Twenty-four hours earlier, the Washington Capitals were the team rallying to take control of a game in an unfriendly building. Saturday night, it was the New Jersey Devils’ turn.
After jumping out to a two-goal lead, the Capitals stopped playing their aggressive, attacking style and went through lengthy spans of little to no offensive opportunity — including 20 minutes 51 seconds without a shot spanning the second and third periods — in ultimately succumbing to New Jersey’s style of play.
The Devils captured a 3-2 win on a shootout goal by David Clarkson in front of another sellout crowd at Verizon Center in the second game of a back-to-back series between the teams.
“It’s a game that we got a little complacent, stopped picking up our assignments and they just capitalized on the couple chances we did give them,” said Troy Brouwer, who scored one of the Capitals’ two goals. “The other thing is, we didn’t generate any offense after the first period. I think we had two shots in the second. I don’t know, what was it, five in the third? That’s just not going to cut it, especially with this team.”
It was a game dominated by defense as evidenced by a total of 36 shots through 65 minutes of play. New Jersey’s Johan Hedberg only needed to make 15 saves in addition to three stops in the tiebreak shootout for the victory. Michal Neuvirth finished with 17 stops and was praised by Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau for a sharp outing despite the low workload.
The Capitals (10-4-1) got off to an ideal start, moving their feet and creating scoring chances quickly after the opening faceoff. For just the second time in the past seven games, Washington scored first, this time on Brouwer’s fourth goal of the season.
A bad turnover by the Devils at their own blue line gave Brouwer room for a breakaway, and he deked Hedberg before placing a wrist shot inside the right post with 6 minutes 30 seconds elapsed. Nearly 10 minutes later, Washington went up 2-0 on Jason Chimera’s second goal in as many games and sixth of the year. The veteran winger crashed the net, screened Hedberg and managed to deflect in a rocket shot from the point by John Carlson at 16:10.
For as strong as the opening 20 minutes were, Washington didn’t have anywhere near the same spark when the second started and was outshot 6-2 in the period. Both of the Devils’ goals came during Washington’s lengthy drought without a shot, which included a power-play opportunity.
Washington didn’t muster a shot on goal from 5:45 into the second until 6:36 was gone in the third period.
“They made it tough for us to get through the neutral zone, but then also I thought their defensemen did a great job winning battles when we would dump it in,” said Brooks Laich, who skated 23:26 as a defenseman Saturday night. “But for us as a team, the strength of our team should be our forecheck. We weren’t able to establish that tonight and thus we weren’t successful.”
The Capitals played short-handed on defense for the second consecutive game. With both Mike Green and John Erskine unable to play because of injuries, Laich, a forward, was told he would be playing on the blue line on Saturday morning. The most versatile player on the Capitals’ roster, Laich didn’t look out of place, but the defense suffered yet another blow to its collective health.
Veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik skated just 9:22 in the game and did not play in the third period after being cross-checked. Boudreau said Hamrlik is day-to-day but did not expand upon the nature of his injury.
The Devils (8-6-1) cracked Neuvirth’s shutout bid 12:18 into the second. Patrik Elias won an offensive-zone faceoff against Mathieu Perreault and the puck quickly wound up on the stick of Petr Sykora for a quick shot that beat Neuvirth, who was screened on the play by Dennis Wideman.
That boost was all the Devils needed to climb back into the game. With 66 seconds remaining before the second intermission, a shot by New Jersey’s Ryan Carter eluded Neuvirth with traffic in front to make it 2-2.
“It’s a double-edged sword. Will you take a point? Yes. Will you take a point when you have a 2-0 lead? No,” Boudreau said. New Jersey’s goals were “mistakes on our part. If we don’t make those mistakes — ’cause Neuvy was on top of his game — it probably would have been a 2-0 game.”
Capitals notes: Green missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed lower-body injury that Boudreau said is not related to the twisted right ankle that previously held the defenseman out of six games. Erskine, who was seen Friday with an ice pack on his surgically repaired shoulder, was also scratched and Boudreau said before the game that the blue-liner was “sore.”