Newark, NJ– Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visited the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. The veteran-heavy Capitals sought to write a new chapter in the same old story called “Finding Ways to Lose” against the young Devils. It likely wasn’t the way Spencer Carbury wanted it to happen, but the Capitals came away with the victory in regulation. Let’s dive into the Devils 6-4 loss as a result of old habits.
Devils Quick Wrap
A trio of goals for Washington in the opening frame gave the Capitals an early 3-0 lead. Anthony Mantha, looking to revive his career, opened the scoring, followed by a tic-tac-toe play ending in Dylan Strome finding twine, and Sonny Milano sniping a third shortly after. It was the first time the Capitals scored more than two goals in a game this season. Unfortunately for New Jersey, they did it in a single period. However, easy come, easy go as New Jersey charged back in the second scoring four straight goals on 14 shots. Tyler Toffoli scored twice, and Timo Meier and Nico Hischier recorded single tallies. However, a quick goal in the third period by Strome, his second of the game, tied things up at four each. Just under two minutes later, Connor McMichael gave Washington the lead. The Capitals locked it down for the remainder of the period as Alexander Ovechkin put the nail in the coffin hitting the empty net.
Schmid finished the opening frame making five saves on eight shots. Vanecek closed out the final 40 minutes making 14 saves on 16 shots. Shepard secured the victory in his NHL debut making 18 saves on 22 shots.
Old Habits Live?
In their last two games, the Devils appeared to have corrected their early season first-period woes.
That was not the case on Wednesday. The Capitals deployed rookie goaltender Hunter Shepard for his NHL debut in Newark. After 20 minutes of play, the Devils were only able to muster up two shots on the rookie goaltender.
Further, New Jersey couldn’t get out of their own way. The Devils struggled to clear the puck from their zone, transition it up the ice, connect on passes, and maintain the puck in the offensive end. By the end of the opening frame, the Devils allowed Washington 19 chances while creating just 13 of their own, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Capitals outshot the Devils 8-2.
Each Capitals goal saw a different Devils defensive duo on the ice. First, it was Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler. Then, it was John Marino and Kevin Bahl. Finally, it was Brendan Smith and Luke Hughes. Each pair made similar mistakes. Jonas Siegenthlar was stripped of the puck at the Devils’ blueline. Hamilton was left to defend an odd-man rush in which New Jersey lost. Then each of the next two defensive pairs allowed Washington skaters to find their way behind them to set up scoring chances. Siegenthaler also allowed it to happen again in the third period where Dylan Strome would cash in on his second chance.
no-look, five-hole, BANG pic.twitter.com/BRdgITYMof
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 26, 2023
The offense couldn’t hold onto the puck and the defense couldn’t clear it from danger.
“We gotta win more battles,” Ruff explained following the loss. “We’ve got to compete harder on the puck. If you look at tonight’s first period, every battle went to them. Our puck play was atrocious. Passing? We couldn’t go tape to tape, we missed passes. I thought we were a soft team.”
Comeback Kids (Well, almost)
A goaltending switch to start the second period saw Vanecek come into the game for Schmid. It wasn’t the goaltending switch that turned the tides, but instead, the Devils getting back to their game that did the trick.
The constant puck pressure was present in all three zones, leading to a plethora of scoring chances which New Jersey certainly cashed in on.
After being out-chanced in the first period, the Devils came out firing on all cylinders in the second. Their four even-strength goals on the back of Toffoli’s pair propelled New Jersey back into the game gaining the lead. The Devils peppered the Capitals rookie goaltender for 14 shots as opposed to Washington’s seven. As a result, New Jersey ended the second period with a ridiculous 22 chances for while only allowing 10, a 68.75 CF% in the second period.
Jack Hughes, continuing his offensive dominance, registered three assists in the middle frame.
Part of the solution was Ruff swapping some defensive pairings. The Devils head coach paired Hughes with Hamilton and Siegenthaler with Smith. Marino and Bahl were left untouched. The change allowed New Jersey to transition the puck out of their zone and up the ice much faster to their forwards and New Jersey’s top six ate. As a result, MoneyPuck showed the Hughes-Hamilton pairing accrued an 84.6 CF% in 5:43 of time on ice in the middle frame.
Too bad it was an opportunity squandered.
Missing the Saves
It hasn’t quite been the start to the season for Schmid as some had hoped. Especially not for the 23-year-old netminder.
Across 147-plus minutes in net so far this season, Schmid has allowed 10 goals against. The Swiss goaltender couldn’t make it to the second period on Wednesday night as the Devils called on Vanecek to try and help swing the momentum. After Schmid’s 20-minute cup of coffee, he allowed -2.34 goals saved above expected.
Vanecek on the other hand came out of the second period stopping 7/7 pucks. Yes, he faced fewer chances than Schmid. However, Schmid stopped three high-danger chances, including a ripper from Alex Ovechkin in his office.
Yet, the Capitals showed desperation from the jump of the third period. They quickly tied the game on the stick of Strome’s second goal. It was a defensive lapse by the Devils who allowed the Capitals to creep lower than them in their own zone. It’s hard to blame Vanecek for that one.
Dylan Strome has four goals in his last three games pic.twitter.com/UpGvhnAOIp
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 26, 2023
However, despite Connor McMichael getting in close on the Devils’ goaltender in a 2-on-0 situation, Vanecek appeared to track the Caps forward’s movement quite well. Vanecek remained with McMichael after he attempted to fake out the Devils goaltender. Yet, the puck still trickled behind Vanecek and over the Devils goalline. Better defensive zone coverage is preferred, but with Vanecek’s positioning on the play, he should have made that save.
- Hughes registered yet another multi-point effort. His three assists on Wednesday extends his point streak to six games. He’s registered two or more points in five of six contests thus far.
- Toffoli can’t stop scoring. He’s now scored six goals in his last three games.
- Jesper Bratt’s point streak is now up to five games with three goals and seven assists in that span.
- New Jersey’s power play went 0/1 Wednesday night.