Believe it or not, the New Jersey Devils were close with the Washington Capitals in tonight's game. They held a decisive advantage in shots (14-8) and attempts (29-13) after a first period that ended 2-2. Damon Severson scored two goals that tied up the score each time. Mike Cammalleri was all alone with Braden Holtby twice and got robbed by his glove. Holtby denied Jaromir Jagr right in front during a power play late in the first period. You wouldn't have been crazy to think that the Devils were knocking on the door to blow this game wide open. However, the Capitals had other ideas.
In the second period, the Capitals asserted their authority. They out-attempted the Devils 28-13 and out-shot them 16-7. They took advantage of two power plays. While they did not score, they pinned New Jersey back and continued attacking after they were over. The Devils' offense faded. Michael Ryder was the closest to score, but only found a crossbar - not even one of the seven shots on net. Among the constant rushes up ice by men wearing red, Marcus Johansson provided the difference maker. That being said, the game was still close on the scoreboard. It would still be a one-shot game.
Alas, it wasn't long before the Capitals blew this game wide open. Alex Ovechkin won a puck by the sideboards, got it out to Troy Brouwer, who touched it off across to Matt Niskanen, facing goal. The defenseman fired and Nicklas Backstrom re-directed it deftly in the slot past Andy Greene (I thought it hit his leg) and Cory Schneider. Minutes later, Joel Ward flung a puck off the endboards. It bounced back at an angle that went off Schneider's body from behind and into the net. A blooper, a fluke, and less than four minutes into the third, 2-3 turned into 2-5. Schneider was given the rest of the game off, Scott Clemmensen was beaten on a power play blast by Andre Burakowsky, and the Devils played out the string. I wasn't mad about the PPGA; the game was already lost at that point.
Truth be told, the Devils' road trip was successful by going 3-1. They matched their win total from last October in a quarter of the games. And all teams (ask Boston) will have nights like this, where things just go awry for various reasons. The game cannot be fully written off, though. The performance still displayed some issues the team has had even in winning efforts. There's still much to work on as the Devils go home for a tough three-game streak: San Jose, Our Hated Rivals, and Dallas. And a result was truly possible, even after a second period where they looked second-rate. The team just sputtered out. So it goes in a 82-game season.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out this quick recap by Geoff Thompson at Japers' Rink.
The Game Highlights: Well, Severson scoring two goals are worth watching. The rest, uh, not so much.
Severson Emerging: Overall, Damon Severson provided a performance that commands at least a little hype. He was given tough zone starts at even strength, saw plenty of Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Brouwer, and put up a +17 at even strength. Severson brought the production with an astounding eight shots on net and two goals. He finished just one second behind Marek Zidlicky to lead the team in even strength ice time, while racking up 21:41 - only behind his usual partner, Greene. I know it's only four games into his NHL career, but he's looking less and less like a flash in the pan.
Schneider Sagged: I don't like pinning games on one player, but Cory Schneider followed a splendid performance in Tampa Bay with a less-than-splendid performance in D.C. Some can't be pinned on him: Ovechkin's goal that opened the game was a fault on skaters not picking up #8; Backstrom's redirection. Some could. Schneider conceding a blast by Chris Brown from behind the dot was ugly. Regardless of Eric Gelinas unable to stand up Brown when he could have (and should have). That blooper by Ward was a lack of awareness. I can't tell whether he was screened on Johansson's eventual game winner. If he was, then OK. If not, then that's another bad goal. The larger point is that Schneider did not play all that well. That's going to happen from time to time. But when it does and the skaters can't produce in response, then this result should not be all that surprising.
While Scott Clemmensen was beaten once on seven shots, I can't complain too loudly about his performance. Besides, that shot by Burakowsky was really good. He was just there to fill in minutes. He wasn't going to make a difference tonight.
Salvador Sucked: Whereas Severson-Greene did well, Bryce Salvador was especially poor tonight. At even strength, he was a -8 in Corsi. He wasn't the only negative player on New Jersey but he stood out from the rest in that regard. From the eye test, he was just all over the place. His "hallmark" was when he chased Johansson up the boards and then dropped back when he dumped it back to the boards. When Brooks Laich got the puck back to Johansson, Salvador conceded too much space such that the shooter had plenty of time - and made the most of it. Why did Salvador chase him at all? Why didn't he stick with him? Why not call someone to help? Why, Salvador, why? It's that among not getting clears or misfiring on passes that continues to draw the fans' ire.
He also got rolled on the penalty kill. Again, he topped twenty minutes in overall ice time due to playing over six-and-a-half in shorthanded situations. While he wasn't out there for the sole PPGA and he did make some good clearances, he also got away with several calls and was often just hung out there against the Caps' 1-3-1. That's something other defensemen can do; and that may be happening soon as Severson got PK time tonight. It's becoming increasingly apparent that he's the least valuable defenseman among the bunch. But he's got the 'C' and captains aren't healthy scratches unless there's some drama going down. We just have to hope he sucks less in future games.
Discipline Isn't A Dirty Word, Devils: The Devils took five penalties tonight and just about all of them were not smart ones to take. Mike Cammalleri and Jon Merrill both grabbing Ovechkin. Eric Gelinas throwing an elbow in the slot. Travis Zajac going skate on skate on Eric Fehr when leaving Washington's zone. Jaromir Jagr's trip in the third may have been in garbage time; but it was a lazy trip. I'm not asking for a penalty-less game. I just want fewer obvious fouls that any ref is going to call on any given night. Washington may have only converted on their last power play and it only made the score look worse. However, having to play 9:19 down a man and primarily on defense is a hard road to travel. This has been an issue in the other three games this season. It needs to be improved and fast given the next opponent.
The First Injury?: The Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Martin Havlat did not have a good night. It got worse when Havlat got in a nasty collision in the second period. Jason Chimera hit him in the shoulder, propelling him into a referee's elbow. The result was Havlat's face being completely bloodied and helped off the ice. He would not return. There was no malfeasance on the play. It was just an ugly situation. Hopefully, he will not be out for long.
Other Silver Linings: After getting beaten in Tampa Bay, the unit of Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe were much better tonight. Not seeing the other team's best players helped. But they were moving very well going forward prior to the team-wide fadeaway throughout the game. Ryder did hit iron twice. Clowe did very well in the corner before feeding Severson for his second goal.
Cammalleri was not fully quiet. He had four shots, including two glove-side robberies by Holtby. He went for the jame that led to the loose puck that Zajac swept to Severson for his first goal. That means his point streak continues to four games. There's that.
Eric Gelinas did not have his ice time cut. So I don't think he's entirely in danger of losing his spot to Adam Larsson.
A Common Thing I Noticed: While the Devils won a close one in Tampa Bay and tonight's game got away from them, the common factor in both was that when the opposition were attacking, the Devils struggled to make passes out of their end and in the neutral zone. There were plenty of icings, mis-fires, and pucks that just went to Caps players. It's a cycle of concession and it just makes it harder to break. This permeated the second and third periods tonight, whereas it didn't happen much in the first. With another offensively powerful opponent on the horizon, it'll be crucial for the Devils to be sharper on the puck, whether they're getting it away or trying to move it up ice. Schneider will be better, the Devils might take fewer calls, but this is the area the skaters should be focusing on going forward.
Lastly: Shout out to MSG+2 for missing most of the Devils' last power play on their broadcast. Not that they did anything on it anyway.
Your Take: The Devils finally lost a game this season. Given the circumstances, it's clearly not the end of the world. Still, I would like to know your reaction to what happened tonight. Where did you think it all went wrong? What could have the Devils done better besides the obvious (finish those glorious chances on Holtby, generate more glorious chances on Holtby)? What do you think the Devils need to do better (again, other than the obvious) for their home opener on Saturday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thank you to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.