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New Jersey Devils Defeat Washington Capitals 4-1 in a Game of Whistles and Wow

In the preseason opener, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Washington Capitals in a game filled with penalties and highlight-reel worthy goals. This recap goes over who did well and who did not do so well among other thoughts.

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Nico Hischier with a big hug after the big preseason win.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s preseason opener between the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals had everything one could expect from a preseason game and more. Rosters that are a mix of guaranteed NHL players, players fighting for a spot to become a NHL regular, and others filling the lineup card? Check. Goaltender changes about halfway through the game to give guys minutes? Check. Players utilized in situations one would not likely see in a game that counts? Check. Penalties racked up from referees following various emphases of rules that may last about halfway through the first month of the season? You better believe that was checked off tonight. There were also quite a few things that made me go “wow” in a 4-1 win by the Devils over the Caps.

From a team perspective, the difference in shots tonight were 36 to 30 in favor of New Jersey. I don’t know what’s more surprising: the Devils outshooting the opposition in a high-shooting game or the Devils breaking 30 shots at all. The Devils dropped 17 on the Caps in a three-goal second period. In another rink, that would’ve been 20 or 21 shots. Even amid all of the oft-abbreviated power plays and shorthanded situations, the Devils asserted themselves well in 5-on-5 play after a not-so-hot first period. If there was a team “flaw,” then it would have to be on the power play where the Devils converted none of their seven power plays and allowed one shorthanded goal. Even so, the power play wasn’t so much ineffective; they were able to gain the zone and get set up most of the time. The good plays just didn’t convert. It happens. Still, the other side of special teams were perfect. The Caps got nothing from their power play. With four goals scored at even strength, it’s OK that the PP didn’t convert.

From a player perspective, well, take your pick of highlights. Mirco Mueller hammered in a slapshot off a Joseph Blandisi faceoff win to make it 1-1 in the second period. It would be the only goal Braden Holtby would allow in his half of the game.

Stefan Noesen definitely had a very good night. His peak was his goal in the second period to make it 2-1. It was the result of an excellent pass by Blandisi. Noesen broke ahead of John Carlson and beat Vitek Vanecek with a smooth shot to his left. Ordinarily, this would be your goal of the night from an aesthetic point of view. Just wait:

The third goal came from Kyle Palmieri. This was marked as unassisted. I disagree. The clearance off the sideboards by Noesen put the puck in a spot where it was up for grabs. Palmieri - who was serving a penalty that ended his own team’s power play - jumped right out of the box and torched Taylor Chorney to get this puck. He kept ahead, he charged in, he beat Vanecek five-hole, and then slid into the boards. Palmieri had an awesome night with eight (!!) shots on net and at least one very good chance set-up. This goal came within the final thirty seconds of the second period and just put the Caps in a hole they couldn’t recover.

Now, those goals by Noesen and Palmieri were lovely goals. But the fourth one topped them all. He wasn’t a big force on offense tonight; partially because of his linemates. But he worked on defense. He drew some penalties. He was certainly not shy of contact. He kept motoring on as the situation needed it. He would be rewarded when he saw a chance to steal a puck from Kevin Elgestal at his blueline. He swooped in and gave Vanecek the dekes and made all who saw it go “WOW.” Ladies and gentlemen of All About the Jersey, I give you Nico Hischier:

I didn’t have to go to the gamecenter page for this video. This was first on the Video Highlights list at when I sat down to write this recap. This was a beautiful goal. How beautiful? After the few thousand at the Rock did their traditional, Hey, You Suck after the score, they enthusiastically chanted Nico Hischier. Expect to hear a lot more of that in this season. (And, hopefully, expect him in shootouts.)

There were a lot of penalties, featuring six total slashing calls (three for each) and three bench minors for faceoff violations. But there was no shortage of action as the Devils went from strength to strength to beat the Caps. Yes, both rosters weren’t full rosters. Yes, this game won’t count after next Wednesday. Yes, this may have all been one good night where the Devils made it rain on not-Holtby. That all doesn’t change the fact that this was a night of whistles and wow and the Devils delivered the ‘W.’ I think it is good to start off preseason with a decisive win, especially one that displayed plenty of offense and four pretty goals by a team that lacked both for most of last season.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Japers’ Rink for the other side of this game.

Who Did Rather Well: Palmieri became a force as the game went on with eight shots on net. I really liked what I saw from Mirco Mueller in general. He looked poised in his own end, he was willing to get good blocks on the penalty kill, and he looked fairly swift out there. The goal helps, sure, but he wasn’t a plug. Scott Wedgewood came in mid-way through the game and stopped all fourteen shots, including a sweet post-to-post denial on a power play. While Keith Kinkaid stopped 15 out of 16, he was fighting the puck a bit more; I’d give the edge to Wedgewood tonight. Blake Coleman on the PK was actually more effective than I would have expected.

That all said, I thought the best line was the unit of Jesper Bratt, Joseph Blandisi, and Stefan Noesen. Natural Stat Trick backs that up as the unit in 5-on-5 play saw only one shot attempt against the Devils and at least six in favor of them. I would even argue that Noesen was the best man on the ice tonight. Not only did he score a sweet eventual-game-winner and effectively set up Palmieri’s goal, Noesen was just doing a whole lot right. He was very good on the penalty kill, where he took on 4:44 of shorthanded ice time. I liked his performance in his own end in general, but the PK was a standout area. He was very good at pushing the play forward, whether that was to support his teammates or literally moving the play forward with the puck. He was unafraid to try to get around defenders with flair and was nearly successful. Noesen had a great game overall from my view.

Who Did Not Do Well At All: The only real stinker tonight was Jimmy Hayes. He took three minors and was responsible for the Devils’ faceoff violation call. For each call, he threw his headback as if to say, “Dang it, I messed up again.” Hayes really did not have an impact on the game. While John Hynes and his staff tried to get all of the players in various situations - Hayes’ last minor of the night was on a penalty kill - Hayes just did not do much. He’s partially why Hischier had a quiet offensive game. I don’t want to say a guy should be cut from a PTO after the first preseason game. But he’s going to have to be much more of a positive contributor if he gets another chance soon. The only other guy I can think of who really didn’t make a positive impact was John Quenneville. He did very little in the less than 12 minutes he played. At least he wasn’t responsible for four out of the team’s ten minor penalties.

While the team allowed 30 shots, no one on defense was all that bad. Dalton Prout was OK. Damon Severson and Will Butcher did well in their roles. Although Butcher did get a little lost on the goal against; that wasn’t certainly on him and him alone. (I fault Hall for starting it.) It does speak to what the coaches see in him as his power play units featured Taylor Hall, Palmieri, and Marcus Johansson. Yaroslav Dablenko was fine outside of the two minor penalties. In general, the D wasn’t too problematic.

I would have liked to have seen a better game from Marcus Johansson. He didn’t really impress on the power play or with Taylor Hall and Palmieri. There were some passes and decisions by him that just were awry. Although he certainly didn’t hold either back. The 4-for-14 faceoff win count does not help his cause to be their center. I’d chalk it up to rust. Likewise for Hall. I thought he was better as the game went on, but in the first period, it wasn’t uncommon for a pass by Hall to go awry. The worst was his giveaway that led to the rush up ice for the shorthanded goal by Lars Eller. If both players were like this next Wednesday, then I’d be concerned. It’s the first preseason game, so I’m not.

Faceoff Violations?: From Leo Scaglione, Jr., the NHL did release a memo that faceoffs were going to be more closely watched:

This was surprising when it happened to the Capitals at the start of what would have been a power play. It was funnier the second time it happened. It wasn’t as funny when Hayes cost his team one. I don’t know how long this will last or even why this is a point of emphasis. The focus on slashes makes sense as it can prevent injuries and allow more skilled players to use their hands.

New Venues at The Rock?: As it was preseason, I got to see some new things around the lower concourse. There’s a new Artisan Donut stand outside of Section 1, which should be a big hit and cause even more foot traffic in that area in between periods. The Villa Pizza outside of Section 4 was cut in half with a Wine Bar and a Bowled Over (stir-fry noodle bowls) spots taking up the other half. The taco stand next to the Jack Daniels area was swapped with the health(ier) food cart that was outside of Section 4/5. The Investor Bank ATMs now have a glowing green side. The condiment areas are now branded as Flavor Stations. There were some other changes on the other side. For the most part, the Rock looks the same - just a few other food changes. I don’t know what was changed on the upper concourse though.

While it isn’t a venue, the new scoreboard is massive. It also was not lowered or even on. The digitized ring had the score, shot count, penalties, and time. I hope it is down for Saturday’s game. We’ll see.

Jerseys in Person?: I’m still not a fan of the Modell knockoffs. Your mileage may vary on that one.

Attendance?: Certainly not the announced six thousand and whatever. It is a Monday night preseason game against the Caps going up against a Giants home game. It wasn’t going to draw. Expect a bigger crowd on Saturday against Our Hated Rivals.

Cuts?: Per Chris Ryan of, the first ones may be tomorrow:

With six more games, including a split-squad night next week, I wouldn’t expect too many players to go.

A Final Thought: Each team was awarded seven power plays that lasted a little more than eleven minutes each. What effect did this have on the run of play? Let me put it this way: Natural Stat Trick had the Devils leading in 5-on-5 shooting attempts 28-25. In all situation play, Natural Stat Trick had the Devils leading 50-45. That’s how big of a difference it was.

Your Thoughts: What did you think of tonight’s performance by the Devils? Who was the best Devil in your opinion? Who had the prettiest goal? Who needs to do more in preseason after this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.