My initial thoughts when the clock struck zero was "guts." The New Jersey Devils displayed a lot of them in taking the team with the best record into hockey, the Washington Capitals, into overtime. Especially with a 0-0 scoreline. The Devils escaped scares with the Capitals just not being able to get that rebound opportunity or open look past Scott Wedgewood. The penalty kill did its job despite moments where it seemed certain the Capitals would score. After two periods were the Devils' offense was in full "squeezing blood from a stone" mode, they managed to actually test Braden Holtby with eleven shots - keeping the game from being three straight periods of Washington Doing Things and the Devils Failing to Do Things. It was a bummer that John Carlson sent a one-timer over (past?) Wedgewood's right shoulder for Washington to take their 53rd win of the season. All things considered with the state of New Jersey's roster and how the game went, a point was earned the hard way by the Devils.
Thinking about it more, it became apparent to me that this was also a very familiar game. When we inevitably look back at this season for review, analysis, and opinions, the short summary will be clear. Great goaltending in many games, very little offense to support said goaltending, and the defense did more in reacting to the opposition than trying to deny their offense. I think this was the case in many, if not the majority of New Jersey's games this season. How many times have we seen all-star level play from Cory Schneider and bottom-of-the-league play from the skaters? How many times have the Devils been able to get results in this season despite the skaters' collectively lame performances and partially or mostly because of the goalies playing so well? Just change the variables. Replace Schneider with Wedgewood. Replace the opponent with the Capitals. Replace the result with a 0-1 OT loss. Adjust the shot and attempt counts and the blueprint is met. TL;DR: Goalies ruled; most of the skaters weren't good enough to support said goalie; results vary.
To the Devils' credit, the Capitals did struggle plenty with their puck control. For whatever reason, the puck was bouncing all over, leading to many shots going awry and moments where players would just lose it. Yet, the Devils suffered more as the Capitals were able to execute passes to gain New Jersey's end of the rink and put their players in positions to succeed. More often than not, the Devils would lose possession from an ill-advised decision (e.g. a pass to a covered player, a pass to no one) on offense or poor execution with moving the puck. This was most apparent in the first and second periods. Two periods that combined for ten shots, twenty one total attempts, and long stretches without a shot on goal at all. The third period was different as the Devils were smarter and sharper on the puck. That led to some shifts getting more than a few seconds in Washington's zone. That led to the Devils out-shooting the Caps 11-5 to make the total shot count closer. The bouncing pucks and poor decisions by Washington led to some heads up plays by the Devils on defense and only 26 shots allowed. With smoother play, the Caps could have punished New Jersey more for their errors and issues with the puck. Then, they would have given Wedgewood a workload more like he faced last night.
Overtime provided the difference maker. Not only on the scoreboard but in how these teams performed. The Devils really didn't get much going beyond one long shot by Travis Zajac that Holtby had some issues with. They couldn't hook up on a pass and it led not only to Nate Schmidt getting a breakaway - he badly missed the net - eventually to the possession that ended the game. The Devils skaters, Devante Smith-Pelly, David Warsofsky, and Damon Severson, got punished by a turnover by Schmidt and then seemingly looked frozen when Jason Chimera set up Carlson for the game winning shot. As with many of those kinds of games, I felt bad for the goaltender regardless of the result. Most of the skaters just didn't play well enough; not in overtime and not in regulation despite the game being there for the taking. Just change the names, change the dates, but this was a lot like a lot of other Devils games in 2015-16.
I choose to emphasize that the Devils gutted this one out for a number of reasons. First, the Devils did play a game last night and were going up a fresh opponent. Second, said opponent has over fifty wins this season so they're rather formidable. Third, Wedgewood was playing his second straight game and third ever NHL game. That he kept it scoreless for Washington for over sixty minutes was nothing short of impressive. Fourth, I appreciated how the Devils cleaned up the messes on defense and scrambled to repel them with varying success. Fifth, they remained perfect on penalty kills against a powerful power play unit featuring the man with the most frightening one-timer in the NHL. Sixth, a significant portion of the Devils' roster is from Albany and the team has little to play for. All put together, the Devils really did grind out this point. I can't be too unhappy about that despite the very familiar (and lacking) performance by the team for most of this game.
The Game Summary: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Becca H has this recap at Japers' Rink. Let's see what it says.
So that was a game that happened. Allegedly.
Can a fan of a team that won have sour grapes? Just asking.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights:
Shakier But Effective: I give Wedgewood a lot of credit. I'm not a fan of goalies going back-to-back in appearances unless there really isn't another option. I'm not a fan of it happening the night after the goalie faced thirty-nine shots and over seventy shooting attempts. Especially when there's another goalie on the bench who could use some minutes instead of starting to wonder whether he's got a future on this team. With twenty five saves on twenty six shots, Wedgewood was easily New Jersey's best player on the ice again. (It's too early for a controversy over the #2 spot on the team. Great three games but it's still only three games.) This brings his NHL totals to 91 saves on 93 shots, which is fantastic for any goalie, much less in their first three games ever in the league.
That said, Wedgewood didn't play as well as he did in Pittsburgh or against Columbus. Whereas Wedgewood's rebound control was rightly praised in those games, he was conceding plenty of juicy ones. The Caps never got to many of them, which is a credit to the Devils' defensive effort. On another night, one of them ends up behind #31. Either by necessity or by happenstance, Wedgewood wasn't always squared up for most of the shots against. The biggest example was when a puck got lost after a save during the Capitals' first power play. The puck ended up on Alex Ovechkin's stick as Wedgewood turned. Severson's skate denied what could've been a gift for #8. Good break there, but it doesn't reflect so well on the goalie. Wedgewood would make the sprawling save, but it's a noted difference from his last two games. Wedgewood also dropped his stick a few times, which was odd.
Again, I'm not trying to be too critical. Wedgewood has been and was very effective tonight. Of all of the Devils, he was the most responsible for tonight's point. There's no question to how well he's played this week; with only two goals allowed in three games, goaltending is clearly not the team's issue in recent games. It's just that this performance wasn't so solid compared to his other two and it was quite noticeable.
A Raspberry for the Offense: Your leader on New Jersey for shots on net was David Warsofsky. He had four. No other Devil had more than two. Not the team's leading goal scorer, Kyle Palmieri. Not that other goal scoring guy on the team, Adam Henrique. Not the recently hot scorer, Devante Smith-Pelly. Not even Travis Zajac, who had a gift of an open shot off a turnover in the third period and missed the net like he was Phil Kessel from Thursday night. No offense to Warsofsky. At least he got something going, particularly as the back man on the second unit of the power play again. Although I'm baffled why he was out there in overtime. But when a defenseman who played only fourteen minutes at even strength - and witness many more shots against than four - and just over sixteen total led in shots on net, it's an indictment of most of the forwards and the offense as a whole.
The Devils made no changes to their roster and I wonder whether they also didn't change their tactics. Washington was much more disciplined in their own end and in the neutral zone, which meant the Devils did not generate the two on ones or one on ones they had against Pittsburgh. They had 3-on-2s, only to be scuttled by a poor pass after the zone entry or on the rush. In the third period, the Devils went away from trying to make lead passes and played more methodically going forward. It ended up working, with some breaks on offense to help keep pucks in play, as the Devils got more shots on net in the third than they did in the previous two periods. Maybe if they did so earlier, they would have put up a better effort for most of the game and perhaps got a goal. Nevertheless, phbbbbbt for that.
Two Skaters I Did Like: Adam Larsson and Andy Greene played a very solid game on defense. They initially started against the Ovechkin unit of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Justin Williams. They played plenty against them, but their primary match-up became Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky. I thought 5-6 did very well against them. The numbers at Natural Stat Trick back this up with one shot on-ice for New Jersey against them and three shots on-ice for the Caps against them. That's excellent given it's three forwards who display plenty of skill on the puck. Combined with their work on the penalty kill, which yielded a mere shot on net by all of the killers, they did very well in their own end. Again, their play did not lead to much going forward but the Devils had little of that happening anyway. That's defending that I can, well, defend.
As a point of contrast, look at Severson and John Moore. They got Backstom, Ovechkin, and Williams and that didn't go well at all. They only got a little time against the Kuznetsov unit and that was rough. Severson made some key blocks but added little else. He also took a penalty late that could have been costly and heartbreaking. I thought Ovechkin over-sold it from where I was sitting, but the call was legit. Moore, well, he was there and I'm not sure what he was doing for the most part. To be fair, it's not like the pairing got a lot of help from Reid Boucher, Smith-Pelly, or Henrique in either end.
One Last Thought: For a game between a team not really going anywhere after April 9 and a team that will probably crash out of the playoffs early again, this was a rather salty game. There were plenty of post-whistle beefs (Henrique against Williams, even), questionable non-calls on both sides, and even matching minors handed out for extracurricular activity after a whistle - to Backstrom and Joseph Blandisi, respectively. It thankfully didn't get too out of hand, but I'm always amazed how tempers can flare even in games that are, to a degree, not worth that much.
Your Take: The Devils did get a point in losing 0-1 in overtime to the Capitals. What did you make of tonight's performance? Was anyone other than Wedgewood superlative for the Devils tonight? Who on the Capitals impressed you? What should the Devils learn from this game - other than a different way to attack - ahead of their next game in Carolina? Would you agree this game was a lot like many other Devils games from this season, for better or worse? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
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