rush of the period. Greene passed it across to Elias who gained the zone. He saw Jagr coming into the middle and the Caps didn't really cover him. Elias passed it to Jagr for a shot on net. Holtby stopped it and the rebound popped up to his right. Greene, like he did last night against Anaheim, jumped up on the rush as Jagr shot it. No Capital was even aware of the defenseman coming in. The puck went right to him, it bounced off the shaft of his stick, and into the net. A fortunate bounce, but symbolic of how this game went the way it did. An uncovered goal scorer finishing off a play where the 'D' looked lost. It was a wild and exciting comeback win by the Devils. It certainly wasn't a perfect or ideal win. There were some absolutely dominant performances by Greene, Zajac, Jagr, and Zubrus among others. There were some bad performances by Brodeur, Steve Bernier, and Elias. However, it's all about results and the Devils got it tonight amid it all. Much to the dismay of the Capitals fans who were hoping their team can finally break away from the rest of the Metropolitan Division.
The Opposition Opinion: J.P. at Japers' Rink isn't happy in his recap and he shouldn't be. His favorite team conceded five goals and 37 shots to one of the lowest scoring and shooting teams in the league.
The Game Highlights: Two power play goals! Two goals from Zidlicky! The Zajac line crushing dudes! Brodeur not being good in net! A stunning come back win! Yes, you want to see this highlight video from NHL.com:
Dominating in the Run of Play: There are so many ways I can highlight how dominant the Devils were on the puck for most of the game. After taking 11:26 to get their first shot on net - which went in - the Devils put up 36 more in the remaining 48 minutes or so. They conceded 13 in that time period. They opened the second and third periods with several shots on net while conceding none. According to Extra Skater, total attempts were 72-37 in favor of New Jersey. In 5-on-5 play, the difference was 66-22. Only three Capitals finished the night positive in attempt differential: Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. None of those three are defensemen. John Erskine came the closest at -4. Alzner and Carlson were the worst. I didn't even notice much good from Dmitry Orlov or Steve Oleksy. Their forwards weren't effective in backchecking or even just checking at times. The Devils simply overloaded the Capitals over and over and over and the Capitals themselves helped them out at times. Only a few missed opportunities and some fortunate, desperate stops by Brayden Holtby prevented a blowout by the skaters instead of only two 5-on-5 goals. The Devils' decided possession advantage kept them in the game even when down 3-1 or 4-2. While we've seen that before (e.g. the last games against Columbus and Pittsburgh), the Devils were rewarded for their constant pressure.
An Observation About the Dead Weight That Was Washington's Fourth Line: You think the Devils' fourth line was a waste? Tom Wilson, Aaron Volpatti, and Jay Beagle combined for one missed shot all game long and a first period penalty that the Devils scored on. That was a terrible fourth line performance. And before you bring up Grabovski's goal, that was really Gelinas' error.
Heavier Than Uranium: Tonight was one of the best nights all season from Jagr, Zajac, and Zubrus. All three taught a class on the ice on how to protect the puck on offense. They fended off checks, they pivoted with a purpose, they chipped pucks along boards to the right spots, and they knew when to break away to find a teammate. Their 5-on-5 attempt numbers were as follows: 30 for, 7 against for Zubrus; 27 for, 7 against for Zajac, and 27 for, 6 against for Jagr. Mind you, two of those attempts against were Ward's goal, which was a shot by Greene and a put-back by Ward off the rush. The Caps got very little, if anything, going against 8-19-68. Each averaged close to a minute per shift due in part of just keeping the puck in Washington's end of the rink. If Jagr, Zajac, and Zubrus got gassed, then it could have come from too much possession with the puck. But they were all smiles and laughter prior to overtime. They were just kicking butt on nearly every shift. Of course they were enjoying themselves. I know I enjoyed watching them take Carlson and Alzner among others to school.
And the possession wasn't just to tilt the ice. All three contributed on the score sheet. In addition to five shots on net, Jagr scored on the Devils' second power play and picked up two assists: a secondary assist for a legitimate pass and his shot was put back into the net by Greene. Zubrus led the team with six shots on net and his deflection of Zajac's shot tied the game up. Zajac had three shots and two primary assists to engineer the comeback after Ovechkin re-established a two-goal lead in the third. This line was more than just a joy to watch, they made the difference in tonight's game. They deserve the highest of praise from Devils fans tonight.
USA Hockey Continues to Look Stupider: They never considered Andy Greene. They never put him on the list for evaluation. He was never seriously on their radar. So while some "Hockey Guy" tries to claim Jack Johnson as a good defenseman, Greene continues to be a beast in actual hockey games. All he did tonight was be strong yet again in possession, managed to stand up Ovechkin one-on-one, move the puck forward with effectiveness, be on the ice for only five shots against, take three shots out of seven attempts, set up two power play goals, and score the game winner. Greene was awesome yet again tonight. If someone at USA Hockey paid attention to the Devils, then they would have known to at least put on him on the list for consideration. Now, he'll just enjoy his time off in February.
The Power Play Mattered: Going into this game, Mike highlighted the Capitals' power play as a significant concern in his preview. Of course it is. They've been lethal and their all-world winger has piled up a load of goals on it. Fortunately, the Devils only took one penalty. The Caps put up four shots on their one advantage on a flurry but thankfully all stayed out.
If you were to tell me that the Devils' power play would do damage in this game, then I would have rolled my eyes and said "Whatever, dude" to your face. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were tonight. They gained the zone properly, the passes were on target, and they moved the puck with a purpose. They took four shots and two got in. Zidlicky's blast for the first one was like a shot Ovechkin would take from the right circle; Jagr got into the right space for Greene to make a proper pass. Most nights, the Devils' power play is an exercise in futility and wasted minutes. Tonight, they were fantastic. They had to be: it got the Devils up on the scoreboard first and kicked off a three-goal third period effort.
Put In Cory: Martin Brodeur very nearly lost this game for the Devils. Similar to his start in Columbus, he just gave up some real bad ones tonight. Assuming he had Chimera's wraparound was dumb. Kicking out a rebound with Caps rushing at him was a foolish move. While the shot did come from Ovechkin, an open shot going low needs to be stopped; not go through the legs. Brodeur did really well in his last two starts but my takeaway from this game is re-assurance that he's not the main man going forward. Yes, he got the win but it wasn't because he was great. Four goals allowed on 22 shots is not at all great. The door is open, Cory Schneider. Will you enter?
This Was Not the Second Line You Wanted: Peter DeBoer decided in light of the Damien Brunner injury that Patrik Elias needed to center Steve Bernier and Mattias Tedenby. This trio had at least three opportunities to score, with Bernier missing on two opportunities in front (Carlson denied one, I think the second just caught Bernier by surprise), and Tedenby getting robbed by Holtby's stick on a give-and-go. But on a night where the Devils were overwhelmingly out-attempting the Caps, these three were at 50% or worse. Elias and Bernier were out-attempted by a significant amount. Worse, Elias should have received a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he lamely coughed up the puck from the corner right to Alzner. They weren't all bad and Elias did draw a call and earned two secondary assists. Yet, they weren't all that good. I'm sure Elias will be better. A better winger than Tedenby and/or Bernier would help.
Underrated Performance: Maybe it should be Reid Boucher? He had a very good game among the Devils who didn't get on the scoresheet. He registered three shots on net, set up Bernier right in front of the net in the third period, and the play went forward when he was on the ice. He played well enough that DeBoer was comfortable giving him shifts late in the third period in a 4-4 game. After an invisible performance against Anaheim, I appreciate what he did tonight even if it didn't end up in a point.
The Bottom Four: Some quick thoughts on all four. Gelinas really didn't do much on offense again, though the puck constantly went forward when he was on the ice. His most notable moment was not noticing Grabovski down low prior to the second goal. That wasn't good, though I will say he didn't get torched elsewhere. Zidlicky clearly made a larger, more positive mark on tonight's game. He scored twice and didn't take a penalty. I'll take that from him on any night.
I liked what I saw from Anton Volchenkov and Jon Merrill. Until later in the third, Merrill was actually leading the team in ice time. Even so, only Greene and Zubrus surpassed his 23:20 of ice time. Part of that was getting pinned back on the few times the Capitals attacked, but he didn't panic or make a mess of things out there. He was solid alongside Volchenkov, who was surprisingly active with the puck with three shots out of five attempts. I still think Merrill is the initial odd man out when the other defenders get healthy, but I don't have any complaints about that pairing tonight.
Brief But Worth Noting: I'll point it out again tomorrow for the Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot, but the Devils are in third place this evening. It will likely only last for this evening but that's how the division has gone this season. A successful week can move a team up and the Devils did just that with five points out of a possible six.
Your Take: The Devils made a stunning comeback win. What was your reaction to the game tying goal? How about the game winner? Which Devil do you think played the best tonight? Who was the worst? What goal was your favorite? How amazed were you at the Capitals' lack of coverage? How good does NHL .500 feel right about now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this 5-4 overtime win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.