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New Jersey Devils Control the Washington Capitals in a 4-1 Victory

The New Jersey Devils rode a very strong first period to victory against a strong Metropolitan Division opponent in the Washington Capitals.

NHL: Preseason-New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
The New Jersey Devils celebrate their well-earned victory over the Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last preseason game of the year for the New Jersey Devils, and it was a pretty good game to watch. Now, it’s time to wait and see who makes the team.

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

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

Period One:

The first period opened off with some 5-on-5 play that the New Jersey Devils mostly controlled. After a few opportunities were stifled by Holtby, the Devils drew a penalty. On that first power play, Nico Hischier ripped a shot from the circle which got through Holtby.

About two or three minutes later, Marcus Johansson moved the puck into the offensive zone, getting tripped as he reached the blue line. Henrique tapped the puck to Hischier, who found Will Butcher in the high slot, putting it top shelf for the Devils’ second goal of the game.

The third goal was another power play goal. Zacha shot the puck behind the neck, and as the puck was being cleared it hit Jay Beagle in the back - leaving the puck for Hayes to shoot from the slot. Holtby got some, but not enough of the puck. By then it was 3-0.

By about halfway through the first, the Devils looked good against a very formidable Capitals roster, only allowing one shot on goal the first ten minutes. All four lines seemed to be moving the puck forward, and most of the Capitals’ attempts at generating offensive zone time seemed pretty unsustained to me. Their inability to exit their defensive zone cleanly was very helpful for the Devils, and even players like Victor Loov looked more than able to deal with the Washington attack, or lack thereof.

With about 6 minutes to go, Nico Hischier drew the third power play of the game. The power play looked solid yet again, getting the puck to the net early in the power play on a Severson one timer, which was tapped by Hischier off Holtby to Stafford, who buried the puck with ease. At 4-0, I wasn’t sure what to think of this New Jersey Devils squad. Even without veteran defensemen such as Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy to stop the Capitals offense - who were playing most of what could be guessed to roughly be their projected opening night lineup - the Devils controlled the run of the first period.

Many of the shots from the Capitals, I noticed, hit bodies on their way to the net. For a team as skilled as the Capitals, I was surprised at how many shots they just took from the blue line rather than try to cycle towards the net. Later in the period, T.J. Oshie had Nicklas Backstrom streaking alone towards Schneider, and the pass hit Backstrom’s skate. A shot in the slot not too long after from Andre Burakovsky went high and wide of Schneider.

The last few minutes of the first period featured some more offense from the Washington Capitals, but Schneider was sharp on the few shots he faced. Their best opportunity came at the end of the period, but all Jakub Vrana could do was hit it at Schneider’s pads, and Steven Santini promptly cleared the puck from the crease. I thought Evgeny Kuznetsov threw a late hit, throwing an elbow at Santini and not even attempting to use his shoulder, but I’ll let bygones be bygones. Kuznetsov certainly got involved in some of the less glamorous details of the game, though.

Period Two:

I admit, I didn’t expect the Devils to sustain their first period performance into the second period. There was no way Barry Trotz could let the Washington Capitals continue to be dominated by such an inexperienced defensive corps and two NHL-level lines. Yet, they continued to miss their chances, and they never held the puck long enough to break down the Devils’ structure. But, for the first half of the second, they did seem to be pushing the puck more towards their offensive zone.

They missed all of their chances until a pass from Viktor Loov missed Will Butcher, allowing Jay Beagle to get a shot on Schneider, and Tyler Graovac got the rebound goal. I place the blame on that goal squarely on Viktor Loov, for his missed pass and then his inability to play the rebound off Schneider.

Butcher took the first Devils penalty of the game a bit over seven minutes into the second, taking a weak hold below the red line. Coleman opened off the penalty kill by taking the puck up the ice and getting a shot on goal, before the Capitals moved it back down the ice. The Washington power play looked okay, getting themselves into position to create opportunities, but missed passes and wide shots killed them. Late in the power play, Schneider denied Kuznetsov at the doorstep, and Kuznetsov and Santini started a scuffle after the whistle, but nothing very notable happened. It looked more like a regular season game, and that probably made it all the more frustrating that the Capitals were behind the Devils 4-1 nearly halfway through the game.

Late in the second Stefan Noesen hit Brooks Orpik in the offensive zone, surprising the Washington defenseman high and late. The Capitals swarmed Noesen after the whistle, which gave the New Jersey Devils a power play. Three-on-one fights usually do that. Orpik got the instigator and 10 minute misconduct for the scrap, and it was good that John Quenneville and Steven Santini were able to keep some of the heat off of Noesen. It didn’t look very good to me on either end - not the hit nor the reaction. I’m not sure if anything will come of it, because I didn’t see Noesen do anything like lead with his elbow. But, it was probably deserving of a two minute penalty.

The fourth power play of the game was a bit slower to get started, and didn’t threaten the Capitals all too much. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it certainly was a worsening from earlier in the game. However, the power play could not have possibly been expected to continue its first period level of dominance.

Period Three:

The Devils quickly found themselves with a man advantage to start the third period, doing somewhat better than their second period power play, getting some more zone control. The passes weren’t as clean as they could be, though, and as a result they didn’t make as many chances as they could have.

John Quenneville got shoved below the goal line by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Quenneville got a faceful of the boards thanks to the forearm of the Capitals forward. Although the box score showed high sticking for Kuznetsov, I thought it looked more like a boarding as I was watching. Regardless, the Devils’ sixth power play was cut short with a pick by Damon Severson, getting an interference call from the referee after just 21 seconds.

The rest of the game didn’t involve all too much of note. I didn’t think either team threatened too much, and the third period ended with the Devils up 12 to six on shots.

Thoughts and Observations:

Marcus Johansson looks a lot more comfortable at left wing, and I’m happy to see Hynes give up on the whole center experiment with him. While he only got an assist on Nico Hischier’s goal, the Will Butcher goal would not have happened without his moves through the neutral zone.

Nico Hischier looked good with his line. In fact, I thought the second line may have been the best on the ice. I don’t recall Adam Henrique ever playing his off-wing before tonight, but he didn’t look as out of place as, say, I thought Marcus Johansson looked at center. In the case of an injury on the right side, I think the Devils have an option in the right in Adam Henrique. According to Natural Stat Trick, all three players had a CF% over 66.67%, and Henrique led the team at 73.33%.

Alex Ovechkin had an absolutely horrible game. I’m not going to spend much time talking about non-Devils here, but he was bad. For 11:48 of 5-on-5 ice time, Ovechkin had eight CF and 18 CA - for a CF% of 30.77%. Ouch. While other Capitals star players also had poor games in terms of possession, I note Ovechkin because of how ineffectual he looked to me when I watched the game. Sure enough, the stats backed my observation up.

I thought I would address Miles Wood coming into the game, given the attention he’s gotten on the site lately. He did okay - whatever I could ask from a fourth liner. He didn’t take any stupid penalties tonight, made a few good passes, and didn’t seem like he was out of place against his competition. The whole of the bottom six was pretty solid tonight. All things considered, l think that this game would have been a shutout if not for a blunder on a simple pass by Viktor Loov - who didn’t play terribly aside from that play. Regardless, it’s very hard to say that anyone played poorly on the New Jersey Devils.

As for other noteworthy things, Hall and Zacha looked okay together. They didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped. They didn’t look worse than their opposition, but they didn’t make as many opportunities as I thought the Johansson-Hischier-Henrique line did. The choices John Hynes has to make for his forward lines will certainly be interesting.

Addressing the defense, I have to give them the tip of the cap for their performance tonight. They played a very solid Capitals lineup, without a real veteran presence, and they thrived. They didn’t get run over - and while the forwards certainly helped, any game in which a defense can hold Ovechkin, Backstrom, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov and Oshie to under CF%’s under 41% is a good game. This is supposed to be the forefront of the Capitals offensive onslaught that drives them to the playoffs. Alas, it looks like they have questions to answer in their last two preseason games. In the meantime, the young Devils defensemen aside from Loov - who will probably spend most to all of the season in Binghamton, despite playing decently tonight - all made good cases to keep them on the roster tonight with their collective effort. I think there’s a good chance the Devils keep the five they played tonight aside from Loov, along with Greene, Lovejoy, and Prout to start the season with eight defensemen available to play. If not, one of Butcher, Santini, and Mueller will start the season in Binghamton - but I think they would be likely to get called back to New Jersey not too far into the grind of the regular season.

Your Take: What did you think of the game? Did anyone play themselves onto the roster, or off of it? How would you configure the lines if you were John Hynes today? I’d like to hear your thoughts, and thanks for reading. Now, let’s get ready for the 82 that count.