If one were to graph the New Jersey Devil's performance in tonight's game, it would be a downward slope. The Devils started the game well enough. Sure, they conceded the game's first two goals to the Washington Capitals. Sure, one of those was an absolute fluke that Martin Brodeur should have stopped. But the Devils matched the Caps in energy shift for shift in the first period. Lots of end to end action, lots of shots (15-14 Devils led), and Rod Pelley pulled one back with a soft goal let in by Michal Neuvirth. Not bad.
And then the Devils' performance fell apart. Please read on for my further thoughts on the game.
7 minutes and 5 seconds of power play time in the second period - completely wasted. The Capitals took a late minor in the first period that carried over, the next three came in the second, and with each man advantage the Devils looked worse and worse. The Capitals' penalty killers were great and even had scoring chances more and more. Moreover, the Washington Capitals just swarmed, swarmed, and swarmed on the Devils. Nicklas Backstrom killed a shot with Brodeur at his mercy midway in the second period, the crown jewel of a second period offensive effort that had 19 shots for the Capitals and only 5 for the Devils. Seriously, 5 shots in a period with 3.5 power plays! Awful!
The Devils had their chances, they killed off the Capitals' power plays, but Mike Green was left wide open in the high slot and hammered a shot to really hammer the game home. And even after that, they still rushed forward whether they could. The Devils had odd man rushes to respond, but their passing fell apart and if it wasn't the Capitals' defense making the play, it's Neuvirth's glove acting as a vacuum.
While the Matt Bradley fluke goal was the eventual game winner, the Capitals did what I thought they would in the second period. They would close down on the Devils on defense, they tightened up when they needed to be, and they kept pressing ahead to ensure a win instead of hoping they scored enough early. The only time the Devils came close to an equalizer, Jay Pandolfo's stick was above the crossbar on a deflection which disallowed the goal. When Backstrom scored his goal, I felt that really doomed the Devils moreso than Bradley's goal. Heck, the Devils pulled one back after his floater.
Give plenty of credit to the Capitals; they did their job very well and showed everyone in the NHL why they are an elite team. Neuvirth played very well and I can't help but think that Washington will have a very happy problem when Seymon Varlamov . Their offense did their job: Alex Ovechkin did his job and got a very pretty goal - he was everywhere and if it wasn't for some bad luck, maybe he gets more goals. Nicklas Backstrom had a great game with a crucial goal and two assists. While the Capitals' blueline allowed 30 shots, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz did very well in their own end; particularly on the penalty kill, Bruce Boudreau kept going to them on the PK for a reason. Most of all, even with a two or three goal lead, the Capitals kept up their intensity and didn't let up. That kept the Devils, at least, honest on defense and, at most, driven their confidence down to ensure that no comeback would happen. Well played, Capitals.
On the other hand, from the second period on, it all went pear-shaped for the Devils. To repeat, the power play was awful and that was truly the turning point in my opinion. Put it this way: the Devils had a total of 5 shots on the power play across 8 minutes of a man advantage total; whereas the Capitals had 5 shots shorthanded. Mind you, the first two weren't bad; but the last two featured more offense from the Capitals' PK than the Devils' PP. I repeat: awful. I'm confident Jacques Lemaire will have the team spend extensive time on the power play in practice tomorrow (you better believe they're practicing tomorrow).
On even strength, the Devils weren't much better. Sure, they got that one goal. But later on, it also deteriorated. In the third period specifically, they had multiple odd-man rushes in the third period, they managed to outshoot the Capitals 10-7, but so many of those opportunites were wasted by bad passes or ineffective shots. Some were understandable, like Chris Clark catching Ilkka Pikkarainen from behind to stop a breakaway; but the 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s were just bad decisions, like Niclas Bergfors trying to find a covered Travis Zajac just because he was on the other side of Neuvirth. As for the Devils' defense was just steamrolled by the Capitals' juggernaut-esque offense to the tune of 40 shots in the game. While Brodeur should have had the Bradley goal, can I really fault him on the other three? Especially on the Backstrom goal in the second period that preserved the lead for the Capitals? Especially when Zach Parise should have stayed in the slot against the Caps' cycle? Here's a video of the game's highlights from NHL.com, decide for yourself:
In any case, this was not a good game for the Devils. A recap is up at NHL.com with links to all the stats from tonight's game. For the other side of tonight's game, expect plenty of praise for the Capitals at Japers' Rink.
The result is that the winning streak is broken, the Capitals are now the top team in the Eastern Conference, and the Devils have to regroup for a busy week up ahead (4 games: vs. Atlanta, vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at Minnesota). Perhaps this was a long time coming. Perhaps this is a sign that the Capitals are truly the top team in the East. Whatever it is, the focus should be on trying to improve for the next game. And there's plenty to improve on - especially on the power play.
Thanks to all the commenters in the GameThread; and thanks for reading. Please to leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.