Another day, another loss.
The veterans failed to produce yet again, as the Devils fell to the Capitals for the 2nd straight night in a 3-2 loss. Kyle Palmieri had an opportunity to tie the game in the dying seconds, but the team sharpshooter was unable to find the net as he shot it off of Carlson’s back (potentially deflected off of Oshie’s stick as well). Nikita Gusev yet again looked confused on the ice and offered the Devils nothing offensively. Zajac did nothing particularly wrong today, but it’s clear that his offensive capabilities have decreased with each passing year.
Blackwood did not seem his normal self - overuse and playing in back-to-back games seems to have gotten to him, as he did not seem as sharp or agile in his movements as he did in the beginning of the season. Were the goals bad? No - besides the rebound control for the first goal, the goals were hard to fault Blackwood for. Does he need a break? I strongly believe so.
The first period started off extremely poorly for the Devils. The Capitals hit the ground running and offered consistent offensive pressure against the Devils, pinning them in their own zone while simultaneously forcing multiple defensive zone turnovers. The Devils, to their credit, were able to hold strong and keep the score deadlocked at 0.
The Devils got extremely lucky with their first goal. A bit under seven minutes into the game, the Devils saw Mikhail Maltsev drive down the right hand side and fire an inconspicuous shot towards Ilya Samsonov. Somehow, Samsonov failed to handle this puck, and a seemingly harmless shot was able to find the back of the net to give the Devils and Maltsev a 1-0 lead, and Maltsev his first non empty net goal of his career.
Unfortunately for the Devils, they were unable to take this momentum and utilize it properly. Back and forth play continued for the rest of the period, but at the 15 mark the Capitals were able to take advantage of a Devils breakdown. A set play in which Dillon lifted a puck from his defensive end into the Devils zone was executed well, finding a streaking Jakub Vrana. Vrana fired a low puck which bounced off of Blackwood, found his own rebound, and went five-hole to give the Capitals the tie game. Blackwood himself reacted poorly to the goal, as he wished he could’ve had that initial shot back.
The second period started off with classic Devils defensive zone breakdown, as I assumed the Devils attempted to make a poorly timed change. This resulted in a two-on-one with Backstrom and Vrana, where Vatanen found himself in no mans land resulting in a Vrana cross-ice pass which Backstrom easily tipped in for a 2-1 Capitals lead.
The Devils, looking to respond immediately, actually were able to respond instantaneously. The other Russian rookie, Yegor Sharangovich, found himself driving down the middle off a feed from Miles Wood. Sharangovich quickly adjusted the pucks position and shot it through the legs of the Capitals defender, which led to a shot which Samsonov might not have been ready for. He was able to get a piece of the puck, but it still trickled through him to the back of the net to give Sharangovich his second of the season and a tie game for the Devils. Two weak goals allowed by Samsonov.
After this, the Devils and Pavel Zacha were called for a penalty, but actually comfortably killed it. A follow up penalty was called on Dmitry Orlov, but the Devils power play was weak today and offered nothing. Nathan Bastian and Brendan Dillon then had a scrap, before Blackwood then made a couple of saves on Justin Schultz.
Unfortunately for the Devils - playing well does not guarantee anything. All this savvy Capitals team needs is one chance to score, and that’s all they needed. A three-on-two play with Lars Eller led to Ovechkin finding a shot in the slot. As Ovechkin does, he scored on a blistering shot to the corner of the net, which Blackwood may not have even registered. It was an incredibly accurate shot, and unfortunately meant the Devils would be down 3-2.
The third period was a disaster for both teams, as they combined for a total of 5 shots on goal (4 for the Devils, 1 for the Capitals). Missed shots defined this period, as the Devils came close many times to tying the game. The Capitals were dangerously close to scoring within a minute of the 3rd period while on the power-play, but a Nicklas Backstrom slapshot clanged off of iron. The Devils then killed the rest of the penalty, and Jack Hughes then used his elusiveness early in the period to set himself for an open shot, which Samsonov was able to barely save with his arm. Smith and Bratt both took shots which missed the net, before Jack Hughes and Will Butcher shots both were blocked by Capital defenders, who excelled at using their sticks and bodies to cover passing and shooting slots. Tom Wilson was called for slashing Michael McLeod, but nothing came out of it besides the referees missing an easy hook on Ty Smith. Kyle Palmieri found himself in the front of the net with a nice move to get in front, but choked on the play as he shot the puck wide. The Devils were then fairly caught with too many men on the ice, but did a good job in yet again killing another penalty. Many non-chances soon followed before the Devils removed Blackwood to give themselves an extra man. And then, with three seconds to go, Kyle Palmieri was able to corral a loose puck in the front of the net, but his struggles would continue as he shot the puck off of Carlson’s back with an empty net, and the Devils would fall 3-2.
The Opposition Opinion: Japers’ Rink has this to say about the game
The Game Highlights:
Quick Thoughts: This Capitals team is very good at maintaining a lead, as they use their big bodies to clog up any shooting or passing lanes, while utilizing players like Vrana and Eller to open up out of nowhere counterattack plays.
Kyle Palmieri is having a rough season, with this game being no exception. His last minute miss aside, he was the worst on the team with a 26% Corsi rating, and oftentimes finds himself flubbing puck possession or missing the net entirely on his shots. The Devils need Palmieri to show up, as a guy with consistent finishing abilities is someone the team sorely lacks this season.
The kids came in and played hard yet again, this time being rewarded directly for it. Sharangovich and Maltsev, the young Russian forwards on the Devils, both scored goals for the team as they played hard on the puck. With the veterans a practical black hole for the Devils offensively, it may be time to sit Gusev or Zajac, in order to reward the youth for hard work.
Blackwood needs a breather, if anything else. I’m not a proponent of starting a goalie in back-to-back games, especially if we have a capable backup in Aaron Dell.
I hope Nico comes back soon. He was starting to turn it up in the last two games and would help the team immensely in remaining competitive. He was sorely missed in the faceoffs in particular. No Devils player won the majority of their faceoffs, winning 18 while losing 37 in todays game.
Lastly, despite the result and struggles, there was still some progress tonight. The Devils successfully killed all of their penalty kills, which should have help in terms of confidence. The young kids are playing well, which is great for a rebuilding team like the Devils. Some more progress needs to be made - some production from the veterans would be nice - but these are steps in the right direction.
Your Thoughts: How do you feel the Devils played today? Are there any changes the Devils need to make? How do we inspire Palmieri again? Let me know in the comments below and have a good night.