After an utterly horrendous first two periods, the Devils were able to salvage this game with an amazing comeback, but still fell short as they fell to the Capitals 5-4.
The first two periods were nothing short of awful. This Devils team was coasting their way to a blowout loss and were displaying the same problems. They still can’t fix their crappy special teams’ play, with the same problems persisting throughout. The team coasts too often, and are unable to play to their strengths, as they continued to miss open passes and make simple judgment mistakes which lead to chances the other way.
The first period was extremely quiet for the Devils, as they seemingly had no good chances on their end after a Nathan Bastian drive to the net was stopped. What did define the period, however, was the aforementioned awful penalty kill. I truly believe, for the sake of Ken Daneyko’s eyes, that MSG is preventing him from critiquing the Devils in his role. The Devils penalty kill was not better at all, as the first Devils penalty kill saw the Capitals in the Devils zone for 90% of it, while the second penalty kill saw the Capitals completely pin the Devils, eventually culminating in a TJ Oshie tip-in.
Besides this, the first period was a whole lot of nothing. The Capitals saw greater opportunities. The Devils power play was yet again awful, as they continuously lost the puck (even icing the puck at one point). The players were slow, and the period ended 1-0.
The second period was a whole lotta garbage for the Devils. When I call the play terrible, I’m understating just how bad it is. The Devils’ play this period was like a car stuck in ice - they struggled to move, and any attempts to do anything led to potential disaster.
A four-on-four started this sequence of unfortunate events. PK Subban and Lars Eller were called for two a piece as a result of a skirmish. This led to a four-on-four chance, where the Capitals dominated the puck cycle. Eventually, Carlson found Vrana open, and he ripped a shot past Wedgewood for a 2-0 lead. Soon after, the Devils found themselves yet again reeling as a result of a horrific turnover by Andreas Johnsson. This saw a two-on-one chance, where Ty Smith did an excellent job of covering the trailing man. Unfortunately, Daniel Sprong was able to rip a shot while going up against Wedgewood, which cleanly went through him and led to 3-0 game.
The Devils tried to fight back, and Travis Zajac did a great job in playing gritty and stealing the puck. A lapse in judgment from Vanacek’s part led to Zajac stripping a Capitals defender behind the net. Zajac was able to control the puck behind the net, finding Kuokkanen for the Devils’ first goal of the game.
The Devils, however, would immediately find themselves giving up another goal soon after. Richard Panik was able to read a PK Subban hit, and find Dmitry Orlov open up high. Orlov let the shot absolutely rip, which beat Wedgewood high corner. It was a gorgeous shot, but it also meant the Devils were now down 4-1.
To recap the 2nd period - the Devils were completely outchanced, outshot, and outscored. Quite possibly one of their worst periods of the season.
With the 3rd period starting and a majority of Devils’ fans likely having given up, the Devils pulled a miracle out of their... behinds.
For how bad the 2nd period was, the 3rd period was beautiful. Besides the power play. The Damned power play failed again. We were welcomed to the 3rd period with a whole lot of nothing from the Devils power-play, which in other games would have defined the period. The Devils, to their credit, refused to lay down and die, as they constantly peppered the offensive zone with their speed, ignoring the fine game and going more for grit and pressure.
I’m a big fan of Jesper Bratt, with his incredible hands and speed. After watching this goal, I’m also becoming a fan of Jesper Bratt playing with Miles Wood and using both their speeds to cause havoc in the offensive zone.
The two caught the Capitals in a terrible change and immediately punished the Capitals for this lapse. However, envisioning a line where Jesper Bratt can potentially serve as the primary puck-handler and find someone with the speed of Miles Wood cutting the other way is extremely enticing. Let me know if I’m being dumb, but I’ve become entranced with the idea.
This goal seemed to inspire the Devils, who after killing their own power play (no, there is no typo), were back on the attack. This time, it was another youngster who joined the party as a result of an amazing pass by Kuokkanen. Sharangovich, on a practical breakaway, yet again displayed his excellent wrist shot as he snapped it past Vanacek to cut the game to 4-3.
With the Devils pushing, it became clear that the Devils would eventually tie the game, which they did after crowding the Capitals zone for the next two minutes. After a good amount of puck possession, Damon Severson was able to wrist a shot from the point against a tired Capitals squad, which beat Vanacek glove side for a 4-4 tie game!
With the Devils still dominating possession, they came oh-so close to taking the lead from a Kulikov shot from the point. Unfortunately, Kulikov cleanly clanged iron, and the Capitals were able to avoid danger. The Capitals, looking to have one last high-danger opportunity, got it with under two minutes to go as Hagelin found himself along on the left side. He tried to go five-hole on Wedgewood, who was barely able to adjust his body and stop it, before the rest of period was killed and the teams found themselves going to overtime tied 4-4.
The overtime period saw the Devils control for the entire period, except for one rush. To the detriment of the Devils, their entire control time was a whole lot of nothing, as they found themselves hesitant to shoot pucks when given the opportunity. This eventually led to Jack Hughes giving the puck away, where Kuznetsov found Vrana. Jakub Vrana then did what Jakub Vrana does, as the young star was able to use his speed to zoom by Ty Smith and fire a snipe of a shot past Wedgewood, giving the Capitals a 5-4 overtime win.
Immediate Thoughts: After the second period, I was extremely furious with this team. The special teams was utter crap, the passing couldn’t find a mark no matter the distance, and the players looked slow and lazy. During the third period, two of those three concerns were alleviated, as the Devils played harder and fought back to tie the game. Unfortunately, the power play was still crap. Nasreddine needs to make some damn changes, and soon. There is a clear disconnect that exists when the Devils are on the power play, and it’s become clear that the problem isn’t going to fix itself. To have such an awful special teams is unforgiving in the NHL, and is one of the reasons for the Devils’ struggles. On five-on-five, I would label them as above average. On special teams, we are the rut of the pack, and that has to be on the coaching staff.
Travis Zajac, if you continue to play like you did today, I will apologize to the moon and back for any negative comments I’ve uttered to your name. Zajac had a three assist night and looked awesome doing it. Him and Kuokkanen meshed together like peanut butter and jelly, and it was a beautiful sight to see. Next, help Vatanen and Palmieri do the same.
Wow was the fourth line bad today. The Bastian-McLeod-Wood line seems to be allergic to the Capitals, as their worst performances are only against them. Today, all three recorded CF%’s under 20, which is extremely unplayable. Perhaps there’s something about the Capitals and how they play that just neutralizes the trio, which is something Ruff could look at moving forward.
Let the kids play! Sharangovich and Kuokkanen showed their shot and playmaking skills respectably in this game (with Kuokkanen also potting a goal). The Kuokkanen pass in particular was amazing to me, as he weaved it through two different Capital defenders to find Sharangovich.
Lastly, I like the accountability in sitting Johnsson, who I think technically qualifies as a veteran. It sent a clear message to the team, which they did very well in heeding.
Wedgewood was meh at best, which is expected of a goalie of his caliber. I couldn’t get too mad, given his spotty track record, but I still have a positive bias towards him for stealing a game against the Rat face’s team.
How did you guys feel? Who played well? Who played poorly? What changes do the Devils need to make? What do you want the lines to look like? Let me know in the comments below, and have a good night!