While the first game of the season was technically a home game, tonight was the true home opener of the 2018-19 regular season for the New Jersey Devils. The game was in Newark, New Jersey at the Rock. It was a dank, rainy October day with a drizzle continuing into the night. Inside the Prudential Center, the Devils rained all over the Washington Capitals in a 6-0 rout. You read that right: The Devils styled and profiled all over the defending Stanley Cup Champions all night long to win by a touchdown.
This was not just a game where things got out of hand on the scoreboard. Right from the get-go, the Devils just swarmed it up and rarely let up in the run of play. The Devils’ forecheck was surprisingly effective in that it looked like the Devils were surprised how often the Caps coughed up the puck with an errant clear, a blocked pass, or a bad read. Even when the Capitals were able to get into New Jersey’s end of the rink, there were usually red jerseys filling in lanes, supporting each other and Keith Kinkaid, and winning pucks to end attacks. You could count on one hand the number of shifts where Washington threatened to score. You do not need a finger to know how many times they succeed. While it was not perfect as May 8, 2000, the Devils were controlling the game and were outright the superior team on the ice in all three zones throughout all three periods.
Stats support the Devils’ dominance. The Devils out-shot the Caps 36-21 over the whole game; 32-17 in 5-on-5 play. Only in the third period did Washington actually out-attempt the Devils but the count by period at Natural Stat Trick was 21-14, 20-10, 14-17 - with the Caps going ahead minutes after Brian Boyle made it six. In other words, it didn’t matter much. Nor did it matter much that only three Devils skaters had Corsi For percentages below 50% - meaning the Caps out-attempted the Devils when they were on the ice - since the actual attempt differentials were -1 or -2. In contrast, only three Capitals players were above 50% CF% and those three players did not play more than 12 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey tonight. What does that mean? Simply: The Devils’ top players were crushing it, the defensemen were all doing their jobs well, and the majority of the depth players were effective. And that’s all 5-on-5 play. Throw in Kinkaid stopping everything and the Devils legitimately had a game where everyone played well.
Special teams were also a big plus as the Devils limited the vaunted Washington power play to only two shots on net out of four opportunities (well, three since one of them lasted seconds). While one of those shots was a one-timer in the slot that Kinkaid denied for his best save of the night, the Devils followed that up with a counter-attack that resulted in a great chance for Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman managing to keep the puck in the zone for more looks with Zajac that killed even more clock. Even when Washington had something positive, the Devils hit back with something good of their own and compounded by the Caps’ misdeeds with the puck. That’s the kind of night it was. Sure, the Devils also were limited to two shots on their four power play, but they scored on one of them. It was that kind of night.
It is even more remarkable given how the Caps were performing before this game. The Caps went into this game with 18 goals scored in their first three games. Their power play was 6-for-12 before this evening. They blanked Boston 7-0, were edged in OT in a wild 6-7 loss at Pittsburgh, and decisively beat Vegas 5-2 on national TV last night. Were they going to be tired? Sure. But given the talent level and these performances, I do not think anyone expected Washington to be steamrolled like this. Kinkaid had a shutout and did not need to be a superhero all game long to do it. Don’t misunderstand, he was very good - it is just that he didn’t need to be perfect tonight. The Devils skaters out-performed the Capitals’ skaters that badly. They forced backup goaltender Phoenix Copley to do some amazing things and still put a six-spot on him.
Being there live at the true home opener, it was an outstanding evening. It was joyous to be among my fellow fans as the Devils turned this hockey game into a butt-kicking contest wherein Washington supplied a lot of butt. It threw me that after the Devils dominated the Caps in the first period and Kyle Palmieri scored two goals - one fortunate bounce and one comet of a short-side shot for a power play game, the Caps never really responded. Marcus Johansson made it three through traffic early in the period and the Devils continued to put on pressure and the Caps failed to find anything even with some good looks. The third period was a fun one to see if any more Devils would add to it and the entire fourth line made it so by making it 6-0. It could have been even bigger had the Devils finished on any of their one-on-one chances against Copley or a number of other scoring chances. But on a night like this, I could not be mad about the robberies - the Devils still led a lot to zip in most of their cases. It was an amazing night to behold as a fan and as a blogger.
It certainly was one of the best actual home openers I ever went to and one of the best true home openers in franchise history. The Devils just smacked down the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Devils made them hold their first regulation ‘L’ of the season in a blowout. This could end up being the best home game of the season. If not, it will be right up there. It was that much of a glorious domination.
The Opposition Opinion: Geoff Thompson has this short one at Japers’ Rink. The only “plus” in the post is for Marcus Johansson. Again: This was that much of a glorious domination.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, watch the Devils open up a six-pack of victory all over the Capitals in this highlight video:
Let’s Condense Some Nonsense: An immediate response to this game is to say something like, “Well, the Caps did play last night. So what did you expect.” That is true to a degree. The Capitals decisively beat Vegas 5-2 last night in D.C. and had to make the arduous travel up to northern New Jersey whilst the Devils were fresh after returning from Sweden earlier in the week. Since the Capitals were simply dreadful from their puck handling to their passes to their clearances and even to their general energy level, I will agree that it was a factor tonight. I will not agree that it was the main or only factor in what transpired tonight.
For starters, this the second week of the NHL regular season. I know playing back-to-back is hard but this game was not in the middle or end of an arduous run of games. The Caps went into this set after five days of rest. This is hardly the grinding part of the season. Second, the Caps had the same situation last week and while they did not win the game, they were way more competitive in that they forced overtime and scored six goals. The Caps showed up to play last Thursday, even if it was only one-way. Tonight, they were playing no-way hockey as in “No way could they be this bad on the ice.” Third, we’ve seen a game like this last season: February 3, 2018 against Pittsburgh. Like this game, the Devils were taking on a Penguins team that played the night before. Like this game, the Pens played like utter garbage with the Pens conceding possession like the puck carried a disease. Even then, the Devils only beat them 3-1 and had the Penguins put two and two together to make four, they could have made it a game. That didn’t happen tonight. The Devils blew out the Caps by much more and did not have the factor of having played over 50 games by tonight.
The simpler truth is that the Capitals just played a truly awful game. In an 82 game season, there will be nights where very little goes right. This was absolutely one of them. Yes, Washington was at a disadvantage from playing the night before. But at this early in the season, one would think they could try to be more respectable after an intermission instead of getting a bunch of attempts in “garbage time.” If the Caps picked up their play and stopped having every other puck come off their sticks and onto the Devils’ bodies or sticks in the second period, then I would be more sympathetic to the “Well, they played last night and the Devils didn’t so of course the Devils won” argument. It would mean they just had to collect themselves, make some adjustments (which Washington also didn’t do tonight), and make the most of some opportunities. Had the Capitals scored a goal, the could have made it competitive and the abysmal first period would reflect more fondly on the notion that they were tired. But, no, the Caps were just making mistakes throughout the night. Even when the Devils made a big error like a bad passing attempt across the middle in their own end, the Capitals found a way to botch it as the Devils found a way to recover.
And, just as importantly, the Devils took advantage. Not having played since Saturday surely helped a bit, but we have seen games where the Devils failed to take advantage of situations leading to games being closer than necessary. That was not the case tonight. Everyone was on point from the start of the game. Everyone continued to push forward after going up three goals. Everyone stuck to their general assignments in 5-on-5 and formations on special teams. The Devils put in the mythical “60 minute effort” on a team that maybe put it in for a total of five tonight. That is what happened tonight. It was not just a fresh Devils team beating up on a fatigued Capitals team.
Now, Let the Effusive Praise Begin: I truly mean this when I state that nobody had a bad game tonight.
Goaltending!: Keith Kinkaid was very good in the crease tonight. There were not as many issues outside of the net. His stop on Tim Connolly’s one-timer in the second was outstanding during Washington’s second period power play. He held his position well. He was composed on the puck. Great job by #1 tonight!
The D!: As for the defense, everyone did their job very well. Limiting the Capitals - the Capitals - to 21 shots is a feat.
The pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson was the most notable, often for good things. Greene was active at both ends of the ice, with the captain joining on some rush plays. I thought he had a sure goal in the third period when Miles Wood alley-ooped him a puck at the right side of the crease, but Copley stoned him with his right pad. Severson was quite effective, he picked up an assist on Palmieri’s first goal, and got physical when the game turned in that direction. He did take two calls, but they were not damaging. He had a “roughing” (quasi-fight) with Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first period that only led to a Caps power play because of Wood (more on that in a bit). With less than three minutes in the game, he apparently slashed Kuznetsov. Kind of a soft call, if I recall correctly. Still, they should not be seen as dampers on his night.
Also not being dampers: the other pairings. While Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller were not always perfect with moving the puck, they did a lot of good things to shut attacks down and use those plays to spark offense going in New Jersey’s way. The third pairing of Will Butcher and Ben Lovejoy were effective again, with Butcher contributing quite a bit on offense (Devils out-attempted Caps 19-12 when Butcher was on the ice) and the pairing were good separately on special teams.
Is the D always going to be this good? No. But tonight, you could not ask for much better. Great job!
The Dea! (And Boyle! and Coleman!): If you wanted secondary scoring, then the fourth line gave it to you tonight with a goal each from Blake Coleman, Jean-Sebastien Dea, and Brian Boyle. All of them did it in the third period to turn a great 3-0 scoreline to a glorious 6-0. First, Coleman caught Copley not fully covering the left post with a low shot that popped up and past the goalie to make it 4-0. Second, Dea scored his first as a Devil to make it 5-0. It started with Boyle winning the puck in the neutral zone and taking it to the net. Dmitry Orlov pressued him and Copley knocked the puck away. It hit off Orlov’s stick and dropped right in front of Dea, who hammered a wrister on a puck on edge through traffic and past Copley. It was a great reaction from the winger and a great looking first goal with the organization. Third, I got to paraphrase Chico here. I like chicken wraps. I like turkey wraps. I like Caesar wraps. I also like Brian Boyle wraps - as he won a puck behind the net from T.J. Oshie (he played tonight) and wrapped it around past Copley to make it 6-0. All lovely stuff with Coleman’s and Boyle’s goals falling especially hard on Copley.
It was not just that the unit scored three goals. They handled their business well in the run of play. Coleman was very effective on the penalty kill and never stopped forechecking. Boyle was responsible for his person and if he was a faster player, he could have had one or two one-on-ones with the goalie. Dea pitched in for a PK shift or two and provided the kind of good energy one would want in a fourth line. It was truly a good game for the fourths.
The Middle Lines!: Marcus Johansson scored from the center point on a wrister that found its way through traffic early in the second period. That was the sole scoring contribution between this line and the Zajac-centered line. However, they did more on the ice to help ensure the ice was tilted in New Jersey’s direction.
First, the Zajac unit. Zajac may have suffered the most in 5-on-5, but he was a solid-as-ever penalty killer and had a great shorthanded chance that forced one better from Copley. Zajac took four attempts and while he missed on three, it was good to see him shoot. John Quenneville had a Dea-like game without the goal or special teams cameo. He did his job well for the 14 shifts he received, he was not a liability, and he had a chance to score in the second period that, again, Copley denied him. Wood was more active in mostly a good way. His speed was on display and he was willing to make some passes instead of taking it himself on an odd man rush. He did have a breakaway in the third period that he missed on, but the point is that his game was present. Unfortunately, that also includes the “rough stuff.” As Severson and Kuznetsov had their beef in the first period, Wood came from a long way back to tussle with Alex Ovechkin. As Ovechkin was in the scrum, Wood came from behind, took off his helmet, and tried to engage him in a fight that did not happen. Wood somehow did not receive a third-man in penalty, but just a roughing call. That led to the Capitals’ first power play and real attacking opportunity of the game. The Caps didn’t punish Wood and after some missed shifts in the first, he focused more on playing the game.
Second, the Zacha unit. This line was more active and could have done a lot more damage than they did. Johansson had a strong game against his former team; the shots were frequently by the Devils when he was out there. Stefan Noesen had an active night. On the plus side, he picked up an assist on Boyle’s goal, he had a shift in the second period where he bodied the Capitals and nearly created the fourth goal, and even received a PK shift. The negative side was that he got tagged for two minors - including a really weak slashing call in the third period - but the Caps never punished him. Zacha had a standout performance despite not getting on the scoresheet. Those who wanted to see him take initiative got it as he took four shots and six attempts - only Palmieri and Hall had more shots and only Hall had more attempts. Zacha showed off his ability to get into space as he had the first one-on-one with Copley of the game in the first period. Zacha was good at distributing the puck, assisting on the penalty kill, and keeping the run of play in New Jersey’s end of the rink. He drew the hooking minor from John Carlson that led to Palmieri’s power play goal in the first period. Zacha was also fantastic at the faceoff dot as he won 13 out of 15 draws. If only he had a point and if only this line had some more goals scored to reflect how well they played. They can be pleased at contributing to the beatdown that took place tonight. Great job by both lines!
The Top Line!: Palmieri scored another brace. The first goal was a bit of a fluke as he re-directed a loose puck that trickled beneath Copley while turning outside of the crease. There was no kicking motion or foul play; the referee did not even need a video review. That was a break. The second one was not. It was a beautiful wrist shot that beat Copley short side for New Jersey’s only power play goal. Seconds before, Palmieri whiffed on the puck in the left circle. Did he lament that the play did not go his way? No. Did he sulk? No. Did he rush a play out of frustration? No. Palmieri just recovered the puck, tossed it to Butcher at the point, received the puck back, stepped up and torched Copley with a gorgeous wrist shot. It was great.
It was also an important goal. Palmieri’s goals were the first two of the game. It would have been disappointing for the Devils to skate the Capitals off the ice in the first period and have no or only one goal to show for it. With that PPG, Palmieri made the game much more of a challenge for Washington. It set the stage for the Devils to really pull away, which happened with Johansson’s goal in the second period and ensured with the three goals from the fourth line. Palmieri kept on firing away as he finished the night with five shots.
You may have noticed I have not mentioned Taylor Hall or Nico Hischier all that much. They were limited to one assist each on the scoresheet. That is part of how amazing this performance was. Kinkaid did not need to stand on his head and Hall (and Nico) did not need to put the offense on their backs tonight and the Devils creamed the Capitals 6-0. However, as you know, contributions go well beyond scoring. Hall and Hischier were really giving the Capitals’ fits. They made Orlov and Matt Niskanen play a lot of defense tonight. Hall led the team in attempts with eight and tied Palmieri with five shots on net. Hischier had two shots out of three attempts as he had the best CF% of the night among Devils. Both drew penalties that further helped the Devils keep control of the game. Believe me, the first line was very good even if Palmieri was the only one to light the lamp. Great job!
It Could Have Been Even Worse: Off the top of of my head, Zacha, Zajac, Hall, and Wood had one-on-one opportunities against Copley and did not score. Greene was robbed on a two-on-one and Zacha had a one-timer that Copley had to rush to stop shortly after he was denied on his quasi-breakaway. While Copley gave up two bad goals, they were well after the game was out of doubt. The Devils’ finishing could have been even better than it was and this game would have been much bigger than 6-0. That is how outstanding the game was - the Devils could have scored well over six goals tonight.
I Know this is Long but Anything on the Caps Other Than Copley?: I know I mentioned a few names, but I really question who actually played for the Capitals tonight. Yes, Alex Ovechkin was in the game, but was he really? His most notable events tonight was getting into it with Wood because Wood tried to jump him in the first period, missing like Brian Rolston from the right circle on a power play despite being wide open and had having a third of the net wide open, and face-washing Coleman at the end of the game because of reasons. I can recall that for AO. I had to see the video where T.J. Oshie was the one Boyle beat to the puck for his goal to be reminded he played tonight. Kuznetsov was fouled once and in that beef with Severson and did pretty much not much else. Nicklas Backstrom? I guess he played too? How tepid was their attack? Let the record show that Brooks Orpik and Niskanen led the Capitals skaters with just three shots on net tonight. Tom Wilson would not have fixed any of this.
I got to see quite a lot of the defense. Orlov, Niskanen, Big Money John Carlson (who apparently played over 26 minutes tonight, imagine if he did not take two minor penalties too), Christian Djoos, Michal Kempny, and Orpik were all bodied, beaten, denied, and overwhelmed several times throughout the game. The Devils gave them a lot of defensive zone time and denied many exits from them. Can the Devils play this blueline every night?
The Stanley Cup was won in June 2018. This ain’t June anymore.
Fix Your Scoreboard: CJ was giving out about this at the game and I have to agree. The penalty minutes and number for who is in the box is way, way, way, too small on the scoreboard. And it was not any larger on the sides of the digital ring. That is something I hope the Devils fix soon.
Watch Me Subvert Your Expectations: This is the part of the (long) recap where I write that this is just the second game of the season, this will not happen every night, yadda yadda yadda. This sentiment is common on blogs, social media, and sites after early season wins. You are a reader of All About the Jersey. I will not insult your intelligence by adding to that sentiment.
Instead, I think you should be excited about this win as it means the Devils can really punish a poorly performing opponent. One of the differences between a good team and a not-so-good team is that the good teams tend to make their opponents pay for their mistakes. The Devils made the Capitals suffer by way of shooting attempts, possession, attack time, and (eventually) lots of goals for all of the misplays, lost possessions, and poor decisions by the Caps. A lot went right for the Devils, which can happen in an 82-game season, and the Devils made the most of it tonight. That the Devils badly beat on a talented Capitals team that has scored a lot of goals early on in this season should also instill some confidence that the 2018-19 Devils team should not be written off so soon. This is evidence that, yes, the Devils can defeat a “good team” and do so in a massive way if that “good team” has a “bad night.”
This month on paper is difficult. The Devils have San Jose, Dallas, Colorado, at Philly, Nashville, Florida, and at Tampa Bay remaining. Tonight was a good first step towards making this month a good one for New Jersey; should they split the month or put up a winning record, they will gain some earned respect. One game at a time - and tonight was one heck of a game.
One Last Thought: This game in a word: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Your Take: A massive win needed a massive recap with tons of praise and good things to point out. Again, this could very well be the home game of the season. What is your take on tonight’s win? Who was the best Devil among all of the Devils tonight? Which of the six goals was your favorite? What can the Devils take out of this game before the Sunday matinee game against San Jose? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for the preview and to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.