When a team is winless in four games, what every fan wants to see is a win. They want some kind of victory. After going 0-3-1 into difficult and busy month of March begins, I think it's fair to say the Devils would have accepted any kind of win. A shootout win by the skin of their teeth. A one-goal win where a fortunate call helps seal the result. A fluke OT winner. Anything for a "W." The New Jersey Devils went above and beyond what was desired and just trampled the Washington Capitals 5-0.
The Capitals won three straight games going into this game. They practiced on Thursday. They didn't have to go 60+ against the Bruins in Boston like New Jersey did. They didn't have to travel, the game was at the Verizon Center in D.C. They had every reason to come out and put up a valiant effort to get at least a point. They were starting a goaltender who has been playing a lot, not like Johan Hedberg, who last started on February 9. They're in the midst of a messy fight for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Devils were on a winless streak but they would still be in a solid position for the postseason win, lose, or otherwise. It's arguable that the Caps needed this game more. And the Devils just steamrolled over them to a 5-0 win.
It wasn't just that the Devils succeed in one aspect of the game or another. No, they were solid to great in all of them. The Devils scored three goals at even strength, one on the power play, and one shorthanded. The Devils forwards backchecked well and most of the defensemen were holding their own. They didn't just get bounces, but the sought them out and made the most of them. They attacked with the 3-0 lead to start the second period and were rewarded with a goal. They battled and won possession at both ends of the rink. I guess the only complaint one could have is that they didn't score in the third period and they put quite a few shots wide. That's OK, they were up by five goals and still out-shot the Capitals 6-5 in the third. There would be no repeats of the scare in Philadelphia. It was a great team performance that demoralized the Capitals and just never let up on them.
Great team performances usually mean there were some great individual performances. Mark Fayne and Andy Greene were creamed in Corsi, Fenwick, and the jumping hits of Alexander Ovechkin. But both defenders held the Capitals' line of Ovechkin (1), Alexander Semin (3), and Mathieu Perreault (0) to four shots combined - that's big. What was bigger was the play of Dainius Zubrus. The guy was bossing Capitals players around. Due to circumstances in the game, played 21:06, set up a shorthanded goal on a rush he created, and scored one of the most impressive goals of the season. Big Z was a big reason why the Devils clamped down on the Capitals. Johan Hedberg was just as crucial. He made a huge stop on Troy Brouwer going post-from-post for his first save since February 9 and just carried on from there. Hedberg was great in the net, he wasn't fazed by the Capitals rushing at him, and shockingly to everyone, he was even good with the puck outside of his net. Moose was great.
Of course, the one that stood out the most was Zach Parise. He scored the game's first goal when he took a David Clarkson no-look pass and slid a great shot from a tight angle past Michal Neuvirth. He scored the game's second when an Ilya Kovalchuk shot trickled through Neuvirth and he pushed the puck into the open net behind the unaware goaltender. He made a stop at the blueline early in the third period, knocked the puck towards Adam Henrique, and absolutely drilled a one-timer top-shelf on the return pass for a hat trick. 3 shots, 3 goals. Parise only played 9:36. He was knocked out of the second period when Brooks Laich hit him high as Parise was sandwiched in between him and Matt Hendricks. Parise would come out to the bench for the third but only played on their one power play - where he nearly scored a fourth goal. Parise was fantastic in his limited action.
It was fantastic that he could be limited since the Devils were up 5-0 and didn't relent in the game. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a better game this season by the Devils - and it couldn't have come at a better time. The winless streak wasn't just broken, it was obliterated in tonight's game - just like the Capitals.
For the opposition's perspective, please check out Becca H's recap over at Japers' Rink. I have many more thoughts - and a .GIF of Zubrus' sensational goal and celebration - about this big win after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: I assure you, you want to see the highlights of tonight's game from NHL.com. One could call it Serious Awesomeness or a Dazzling Array of Boo-Ya or some other reference to The Aquabats.
Let's Go Devils Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap: It was great hearing this in the third period. As Glenn "Chico" Resch kept bringing up from the late second period onward, the Caps fans let up on the booing and were just quietly angry. Enough for the few Devils fans to be rather audible on the broadcast. That's always a good sign as far things going well. So is when Chico talks about food while there's actually action on the ice.
Get Your Ice Packs: The Devils ended tonight's game only -3 in Fenwick and -12 in Corsi. Yes, the Devils got their block on tonight. There wasn't anything so huge, but it summarizes how the Devils just kept getting in the Capitals' way. Unlike the Boston game, the Devils' forwards backchecked effectively and very few Caps were found open in dangerous positions. It helped that the Captials weren't so good at moving the puck on offense; but the Devils' defensive effort had a lot to do with that too. Ergo, there were a lot of blocks, a lot of changes in possession, and so the Devils stunted the Capitals' attack. The Capitals didn't get nearly as many sustained possessions as the Devils did on offense even when the game was 4-0 and eventually 5-0. They had the lead in attempts (Corsi); but it's pointless to harp on it since the game stopped being close 18 minutes into the the first period and most of those attempts went into Devils' skaters.
A Shorter Way to Describe the Defense Tonight: Put it this way: the only Capital to really cause a lot of trouble on offense was Jason Chimera and his five shots on net out of Washington's 23. Not Ovechkin. Not Semin. Not Mike Green. Jason Chimera. He was denied each time, of course.
Woo Special Teams: The Devils got two power plays and they were good power plays. They converted on the first one, and the second one got set up and got a pretty good shots on net by Henrique. Parise also nearly scored at the left post but his shot either was put wide or he whiffed or something. Still, there were no shorthanded chances for the Capitals like the Bruins got on Thursday. There was no sense that the Devils were wasting their time. It was a good power play effort.
As for the penalty kill, well, what can I say? The Capitals only got two shots on net, Ovechkin got his lone shot on net of the night where he put it easily into the sprawled out Hedberg and then flew about 15 feet because he skated so hard at him. The Devils' PK out-shot the Caps' PP 3-2. It could have been 5-2 but Ryan Carter missed the net (maybe it was a dump-in) at the beginning of the second kill, and later Adam Henrique just couldn't connect cleanly with Steve Bernier on a 2-on-1 rush. Yeah, you read that right: a Bernier-Henrique shorthanded 2-on-1. Still, nothing but praise for the PK if only because Zubrus creating and leading the 2-on-1 where he fed Patrik Elias for the game's fifth goal was beautiful. Defense to offense, a glorious transition play.
Plus One: With Elias' shorthanded goal, the Devils finally have more shorthanded goals scored (14) than allowed (13). Just one more reason why this game was awesome.
The Scare of the Night: Hedberg had to make some big Brodeur-like bailout saves early; but the real frightening moment for Devils fans was what happened midway through the second period. Parise was sandwiched in between Matt Hendricks and Brooks Laich and in the process, Laich's arm came up. I don't know if it was the glove, the elbow, or the forearm, but it struck Parise high and he left for the second period. Up 4-0, Devils fans were rightfully more concerned about Parise. Yes, he got his hat trick. Yes, the game was New Jersey's. But if he was significantly injured, then that's almost as big of a loss as, well, a loss in the standings.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Parise came out with the team on the third and was on the bench. I have to credit the Devils for how they played the situation. They figured Parise was good enough to play, but with the game being out of doubt, they didn't play him. He only played on their sole power play of the third period. It was enough to show he was OK but they didn't risk any further issues by, say, a frustrated Capital taking out his frustrations on Parise. Very good. Let's hope he remains OK going forward as the Devils have a lot of games coming up that could use his services. That Parise passed the concussion test according to this post-game post from Tom Gulitti is welcoming news.
As a result of this combined with Alexei Ponikarovsky being held out due to stiffness in his right leg, the Devils were down to 10 forwards for most of this game. Zubrus got to play quite a bit with Kovalchuk and Henrique. Jacob Josefson saw a bump in ice time and he handled it well. We also got to see Ryan Carter and Eric Boulton a lot more. They each played more than Parise did: Carter played 9:53 and Boulton played 10:42. Impressively, it didn't blow up in the Devils' face.
The Not Sung As Much Heroes of the Night: Lots of praise will be and should be doled out to Parise, Hedberg, and Zubrus (+4 in Corsi on a night where the team was -12. BOSS.) for their performances tonight. I want to show some love to some other Devils who I thought played well. Other than Greene and Fayne, who I mentioned prior to the jump.
Kovalchuk didn't score but he came quite close a few times. With eight attempts on net and continuing to drive ahead with the puck even with the lead, #17 was a big reason why the Devils never sat back in the game. If only he didn't pull some of his shots wide. Then again, I think he's pleased with an assist and a 5-0 win. Henrique was also quite solid with a +6 in Fenwick, +4 in Corsi, and two assists.
David Clarkson's pass to Parise for his first goal was sublime. First off, Clarkson passed it while he had the puck in the slot. Second, Clarkson passed it without looking. Third, he hit Parise perfectly with the pass. It was clearly the best assist he has had this season. He also got credited with an assist on Zubrus' goal, but I think it should have gone to Semin.
Jacob Josefson with a +5 in Corsi, +1 in Fenwick, and nearly got sprung for a sixth goal - but he put the shot in the slot wide in the third period. Still, for a young player still shifting around in the lineup and developing his talents, Josefson handled the flux caused by the shortened lineup at forward quite well. He played quite well against mixed opposition, too. I think it was one of his better games.
Matt Taormina only played 5:54 for reasons I can't figure out. He still got a shot on net and threw a big hit on Semin. The more I think about it, the more I believe this really wasn't a good night for Semin.
It Wasn't A Good Night for Many Capitals - Especially Neuvirth: Neuvirth gave up only one soft goal tonight. He should have stopped Kovalchuk's shot. He didn't, it trickled through and Parise pounded it in without him knowing. Other than that, he was not supported well at all by his teammates. Let me list the errors:
Nobody picked up Parise getting low on his first goal. Keith Aucoin left Parise early on the rush which made it incredibly easy for Parise to score his second of the night. Zubrus picked up a Semin turnover and tore through Dennis Wideman, who didn't seem all that interested in stopping #8 driving to the net for his own rebound. Carlson gives up possession out of his own zone and Mike Green just flew by Parise to make it a 2-on-1, where Carlson focused on the puck carrier so Parise had the space to hammer the shot. Zubrus knocks the puck off Laich's stick and torches him on the 2-on-1, where the one - Wideman - just misplayed the whole play making it an easy score for Elias.
All of that and Neuvirth got run over by Laich hustling back after Parise's third goal of the night. Yeah, going 15-for-20 on saves doesn't look good; but the Caps really didn't help him. Good on the Devils to exploit the loose Washington defense over and over. If it wasn't for a few misses in the third, the Devils could have easily tied or out-shot them overall instead of the game ending at 20-23.
What About the Shot Count? You're Not Mad About Just Twenty on Net?: Normally, I'm not pleased with a 20-shot performance but since 5 of them went in and the Devils weren't out-Fenwicked by much, I'm more than fine with it. Besides, the Devils were only out-shot in the second period and it was 7-10. The Devils shut the door on the Capitals in the third, too. I don't see the shot count as significant negative given what happened tonight.
Some Negatives I Did See: Adam Larsson didn't look too good tonight. Overall, he was fine in getting the puck forward (+6 in Corsi), but he got beaten pretty badly a few times by the Capitals. He got beaten hard that led to the 2-on-1 where Moose had to make a big left pad stop on Brouwer. Larsson got torched by a Capital on the play where Parise got hurt. Larsson got blown by Ovechkin in the dying seconds of the first penalty kill. Though that's not bad since Ovechkin tends to torch defenders. Larsson's positioning wasn't so solid at the blueline at times and the Capitals exposed that. With more experience, those issues won't come up. I'm just saying I wasn't impressed with Larsson tonight.
I liked Marek Zidlicky's defending, but it would have been nice if he attempted to shoot the puck at all tonight. Oh, well. He looked more comfortable tonight. I guess the offense will come.
Faceoffs as a whole were pretty bad. Josefson went 1-for-7, Henrique went 6-for-14, and Elias went 7-for-17. As it turned out, they were a non-issue. Still, the Devils winning only 40% of their draws can't be seen as a positive of any kind.
I'll take that if it means out-doing the Capitals in all other facets of the game from offense to defense to goaltending to special teams to coaching (Bruce Boudreau wouldn't have put up with this, Caps fans) and so forth.
Dainius Orr: If you didn't see the highlight video, or you just want to see it in .GIF form, here's Zubrus' goal.
What a shot, what an effort to get the rebound and to get around Neuvirth to put the puck in, and what a somersault! This is the sort of goal you see in season highlight packages, and I don't even know it was the best goal in this game alone. Parise's first goal (and maybe his third) were also magnificient. But Parise didn't dive and do a somersault after scoring any of his lovely, boffo, and wizard goals.
A Sobering Reminder: Enjoy this win now, because I doubt the New York Islanders are going to be as tepid in any of the three games coming up in this coming week as the Capitals were tonight. Or the Rangers in the middle of that Isles-filled week, for that matter. Just take tonight's win as it is.
One Last Thought: I I think what I said in the end of last Boston recap proved to be true.
If they get a win tomorrow, the Devils not only snap the streak, they would claim 3 out of 4 points in a back-to-back and things start looking better.
A win certainly does make the Devils' situation look better. The winless streak is dead. That it came with a 5-0 result is just more icing on the delicious cake that is victory.
That's my take on tonight's game. I want to know yours. How big was this win overall? How great was it to see Parise get a hat trick? How great was it to see him on the bench, smiling and only taking one shift? Who do you think were the dominant players on the Devils tonight? What did Ovechkin really do tonight? What do you want to see from the Devils going into Sunday's game after this 5-0 win? Of the five goals, which goal was the most imrpessive goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this blowout victory in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented and read through the Gamethread as well as those who followed along at @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.