“I just think we’re going through a time in the season right now where we’re not executing and we’re not outworking the opponent,” Reirden said. “If you’re not going to do those things, then you’re not going to have success in this league. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the best team in the league, the worst team in the league, anywhere in between — that’s not our identity.”
The Capitals’ futility was best represented by a 43-second span of a five-on-three in the third period. They didn’t muster a shot on goal and had only one on the overlapping power play chances. Miles Wood scored a late empty-netter for the Devils’ final tally with 4:56 left.
Reirden’s second-period tirade during a Capitals timeout was sparked by Nico Hischier’s second goal of the night — a one-timer that ripped past goaltender Braden Holtby’s right shoulder at 12:11. The tally gave the Devils a 4-1 lead less than four minutes after Jakub Vrana had scored the Capitals’ lone goal.
“Clearly, I wasn’t pleased,” Reirden said of his message to the team during the timeout. “I’m not pleased; neither are our players with how we played the game. That was a time that as a coaching strategy you try to stop the momentum and, okay, can we get a goal before the break here? Along with the execution is we did get some really prime chances and we didn’t put it in the back of the net.”
Trailing 3-0, the Capitals briefly showed a pulse when, on the power play, Vrana found a loose puck off an initial shot from Nicklas Backstrom and scored from outside the left post on the Devils’ Louis Domingue. Domingue made 33 saves Saturday night.
“I thought he was tracking the puck really well,” Devils Coach Alain Nasreddine said. “Washington, they like those east-west plays a lot, and he was tracking it all night. He was there in position.”
It was Vrana’s 20th goal of the season and the first coming on the man advantage. It also marked the second straight season he reached the 20-goal mark.
The goal salvaged a four-minute power-play chance, coming after Wood was called for high-sticking Richard Panik at 6:17 of the second period. Wood was assessed a double minor; Panik headed to the dressing room for repairs and did not take another shift. Reirden said after the game that he got a “pretty bad cut” so they were hoping he would come back in the third but couldn’t. Panik is not expected to miss the team’s next game Monday against Carolina.
The power play got worse for the Capitals before it got better — Blake Coleman scored shorthanded, cashing in on a three-on-one rush at 6:48 to put New Jersey up 3-0. It was the sixth shorthanded goal allowed by the Capitals, tied for sixth most in the league. They have allowed one in each of the past two games, including what turned out to be the game-winner Wednesday night from the Flyers’ Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia.
“Obviously you can’t give up a shorthanded goal and a breakaway right after it,” Reirden said. “It’s definitely a work in progress. Again, the execution has got to improve all over the ice for us in all situations if we want to be the type of team we expect to be.”
Washington went 0 for 5 on the power play against the Flyers, continuing a slump that has dogged the unit since Dec. 1 and leading Reirden to change his personnel before Saturday’s game. The Capitals entered converting 13.7 percent of their power plays in that span, ranking 30th in the league.
Reirden’s tweak was to put Vrana on the first power-play unit in place of center Evgeny Kuznetsov. The first power-play unit was able to get three shots on goal on its first attempt late in the first period but was unable to convert until Vrana’s goal in the second period. The Capitals finished 1 for 5 on the night.
“We created some chances,” Vrana said. “We had some [offensive] zone time. Obviously, there was that goal we got scored on. . . . So now it’s just a matter of time when it’s going to go in again.”
Meanwhile, the Capitals’ first-period struggles continued. Hischier converted a two-on-one at 5:27, putting the Capitals into an early hole for the eighth time in nine games and the 12th in their past 15.
The Devils doubled their lead early in the second period when Nikita Gusev scored on a rebound only seven seconds after New Jersey’s power play had expired. Holtby had made a blocker save on Will Butcher’s shot from the right circle before Gusev swooped in to convert the rebound on Holtby’s right side.