Devils 3, Capitals 2

Early in the third period, the scoreboard at Continental Airlines Arena credited the Washington Capitals with 20 shots. When the final horn sounded, and the New Jersey Devils skated off with a 3-2 victory, that shot total hadn't budged.

The scoreboard did not malfunction to anyone's knowledge, and the official operating it was awake. But the same cannot be said for the Capitals' offense, which, save for a three-minute span Saturday afternoon, was completely stymied by the defense-first Devils when the game was on the line.

"That's New Jersey hockey," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "They get a lead on you and they shut it down. They've done it for a lot of years."

Washington's stagnant offense, which recorded just two shots over the final 20 minutes, wasn't Hanlon's only concern following his team's third consecutive loss and second to New Jersey in two days.

"Five on five, we are there," Hanlon said.

The Capitals' special teams, on the other hand, were nowhere to be found. The power play went 0 for 5 at one end, and the penalty-kill unit allowed three goals at the other. In all, the Devils had eight power-play opportunities, five in the first 16 minutes.

The veteran leaders have said repeatedly the key to the Capitals' success is eliminating "dumb" penalties. Apparently the message has not gotten through.

The Devils' first goal, scored by Vladimir Malakhov on a blast from the blueline, came on a five-on-three power play and put them ahead 1-0 with 6 minutes 33 seconds left in the opening period. Capitals defensemen Jamie Heward and Bryan Muir were both in the penalty box after taking penalties 41 seconds apart.

About three minutes into the second period, the Capitals' Brian Willsie was assessed a minor penalty for charging. Fifty-three seconds later, Devils right wing Jamie Langenbrunner tapped a rebound past backup goalie Brent Johnson to put the Devils ahead 2-0 in front of 15,209 fans.

"It was one of those games where we felt we were behind the eight ball the whole game," Johnson said.

Johnson, the veteran goalie the Capitals claimed off waivers during training camp to back up Olie Kolzig, made his third start, 24 hours after he was leapfrogged on the depth chart by emergency fill-in Frederic Cassivi.

Needing a strong showing, Johnson (0-3-0) was adequate, turning away 25 shots. Kolzig, meantime, missed his second consecutive game because of a strained leg muscle.

Rookie Alex Ovechkin recorded a team-high three shots but none in the third.

One bright spot for the Capitals was the play of the third line. Forwards Ben Clymer, Brian Sutherby and Matt Bradley combined to account for both goals, which came during a 2:53 span early in the second period and tied the score at 2.

Bradley tallied for the second straight game, firing a slap shot past Martin Brodeur to make it 2-1. Moments later, Sutherby swatted his own rebound over Brodeur's outstretched pad to even things. Bradley set up the score with a slick cross-ice pass.

The Capitals were back in the game. But only momentarily. Veteran defenseman Brendan Witt was called for tripping Langenbrunner, seconds after Langenbrunner had pulled off Witt's helmet behind the play as the two collided.

"We took too many penalties," Witt said. "I don't think I tripped him. I think he tripped over my stick. I guess the official looked at it a different way."

Sixteen seconds before Witt's penalty was to expire, New Jersey's Grant Marshall one-timed a corner pass from Scott Gomez around Johnson. It was Marshall's second goal in as many games against the Capitals (and of the season) and it proved to be the game-clincher.

"The third goal was great play by them," Johnson said.

"They kept it down low in the zone on the power play and got a one-timer. Maybe that's the one goal I want back, and unfortunately, it turned out to be the deciding goal.

"They played their system to perfection. Especially in the third period, when we couldn't even get into their zone."

Washington's Jeff Halpern is upended by New Jersey's Colin White. "They played their system to perfection," Capitals backup goalie Brent Johnson said.