In their true home opener to the 2018-19 regular season, the New Jersey Devils gloriously dominated the Washington Capitals in a 6-0 victory. It was a fantastic game to watch as it was to see it on the stat sheet. The Caps were abysmal and the Devils just kept making them pay the price for it. The Devils dispatched the defending Stanley Cup Champions as if they were an expansion team full of throw-away players thrown together months before the game. I wrote this recap about how the Devils opened up a six-pack of winning over Washington, which contained this statement:
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.
Regardless of how Sunday’s game went against San Jose, the massive shutout win over the Caps is still on my mind. So much so I wanted to see how it stands among the biggest wins in Devils franchise history.
Now, when I write “biggest,” I’m referring to score differential. I understand that the win over Washington was only the second game of an 82 game 2018-19 season. There will be other matchups and other nights where victory may mean more. Hopefully that will include games with playoff implications. Similarly, calling a game “a big win” may differ from fan to fan based on what it meant, the situation at the time, and what occurred. This post is not to argue that a 6-0 win in October was bigger, than say, a 2-1 win over Toronto in this past April except by the scoreline. (Which is really the only way it was bigger.) That is what I am concerned with for the purposes of this post.
Also for the purposes of this post, all information presented was pulled from Hockey-Reference thanks to their amazing team game finder tool. Hockey-Reference remains as one of the premier sources of historical NHL information. That all said, let’s get into it.
Was This the Biggest Home Opener Victory in Devils Franchise History?
I know the Edmonton game was technically the Devils’ first home game this season. However, that 5-2 win was in Gothenburg, Sweden. The real home opener is where the team plays their first game in their home arena. That would be night where the Devils spiked a touchdown on Phoenix Copley.
It is definitely the biggest home opener in the Prudential Center era. In the team’s first 12 games at the Rock in each of the last 12 seasons, the Devils have won five times. Their previous biggest win is a tie between the 3-0 shutout in January 2013 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season over the Second Rate Rivals and the 4-1 victory over Colorado last season. The six-spot put on the Caps easily eclipses those two by margin of victory as well as the level of performance.
It even holds up going back to the East Rutherford days. The Devils were much more successful with 16 wins in home openers at the Meadowlands. There were multiple victores where the Devils scored a lot of goals, led by the 8-4 win over Montreal in 2000. There were two games where the Devils had a goal differential of +5: a 7-2 win over St. Louis in 1991 and a 7-2 win over the Isles in 1984. The 2018 smackdown of the Capitals did not have eight goals scored, but it had a +6 goal differential. So that win is bigger in that respect. Plus, the 6-0 reigned over the home openers in Colorado and Kansas City eras, too.
Was this the biggest home opener victory in Devils franchise history? Yes.
Was This the Biggest Shutout Victory in Devils Franchise History?
No. 6-0 was a rare occurrence, but there were bigger shutout wins.
The Devils have had ten regular season victories where the Devils won 6-0 or better in franchise history. It never happened in the playoffs. All ten games happened with the New Jersey Devils. The victory on October 11, 2018 was the team’s first win by a score of 6-0 or better since March 30, 2003 when the Devils beat the Isles 6-0. So the win over the Caps was the first of its kind in over 15 years.
Three of those victories were by an astonishing 9-0 final score. One of which you probably know, so I’ll provide some details about the other two first:
- On October 26, 1991, the Devils hosted and played the San Jose Sharks for the first time ever. The Devils were 6-4-0 and the Sharks were 1-10-0. At the time, signs pointed to a Devils win. In reality, the Devils took them to the Learning Tree with 9-0 victory. The scoresheet featured braces from Claude Lemieux, Tom Chorske, and Doug Brown; a Scott Stevens shorthanded goal; three-assist nights by Slava Fetisov, Dave Barr, and Kevin Todd; and a boatload of penalties. Both teams combined for 109 PIM as things went really out of control in the third period. Link Gaetz managed to get 35 PIM in this game on his own. It was a different era. This remains as the biggest shutout victory in a home Devils game in franchise history.
- On March 10, 2000, the 38-16-8-5 Devils visited the 12-43-6-4 Atlanta Thrashers. The Devils were seen as contenders. The Thrashers were in their first season of existence. The Devils beat Atlanta 4-1 and 5-1 in previous games in that season. This would be even more dominant with a 9-0 victory. John Madden scored twice (one shorthanded) and picked up an assist to finish with three points. Jay Pandolfo scored twice. Stevens put in a goal and took a misconduct penalty. Scott Gomez, Sergei Nemchinov, Brian Rafalski, and Patrik Elias all scored. Krzysztof Oliwa had his fight with Mark Johnson, who took 17 minutes for instigation plus fighting plus a misconduct in the third period - which resulted in the ninth goal for New Jersey. Ouch. For what it’s worth, the Devils played Atlanta one more time in the 1999-2000 season and the Devils crushed them again 6-0 on March 31 in New Jersey. The Devils swept the Thrashers by a combined score of 24-2.
The other one is the 9-0 win over Pittsburgh on October 28, 2000. This is the night where two Devils each scored four goals in the same game: Randy McKay and John Madden. The only goal not scored by them was the first of the game, which was by Turner Stevenson. I watched this game with a friend of mine who was a Penguins fan. The game went from good-natured bantering to me just feeling sorry for my increasingly disgusted friend from the Penguins getting bodied. The Penguins were not bad then! Pittsburgh was 5-3-1-0 at the time and the Devils were 4-2-2-0; it was not like the other two nine-spots where the opponent was so bad that they were expected to take many big losses and they delivered. The Penguins did make the playoffs, after all. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals - where the Devils eliminated them in five games. It was just the Devils’ night and definitely not Pittsburgh’s.
Again, there were other, bigger shutout wins. The recent win over the Capitals can at least be classified as the biggest shutout victory in the Prudential Center era of the team (and in the Prudential Center itself).
Was This the Biggest Victory in Devils Franchise History?
Clearly not, there were three games where the Devils won 9-0. There were also five other games where the franchise won by seven goals. Franchise? Yes, this part of the post is an excuse to include the Colorado Rockies! And more trips down memory lane! Here is a quick summary:
- On October 28, 1977, the Rockies smashed Washington 8-1. There was no boxscore at Hockey-Reference so I cannot highlight who starred in that game. But this was one of the biggest victories in Rockies’ history. The Rockies would go on to make the playoffs by way of being the best in a bad division with a 19-40-21 record. The Caps went 17-49-14 and did not make the playoffs. But on this night, the Rockies were way better. In competition with this being the biggest win is:
- On February 12, 1982, the Rockies slammed Quebec by a 9-2 score. Again, no boxscore was available at H-R. This game did tie the most goals the Rockies ever scored in a game. It has a wider margin than the 9-5 win over St. Louis on April 1, 1979. This was a welcomed win for a Rockies team that ended the season at 18-49-13 (the division was not so weak where this was close to playoff contention) and would move to New Jersey next season.
- On February 13, 1989, the Devils had their first +7 victory when they creamed Toronto 8-1. The Devils were not good that season but Toronto was way worse. The 80’s were not kind to the Maple Leafs. This 8-1 victory featured a double hat-trick: Pat Verbeek and Brendan Shanahan each scored three goals. Jim Korn and John MacLean provided the others. The shutout spoiler was a PPG by current Chicago/NBCSN color commentator Ed Olyzck in the first period. Interestingly, the Devils out-shot the Leafs 43-15 in this game. Allowing 15 shots is tied for the fewest among the eight +7 or better victories in Devils franchise history. The other one was the next 8-1 win.
- On October 23, 1990, the Devils took it to the Islanders in a 8-1 win where the Devils out-shot them 52-15 The Isles were not good in 1990-91 and they started the season poorly. The Devils fared better and exerted their strength in Nassau that night. This was the team’s only win by 7 where the Devils were not in New Jersey. This was also the most spread out in terms of scoring. Only Troy Crowder scored more than one goal (he had two). The remainder came from David Maley, Peter Stastny, Claude Lemieux, Jon Morris, Zdeno Ciger (who had 8 shots!), and Patrik Sundstrom. The spoiler came within a minute of Crowder’s second goal of the game by Randy Wood. Yes, Miles Wood’s dad ruined a potential 8-0 shutout.
- The last one was on November 30, 1997 against Vancouver. This was the first Devils-Canucks game with Mark Messier in a Canucks’ uniform. So it was a lot of fun to see the Devils hand the 37-year old a huge ‘L’ at the Continental Airlines Arena. Three braces were scored by Devils. Specifically Denis Pederson, Petr Sykora, and rookie named Patrik Elias. In my younger days, I saved a Star Ledger clipping about the win where (assuming I’m not mixing this up with another game) Elias was nicknamed ‘7-11’ by his teammates because he was everywhere and open for 24 hours. Elias stayed on the Devils but the nickname did not stick. Doug Gilmour put up four assists; Bobby Holik had a goal and an assist to go with 8 shots on net; Valeri Zelepukin had his first goal of the season; and each of Vancouver’s goalies conceded four goals. Unfortunately, Mr. Messier got the sole goal for his team in the third period.
That all said, the 6-0 win over Washington is still a remarkable achievement. One has to go back over at least 17 years and back an arena (plus a few lockouts) to find a bigger margin of victory for the Devils. It is a rare occurrence given the history, even if it is not the biggest victory in franchise history.
Was This the Biggest Victory over Washington in Devils Franchise History?
In franchise history? No. As noted in the previous section, the 1977-78 Rockies pasted the Capitals, 8-1.
What about in Devils history? In the regular season, yes. The Devils have shutout the Capitals eleven times in franchise history. Twice, the Devils beat the Capitals 5-0. And they happened during the existence of this blog, so I have written recaps for them.
- On November 22, 2010, the Devils hosted the Caps at the Rock and sent them home with a five-spot. The 2010-11 season was not a good one at all. This 5-0 win was the Devils’ first home regulation win of the season and it happened on the week of Thanksgiving. But the victory was a lot of fun, it was Johan Hedberg’s first shutout with the Devils, a penalty shot goal (!) by Mattias Tedenby (!!), and a brace by Jason Arnott.
- On March 23, 2012, N.J. went to Washington and left D.C. with a 5-0 ‘W.’ This win ended a short slide for the Devils, who was enjoying a better season than 2010-11. Zach Parise scored a hat trick before Brooks Laich hit him high and Parise left the game except for one shift in the third period where he almost scored a fourth goal). Elias and Dainius Zubrus scored the other goals. Zubrus dove for his goal like he was Bobby Orr and failed to somersault his way up off the ice in celebration. The recap has a .GIF of it. If you were watching then, then you may remember it.
The Devils surpassed both of these wins with the 6-0 result from last week, which is now the biggest regular season shutout victory over the Capitals in franchise history and the biggest for the Devils. The Rockies’ 8-1 win in 1977 remains the biggest in franchise history.
Wait, You Wrote Regular Season. What About the Playoffs?
I have not yet mentioned the playoffs until now since the Devils have only won one playoff game in franchise history by at least six goals. Coincidentally, it was against the Capitals. It turned out to be a notable game in team history.
The New Jersey Devils made the playoffs for the first time in 1988. They beat the Islanders in the Patrick Division Semifinals and drew the Capitals in the Patrick Division Finals. This would be a wild series that went the distance. It ended with a Game 7 victory where John MacLean - the scorer of the goal that put the Devils into the playoffs - would provide the difference maker (a deflection off a long shot by Craig Wolanin) in a 3-2 win in Washington. Here’s a set of some clips from that series based on someone’s old tapes. Dig that massive hook near the end before Christian whiffed on a late equalizer.
But Game 3 was the one where the Devils made it into a rout - eventually.
On April 22, 2018, the Devils hosted the Capitals in what was then a 1-1 series. The Devils were coming off a 5-2 win. The home fans were certainly pleased when Mark Johnson scored two power play goals to put the Devils up 2-0 in the first period, which included assists by Patrik Sundstrom. Dave Christian scored a PPG late in the first to make it 2-1.
Then things went out of control. Assuming the boxscore at Hockey-Reference was accurate, both teams compiled over a hundred penalty minutes with a ton of violence near the beginning of the second period. I don’t know what happened but I counted 12 penalties within the first five minutes which included four fighting majors, matching roughing calls (possibly quasi-fights), matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and matching attempt to injure penalties. Attempt to injure penalties are rare calls and given how much leeway the players had in playoff games - especially in the 1980s - something really bad must have happened.
In terms of the score, it was still up for grabs. Sundstrom scored within the first minute of the period to make it 3-1 and Claude Loiselle scored shorthanded to make it 4-1. But the Caps were definitely not done. Larry Murphy and Mike Gartner each scored minutes later to make it 4-3. Anders Carlsson made it 5-3 with an assist from Sundstrom. Murphy answered back minutes later to make it 5-4. The Devils would begin to pull away later with goals by Doug Brown and a late second period goal by Sundstrom. The Devils entered the second up 2-1 and left it up 7-4 in a frame littered with penalties, tempers, emotions, and beef.
The nastiness continued into the third period with two long lists of penalties at 4:40 and at 14:21, which sandwich a Dale Hunter double game-misconduct special at 9:57. Johnson completed his hat trick at 2:59 with an assist from Sundstrom and at 9:47, he scored his third PPG of the night (!) to make it 9-4. At 14:14, which probably contributed to whatever melee took place at 14:21, Sundstrom completed his hat trick for the Devils’ tenth goal of the game. The Devils won Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead with a 10-4 result.
This remains as the most goals the Devils ever scored in a single playoff game as well as the biggest margin of victory in a playoff game. The game also has historical value for the NHL. Sundstrom finished the night with three goals and five assists. He set the all-time record for most points in a single playoff game with eight point. He beat a record previously set by Wayne Gretzky. Which he tied two other times. And it was broken by Patrik Sundstrom. That is huge in of itself. Mario Lemieux would tie this record almost a year later in 1989 (five goals, three assists). Nobody has tied or beaten this record. Sundstrom is in the record books as a Devil in one of the biggest playoff wins (by margin of victory) in franchise history as well as the biggest playoff win over the Capitals in franchise history. So the game has value beyond it being a series tie-breaker at the time.
Your mileage may vary on which result was more impressive. On the one hand, the April 22, 1988 game was a playoff game, which is inherently a more important game than just about any regular season game. Not only that, the series was tied at the time. The two teams were clearly amped up (to a fault) and the Devils ran away with a big win.
On the other hand, last week’s 6-0 victory was a 60-minute beatdown of the Capitals. Yes, the Capitals were utterly abysmal, but they were coming off a 2-0-1 start to the season where they scored 18 goals. Shutting them down and out is a big achievement as the Devils could have done far less and still won comfortably. The 10-4 game in 1988 was actually a competitive game for about half of it as the Capitals were within one goal multiple times. The Devils would only run away with the game in time. Despite all of the beatings in the game, the Devils did not beat them down like they did in 2018. Furthermore, the Game 3 victory did not lead them to a commanding lead in the series or anything like it. That dulls some of the shine off that one. It remains to be seen how the 2018-19 Devils will build on their 6-0 victory or how it will be remembered. It was not like the 10-4 win carried a ton of meaning beyond Sundstrom’s NHL record and what it meant at the time before the Caps tied the series on April 24, 1988.
The April 22, 1988 10-4 win was easily the biggest margin of victory in Devils playoff history. So your mileage may vary on which +6 win over Washington in team history was bigger.
One of the best things about being a fan of a team is that every once in a while, you may get to see something historic. Whether it is a win, a performance, a goal, a play, or something else, on any given night, you may get to see something that rarely happens or even never happened before. This definitely happened on October 11, 2018. The Devils’ 6-0 win over Washington is easily among the biggest blowouts in franchise history. It is the biggest home opener victory in franchise history. It is the biggest shutout win, home opener, and victory over Washington and any other opponent by way of goal differential at the Prudential Center.
It is not the biggest in other categories, though. It is not the biggest shutout win in franchise history; although it is the biggest one that has happened at the Rock. It is not even the biggest regular season win in franchise history; but it is the biggest by the Devils. It may not be the biggest win ever over Washington given the Game 3 in their playoff series in 1988; but the 2018 victory was a more traditional crushing of an opponent whereas the 1988 playoff game was competitive for a good part of it (with both teams throwing more legitimate attempts to literally crush each other). Still, being a runner up in these categories is still incredible as it has been well over a decade and a half since the Devils had a game where
Even only as a piece of trivia or a “fun fact,” it is a true statement the Devils’ first game in Newark this season made history. Which furthers how amazing of a night it was to see it. I am very happy to have seen it first hand as history, even by a narrow definition by a specific category, did take place. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will go, but there will always be that.
Thank you for following along this deep dive into some of the team’s history. Please let me know whether or this changed your opinion (or validates it) about the huge 6-0 win over the Capitals. Feel free to discuss some of these other games mentioned, especially if you did see that Game 3 in the 1988 playoffs against the Caps. Thank you for reading.