The New Jersey Devils have been a surprise team in 2013 in many people’s eyes, but on Thursday night in the nations capital, they showed why they are among the leagues best once again.
In its 3-2 victory over Washington, New Jersey continuously found themselves in a hole and were given every opportunity to climb out of it. They outshot and out chanced the Capitals, yet they couldn’t put a stranglehold on a game that they were given multiple chances to put away.
The first period produced no goals, but set the theme for the night in motion: penalties. New Jersey finished with 2 penalties in the first, one to Andy Greene and one to Stefan Matteau, who served the Too Many Men on the Ice minor, while Washington finished with one to Mathieu Perrault. Aside from the trips to the box, the highlight of the period came from Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin. With just over 30 seconds to play in the period, Ovechkin came down the right-hand boards with a burst of speed over the Devils blue-line and pulled a slick toe-drag move around Devils captain Bryce Salvador to the center of the ice, only to be stoned cold on the backhand by Martin Brodeur, who made timely saves to keep the Devils in it throughout.
With just over 12 minutes left in the second period, Ovechkin was at it again. Entering the zone at full speed, Ovechkin spun around sprawling Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, feeding teammate Jason Chimera a backhand pass in the slot. The play didn’t produce a goal, but Ovechkin drew a tripping call on Volchenkov to put Washington on the power play. The Capitals would deliver with the extra man thanks to Troy Brower. Brower took it coast-to-coast from his own end and pulled an Ovechkin-like toe drag move around a Devils defenseman, leading to a shot and rebound right to the stick of Mathieu Perrault who made no mistake about it, giving the Capitals the first score of the game.
Just a few minutes later, the Devils brought back their old penalty kill magic. Down a man, forwards Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias went to work in the Capitals zone, starting with a great forecheck and forced turnover by Henrique. On his knees, Henrique got the puck to Patrik Elias up the right boards, who sent it right back behind the net. Henrique, who drew 3 Capitals players to him, brought it out to the side of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and delivered a tape-to-tape pass across the crease to Elias, who was left completely alone and buried it over the diving Holtby to tie the game at 1 with just under 9 minutes to play in the period.
A minute later however, the Capitals would respond with yet another power play goal. Off some nice puck movement from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brower, Mike Ribeiro found himself in the slot with some space and fired a quick turnaround shot on Brodeur that squeaked through, giving Washington the lead back entering the third period.
About half of the final period would pass before the next goal would be produced, and it would come off the stick of recently acquired Devils forward Andrei Loktionov. Loktionov, who was playing in just his second game for New Jersey, was in the exact right place at the right time to once again tie the game. Defenseman Adam Larsson received the face-off win at the point, walked the blue line to find a nice alley down the middle of the ice, and redirected a shot off Holtbys pad right to the stick of Loktionov. Loktionov hasn’t produced many minutes for New Jersey thus far, but when he has been on the ice, he looks like a player who fits in perfectly with New Jerseys system.
Over the next two minutes of the third period, the Capitals would take two penalties, giving New Jersey a timely two-man advantage and their second of the night. Although the Devils failed to capitalize the first time around, sniper Ilya Kovalchuk wouldn’t let the opportunity pass by again. With 20 seconds left on the 5-on-3, Patrik Elias fed Kovalchuk at the point, who dropped to one knee and fired a laser past Holtby to give New Jersey the lead for good. Kovalchuk, who leads the league in ice time and had almost 29 minutes of it last night, has produced some timely goals for New Jersey this season. Just a few weeks ago he was the man who won it for the Devils in overtime against the same Capitals team. Although he hasn’t exactly been racking up the goals so far this year with just 6, he has been absolutely crucial to New Jersey’s success. Kovalchuk is second on the team in points with 16, 5 behind team leader Patrik Elias.
The Devils would hold on the rest of the way to beat Washington by a final of 3-2 and get Martin Brodeur his 8th win of the season, which is just one off the leagues top mark (Carey Price with 9). Washington did everything they could to keep New Jersey in it, and it eventually cost them. The Capitals are going to look back at this as a missed opportunity due to their own mistakes. Although they were outshot 37-19, they were in position to win if it was not for the penalties, and there were a lot of them. Washington accumulated 24 minutes of penalty time to just 8 for New Jersey. The Devils power play hasn’t exactly been lethal, but when teams give them multiple chances to take advantage, they generally do. New Jersey has made noticeable strides from last year on the power play and, at this point, seems to have experienced a role reversal in special teams. The Devils power play ranks 9th in the league with a 19.4% success rate, while its penalty kill ranks 22nd at 78.9%.
The win puts New Jersey back on top of the Atlantic Division with a 10-3-4 record and 24 points, two ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils are also at the top of the Eastern Conference, a place they have been for a good portion of this shortened NHL season.
New Jersey heads back to the Verizon Center on Saturday at noon to finish out their two game road trip against the Capitals.
About the Author
Written by Mike Mastrandrea
Mike Mastrandrea is currently a Junior at Indiana University studying Sports Communication and Marketing. He was raised in New Jersey and is a dedicated New Jersey Devils, New York Jets, New York Mets, and Indiana Hoosiers fan. Mike's other interests include movies, hanging out with friends, and Chel.