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Mistakes Keep the Devils From Victory in 3-4 Loss to Capitals

This was a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” type of winnable game for the Devils.

New Jersey Devils v Washington Capitals
McMichael gets Smith. That kind of night for Ty Smith.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

First Period

The New Jersey Devils were generally hemmed in their own zone for the first few minutes, but Nico Daws did not have to face too much rubber. One shot by the Washington Capitals went off the post, but it was from a sharp angle and on the outside of the net. The Capitals had a rush with McMichael cutting in about three minutes into the period, and Nico Daws kicked the puck out for Damon Severson to sweep away. Getting possession back at the blueline, Damon Severson stretched the ice with a beautiful pass ahead, leading to Jimmy Vesey backhanding a shot alone on Vitek Vanecek that was squeezed between the pads.

Around the five minute mark - right after Alex Ovechkin just missed on a wide open tap-in chance - Yegor Sharangovich nearly scored on the rebound of a rush shot from Dawson Mercer. His stick was tied up and the puck only slowly rolled to the goal line as Vanecek dove to cover it. A few minutes later, Jesper Bratt created a chance in the slot with a backhand pass from the boards - and Siegenthaler was hooked from behind by Alexander Ovechkin. With 12:33 to play in the period, the Devils went to the man advantage.

The power play was largely a mess. The first wave got some decent time in the zone and plenty of puck movement, but they were not focused enough on Vitek Vanecek and the Mark Recchi power play totaled zero shots in their first two minutes.

The Devils took their first penalty late in the period, with Ryan Graves “tripping” Garnett Hathaway at the blueline. It was more of a hit Hathaway tried to jump away from and got hurt on. Nico Daws had to make a couple stops in the second half of the power play - including one on Tom Wilson at the side of the net. After the Devils cleared the puck with less than half a minute to kill, the Capitals iced the puck. Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt took to the ice. Hughes won the draw and almost redirected a shot from Hamilton. Ryan Graves then hit the far post. On the rebound, Jesper Bratt tried to whip the puck around but only hit the outside of the post. With that the clock wound down to zero and the Devils went to intermission tied with the Capitals.

Second Period

After Ryan Graves was dumped behind Daws’ net by Hathaway, the Hischier line quickly moved up the ice - and Nico Hischier spun into a pass to Bratt who backhanded a shot wide. The puck was lost high in the zone as the Devils were changing, and Jonas Siegenthaler (on for Graves) closed the gap quickly and poked the puck out to center. With Sharangovich and Mercer on it, Dawson Mercer shot on the two-on-one, leading to a rebound that Sharangovich could not control enough to shoot. Sharangovich had Mercer on the far side for a tough pass, but he opted to pass up to Jack Hughes, who cut into the high slot with a wrist shot that beat Vanecek! 1-0, Devils.

With A.J. Greer finally on the ice, Greer passed to the middle of the offensive blueline, but Ty Smith passed back too weakly and turned the puck over. Jesper Bratt tried to cut down the two-on-one, but missed the pass and Tom Wilson scored his 20th of the year.

Nathan Bastian set up Michael McLeod going to the net about six minutes in, but McLeod was rocked high by Nick Jensen. Bastian went to defend his teammate as he was jumped from behind and kept away from Jensen - but McLeod came up hot and got into a heated fight with Jensen. On the replay, it looked like McLeod took a hit right to the head. Since he defended himself, he wiped out any power play. McLeod got two for roughing, and Jensen got two for elbowing.

Just a minute after play resumed, Damon Severson faked out Anthony Mantha as Mantha came out to the point - and Severson cut to the middle of the blueline off the faceoff. With the screen in front, Severson blasted a slap shot past Vanecek for his 10th goal of the season! 2-1, Devils, with assists going to Ryan Graves and Jesper Boqvist. Graves set a career high in points with 27 with this assist.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had just Jack Hughes and Nico Daws to beat about halfway through, and Jack was able to deter him as he cut across the middle to shoot. Kuznetsov went for the wraparound, but the Devils crashed the net and he was only able to shoot of the side of the net. A while later, Jesper Boqvist received a pass after a bad giveaway by the Capitals - and Boqvist was the only man within 15 feet of the net as he stickhandled at the netmouth and got denied by Vitek Vanecek.

The last five or so minutes of the second period took a much more frantic pace. The Devils and Capitals traded back-and-forth chances with long passes and odd-man rushes - but they were just too disjointed at the breakneck pace to connect. Jesper Bratt had a particularly dangerous one-timer off a blind pass from a Capital along the boards, and Ryan Graves had to stay on his feet long enough to give Jesper Bratt time to break up the two-on-one pass.

With under two minutes to play, T.J. Oshie missed a one-timer from the Ovechkin spot after a lengthy possession by the Capitals, and the puck rang out of the zone. Not long after, Jack Hughes drew a slashing call as the stick was slashed out of his hands in the offensive zone. With the Devils on the power play for the last 54 seconds of the period, I feel like I don’t even need to say how bad they looked as they failed to get a shot, but there you have it.

Third Period

The power play was a little better in this period. Damon Severson actually got a shot on goal - and then Jack Hughes wound up for a one-timer in the high slot as time was ticking down to single digits on the penalty clock. Vanecek made the stop.

The Devils took a penalty toward the end of the second minute, but the Capitals continued to attack with the sixth man on, and they opened up the Devils defense for a tap-in off a fake slap shot pass from Oshie to Schultz on the goal line. Schultz passed across to McMichael, who scored the goal with ease. 2-2.

After the Devils had a few good shifts, they got stuck in their own zone as they struggled to get a bouncing puck out to the neutral zone. It hopped to Nicklas Backstrom, who scored on a far-away shot. Since the Capitals were honoring Backstrom, Capitals fans threw souvenir apples onto the ice, causing a delay. 3-2, Capitals.

Shortly after Jack Hughes almost tied the game with a between-the-legs move that went off iron, Ty Smith took a penalty in the neutral zone for not controlling his stick and high sticking Evgeny Kuznetsov in the face. With less than ten minutes to go, the Devils went to the penalty kill.

Nico Hischier won the draw, and Michael McLeod skated the puck to the offensive zone before coughing it up. Hischier went off for Vesey, and Ovechkin fired a shot over the net quickly after the Capitals gained the zone. The Devils were unable to clear the puck after play resumed, and Sharangovich lost track of Ovechkin as Kuznetsov passed from the far side of the goal line for the tap-in. 4-2, Capitals.

With the goaltender pulled, the Devils narrowly averted an empty netter against and then pushed the issue on the other end. Jack Hughes took a shot that deflected down and bounced on Vanecek, and Bastian chipped the loose puck wide of the open net. After another shot, Vanecek’s mask mysteriously flung off his head and play was blown dead.

With under 45 seconds to play, Nico Hischier collected the puck in the defensive zone and picked up a head of steam as he sent the puck across after shimmying through the Capitals to Jack Hughes. Hughes went to the forehand and created a rebound for Jesper Bratt to score on! 3-4 with 31.9 to play.

Jack Hughes protected off the draw and Jesper Bratt sent the puck from the bleuline across to Nico Hischer, whose shot was smothered by Vanecek. The Devils would get a few more shots off after the next faceoff, but they all went wide and the Capitals just hung on to beat the Devils.

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

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Japers’ Rink.

Send Ty Smith Down

I like Ty Smith. I was excited when the Devils drafted him (and I am not always kind to draft selections. See: Chase Stillman), I loved watching him during his rookie season, and I think his skills with the puck should make him capable of being a high-producing offensive defenseman. I do not know what got into Ty Smith this season. After missing training camp with, if I recall correctly, a lower body injury - Smith looks slow as molasses to the point it’s like he’s skating with cinderblocks around his ankles. Everything Ty Smith does is hesitant. Ty Smith needs to be sent down to the Utica Comets for the rest of the season. These games do not matter. Ty Smith can get 15 minutes a night for him to make the same mistakes over and over again, or he can go find his game with 20, 25 minutes a night in Utica. Kevin Bahl can handle third pairing defensive duties for the time being - since, I stress, these games do not matter.

If Ty Smith had not taken that high sticking penalty, the Devils could have tied the game. If Ty Smith did not make a careless giveaway in the offensive zone as the Devils were changing, the Devils could have tied or won the game. Maybe the Devils only would have given up two. Maybe. They could have lost anyway - but the point is that Ty Smith continually is the root cause of backbreaking mistakes that end up killing the Devils in late-game situations. The Devils owned the game with a 38-22 shot disparity and a 3.65-2.34 xG ratio. The Devils were credited with 37 scoring chances to only 17 for the Capitals - but boneheaded mistakes at the wrong moments gave the game to the Caps.

Magic Jack

Not all is bad for the Devils. The top lines continued to have strong performances tonight. Best of all these games was that of Jack Hughes, who displayed a bit of defensive responsibility in combination with his electric goal and late assist on the rebound for Bratt. As you can see, he was just flying around out there.

Jack Hughes was second to only Damon Severson with 23:33 played in all situations tonight. He led all Devils with 20:12 played in even strength situations, where he had a 79.35 xGF% on two goals scored by the Devils and one by the Capitals. Hughes played a mix of minutes against the Capitals’ lines, but played mostly against the Orlov-Carlson pairing, who mostly stood no chance against him.

With 22 goals and 30 assists in 45 games, Jack Hughes looks like he’s going on a tear again. For reference to his last season, where he had 31 points in 56 games - Jack is on pace to have 65 points when he plays his 56th game this season. With his two points tonight, half of his 104 career points have come from this season (27.7% of his career games). Him and Nico Hischier - who has nine points in his last four games - looked excellent on the power play together, and I thought they were going to have another point apiece when they did the back-and-forth one-timer for Hughes in the third period.

Vanecek’s Strong Game

To give credit where credit is due, this game also swung to the Capitals’ favor because of the goaltender, Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek stopped 35 of 38 on 3.65 expected goals against for a goals saved above expected of 0.65. The Capitals netminder had to deal with moving screens on both of the first two goals, and the third was on a rebound - so it’s not like he really had much of a chance on those goals. The Devils gave him a few gifts with shots off the posts and wide of the net, but Vanecek made it too difficult for them tonight.

Third Period Shutdown

The Devils did have a lead in the third period tonight. They did have to try to score two with the empty net - and almost did - but they also could have just held onto the lead in the first place. While I have been pleased by the end-of-season scoring for the Devils, shutting the door in the third period has continued to be a problem for the Devils. They only allowed four scoring chances, of which two were high-danger chances in the third, but the Capitals scored three goals. That’s pretty ridiculous.

Two things come to mind immediately after this game for holding onto leads: being disciplined and taking advantage of power plays. The Capitals made lethal use of the man advantage tonight, scoring a six-on-five goal on a delayed penalty and getting Alexander Ovechkin another power play goal to seal their victory. The Devils, however, could not capitalize on special teams, which was remarkably ineffective as a whole tonight. And on the note of Sharangovich losing track of Ovechkin in the third - how does this not get across to NHL players? Alex Ovechkin is the best power play goal scorer of the current generation - you cannot turn your back to him and give the low passing lane.

Having wasted roster spots does not help the Devils’ cause. AJ Greer only played 6:03 tonight, and the Devils were outshot 0-5 with him on the ice. Only Greer, McLeod (1-3) and Siegenthaler (7-8) had negative shot differentials at even strength. Michael McLeod also only totaled 6:07 in all situations, though Greer had all of his time at even strength and McLeod played a minute and a half on the penalty kill. Did it make sense for them to finally get shifts when the Devils were down in the third? No. But for this team to be complete, they need a fourth line that gets the call for defensive play in late game situations. McLeod looked like that last season, but he has not shown much growth and seems to rely on linemates like Nate Bastian this season and Bastian with Wood last season. Hopefully we see them in a shutdown role for the last 10 or so games of the season.

Ultimately, these games are not “meaningful” in the sense of being for the playoff hunt, so it is what it is. I thought the top six and Damon Severson had excellent games tonight. P.K. Subban and Jonas Siegenthaler were pretty good. Ryan Graves needs to learn how to defend two-on-ones but was generally okay. Ty Smith needs to be sent down to find his mojo. If Ty Smith did not make those mistakes, and maybe if Nico Daws saved the shot from Nicklas Backstrom - the Devils could have won tonight.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you think they would pull it off when they had the lead? Did you think they should have won? How do you feel about the defensive situation with Smith struggling and Hamilton seeming off his game? Who can the Devils play on the fourth line that Lindy Ruff won’t waste for five or six minutes a night? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.