Despite the score appearing to show a blowout loss to the Devils, the Devils were rather competitive the whole night, but were unable to overcome a horrendous opening period.
To say the Devils started off slow would be an understatement. The Devils were horrible in the first period - they were unable to corral pucks, found themselves unable to exit the defensive zone, and were oftentimes caught puck-watching as they frantically flailed their sticks around, unable to disrupt passing lanes or take the puck off the Capital players.
The Devils found themselves down incredibly early. The Capitals, the significantly more active and fresh team, found themselves constantly stripping the puck away from the Devils, leading to consistent offensive pressure. Under four minutes into the game, the Capitals and Justin Schultz were able to drive down the right side and catch multiple Devils players puck-watching, as he easily slid a pass to Garnet Hathaway, who deposited the puck into an empty net for the Capitals opening goal.
Nearly two minutes later, the Devils were still reeling in their own end, with the Capitals passing pucks around the perimeter in an attempt to find an open shot. Brendan Dillon eventually decided to fling a puck on net from the left point, which unfortunately double-deflected off both PK Subban and Daniel Sprong before beating Blackwood for a 2-0 lead.
More Capitals pressure followed for the remaining six minutes, as this Devils team offered absolutely nothing for the Capitals. With 6:20 left in the first, the Capitals were able to take advantage of poor defensive coverage by the Devils, as they embarked on a 3-1 with Lars Eller carrying the puck. Eller and Conor Sheary engaged in back-and-forth passing, with the result being a Lars Eller goal which got through Blackwood for a 3-0 Capitals lead.
At this point, the majority of Devils fans, myself included, assumed this would be an absolute drubbing by the Capitals for the remainder of the game. The Devils, to their credit, refused to sit back and allow for this to happen. With just under two minutes in the game, the Devils were able to draw a penalty call on Conor Sheary. From there, Nico Hischier was able to win the proceeding faceoff, where he showed the importance of instantaneous power play possession as he was able to find the rebound from a PK Subban shot and deposit it by Vanacek for his 2nd of the season. Hischier has looked significantly better in the previous two games and was the benefactor in helping the Devils get a goal back to make it 3-1.
The second period saw the Devils significantly more awake, as they got their bearings around their play and executed properly. There were a plethora of different chances for the Devils, as they were able to find chances which they could not connect on in the first. A bit over six minutes in, one of those shots would connect, as the team point leader Pavel Zacha was able to corral a shot in the slot and snipe it past Vanacek for a 3-2 game. Zacha has taken a significant step in his first season post-Hynes, and Devils fans are finally able to see the hype around his shot. He has genuinely been the sniper the Devils have needed in a season where Palmieri has started off cold.
The remainder of the period saw more scoring opportunities, but Vanacek was able to stay strong. Palmieri was hit behind the back by Dmitry Orlov, but the referee seemingly ignored that misconduct.
The third period was likely the Devils best period in terms of play - for the first part of it. There was a plethora of Devils chances, as all of Andreas Johnsson, Damon Severson, Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes saw incredible chances, which were either stopped by Vanacek or missed the net. Unfortunately for the Devils, as has been the case this season, these myriad of chances accounted for nothing in the long run, as the Capitals took advantage of their only offensive opportunity as Jakub Vrana found himself on a breakaway, which he slotted five-hole past Blackwood for a 4-2 Capitals lead. This goal was not a goal I minded as much, as it made sense for the Devils defenders to be more offensive in their play, in hopes of finding the tying goal in the 3rd.
The rest of the period saw the Devils try in vain to get back even to the Capitals. Unfortunately, the Capital defenders are very solid defensively, so a lot of opportunities were met with protected pucks or covered passing lanes. With that, the Devils pulled the goalie, and Nic Dowd was able to score on the empty net for a 5-2 Capitals win.
And with that, the Devils left off with this tweet
Like we said. Afternoon games suck.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 27, 2021
Game Story: https://t.co/0IRHagJ1oa#NJDevils | @UnibetUS pic.twitter.com/tkZZndImaA
A bit of witty dry humor to close a sad result, but promising game.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats
Quick Thoughts: Despite the result, I didn’t come out of this as upset as I have with some previous Devils results.
Pavel Zacha has emerged as a legitimate option for the Devils offensively, as he now holds a nine game point streak while seemingly being more willing to fire the puck when he can. He may legitimately be the best shooter on our team and may help to quell any concerns about Kyle Palmieri and what his future may be.
Nico Hischier has taken another step forward as he comes back from injury, showing that his initial performances to start the season were more a sign of rust, rather than legitimate concern. Adding Jesper Bratt to the team gives another creative option for the duo, and have shown why the team isn’t necessarily Jack’s team just yet.
Speaking of Jack Hughes, his line was a bit more quiet tonight, but they still had a solid game. Hughes and Johnsson have developed some chemistry together, usually helping to pin teams in their own defensive zone.
The normally strong fourth line was again quiet today, but as I mentioned in a previous recap, this Capitals team is built differently than other teams in the the division. They are a much larger, stronger side as opposed to teams like the Rangers and Sabres, who do a good job in neutralizing the effectiveness of Bastian and Wood down low.
In terms of who does concern me, I would say that Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev may need some more time to adjust to the new offensive style of the Devils. When on the ice together, they seem too flat-footed to help much offensively, particularly together. Travis Zajac in particular has not been effective, as he ended as the worst Devils forward on the ice today in terms of Corsi stats (Gusev somehow ended up as the best despite limited ice time).
Other than that, the Devils defense struggled to figure out the speed of Carl Hagelin throughout the game, which may be something to look into going forward. The Devils did a good job of defending Ovechkin, but need to be conscious at all times of other players.
Blackwood may need a break, just to regroup himself and rest up. He didn’t have a bad game, but this many games in succession can’t be good for a goalie.
Overall, this wasn’t the normal disaster that comes with Devils losses. It was far from a good game - but there were promising signs.
How did you feel about the game? Who played well tonight? Who didn’t? How do you get the veterans on the team back in the mix? Let me know in the comments below and take care.