Off the start of the first period, the Devils brought the heat against the Capitals, spoiling any Capital’s fans hopes that this would at least be an easy game. Stefan Noesen, playing on the second line with Blake Coleman and Drew Stafford, picked up the Devils first big scoring chance all alone in the slot with years of time to make a play. He actually made two, even picking up his own rebound but Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has been incredible lately and gobbled up the puck so hard he took Noesen’s stick with him as well. The Devils apparently decided that taking on the reigning Stanley Cup champions with an AHL lineup wasn’t enough of a challenge for the evening though, so they decided to very quickly allow a 3 on 2 that led to a goal from Andre Burakovsky, who has struggled through most of the season but came into tonight’s game with 9 points in his last 13 games. The odd man rush followed a collision between two Devils behind the Capitals net. The Devils returned to the offensive and soon found themselves on the right side of a delayed penalty, though it was snuffed out with the puck on the doorstep by a quick whistle from the referees. The Devils power play has not scored in its last 8 games, though if you judge it based on puck control you might not believe it. The Devils PP1, comprised of Damon Severson, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and John Quenneville, kept the Stanley cup champs pinned in their own zone for 1:45 of the two minute penalty, stopped only when the linesman decided to get involved and take out Kyle Palmieri as he tried to move up the boards with the puck. Their power play hasn’t been great lately and their 5 on 5 play leaves a lot to be desired, so the Devils evidently decided to go with what works and just spend the rest of the period on the penalty kill. Kurtis Gabriel earned a charging penalty from a slightly hovering hit, and Blake Coleman followed up with a tripping call 12 seconds later. After killing 1:48 seconds of 5 on 3, the Devils immediately found themselves shorthanded again due to too many men on the ice. The Devils killed that penalty too, and by the Devils I mean Andy Greene. Of 4:12 seconds of shorthanded ice time, Andy Greene logged two shifts of 2:19 and 1:32, single-handedly holding the Devils penalty kill together and helping rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood keep the deficit at 1. Blackwood looked amazingly calm in net despite the extensive shorthanded play and high powered guns he was facing, leading to efforts like addressing a rush attempt from T.J. Oshie with a quick sweep of the puck off his stick like he couldn’t be less impressed.
The Capitals appeared determined to help the Devils break their power play goalless streak by giving them plenty of oppotunities, because after starting the second period on a power play the Devils were handed another one just five minutes later on a holding call. The rookie Devil’s lineup doesn’t often dazzle with speed or skill, but their work ethic is undeniable and the chances just kept coming for them. The Devils had to have hit the post at least five times in the first 30 minutes of play. Another few minutes later, another power play for the Devils, where they again held the zone for 90 seconds of straight pressure but were still unable to get the puck past Holtby. The Capitals would go on to draw 6 penalties against the Devils, without a single goal resulting from any of them. Apparently attempting to lead by example, the Capitals turned around and scored one of their own in the third during the penalty to Kenny Agostino on a tip at the side of the net from Niklas Backstom off a shot from All-Star defenseman John Carlson. Excellent back-checking from Michael McCleod would prevent a third goal from going in on a cross-crease pass shortly after the failed penalty kill. Still seeking his 1200th point, Ovechkin would try again and this time come close to beating Blackwood with a shot that trickled through his pads, but Connor Carrick would make the save on the goal line and clear the puck to prevent his former teammate from reaching the milestone tonight.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Jasper’s Rink for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Besides the all talk/no action Devils power play, the big story of the game was again Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood, the only first-year goalie to start in Washington for the Devils since 1988, showed up ready to make it clear he deserved to be there tonight. The Capitals started to tilt the ice later in the second period but Blackwood was up for the challenge, making huge saves on big names like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The decision to start Blackwood against the reigning champions is an interesting decision from the coach who just yesterday stated that he did not want to throw his rookie players to the wolves in roles they weren’t yet prepared for just to see what they were made of. That mindset apparently does not apply to Blackwood, who must have some level of respect from the coaching staff that the idea of starting him in front of Ovechkin and opposite Vezina winner Braden Holtby doesn’t constitute ‘throwing him to the wolves’. Blackwood seems no less confident in his game and he played excellent through all three periods with absolutely sound positioning and smart, calm plays both in net and when playing the puck. Through the first 13 starts of his rookie season, despite playing behind an absolutely abhorrent season in general, Blackwood has maintained a better save percentage than any goaltender in the league (>15 starts), as tonight’s .941 SV% puts him just above Vasilevsky, who he was tied with at the start of the evening at .931.
In front of Blackwood, the Captain Andy Greene led the team in shorthanded ice time with nearly five minutes. Greene leads the entire league in shorthanded ice time by an insane margin that’s only grown since trading Ben Lovejoy — Greene has almost an entire game worth of shorthanded ice time more than the next guy behind him: 276 minutes to Dallas’ Esa Lindell’s 222. Greene also leads the league in shorthanded blocked shots (49) as well as 5x5 (121). In a Devils lineup that’s been absolutely decimated by injuries and refilled with rookies and tryout players, Andy Greene’s leadership in particular on the penalty kill has been an undeniable difference between this team losing or being utterly blown out of the water every night.
As I mentioned before and every single Devils reporter, commentator, and blogger has commented on, the Devils power play is now 0 for its last 24 attempts including 6 attempts against the Capitals tonight. Damon Severson led the power play with 3 shots and 3 scoring chances, with Blake Coleman adding a second element of danger at 2 high danger chances on 6:48 of power play time. Despite controlling the play for minutes at a time on the power play, the Devils were unable to get anything past Braden Holtby, who tallied his 3rd shutout of the season.
In 5x5 play (which may have almost been less than the specials teams ice time in this game) the lineup of Noesen, Stafford, and Coleman logged 6 minutes of ice time and produced a stunning 91.67 CF% with 11 shots or shot attempts for and only 1 against. The first line of Agostino, Zajac and Palmieri also created 11 shot attempts in just under 9 minutes but saw 7 attempts against, though being matched up against the Capitals top line will do that. Agostino and Zajac in particular showed some excellent chemistry together, and Palmieri adds a strong presence to any line he’s on, which makes his quick return to the lineup even more of a relief for the Devils. Both of the other lines were negative, with the fourth line of Quenneville, Pietila, and Gabriel down 0 to 8 in less than 5 minutes of play.
Michael McCleod led all centers in face-off percentage, winning 5 of 7 including all of his 5x5 attempts. Both McCleod and Rooney have been extremely strong in the face-off circle since being called up from Binghamton this time around. Rooney and Vatanen are both possibilities to return to the lineup tomorrow against the Rangers, two more healthy bodies that will be a huge boost to the injury-depleted lineup.
Your Take: Who impressed you most in this latest episode of Binghamton Takes on the NHL? What do you expect to see against the Rangers based on this performance? Any changes to the lineup, special teams?
Thanks to Devin for the writing the preview for this game and thanks for reading!