In a game that would be decided by special teams, the Capitals once again paid a steep price for taking too many penalties. A half-dozen transgressions committed in a nine-minute span of the third period helped lead to their undoing in a 3-2 loss to the Devils Thursday night. The cumulative effect of all the penalty-killing, and the way it disrupts the flow of a game was too much to overcome.
The first period was not a particularly good one for the home team. New Jersey carried the play but could not get a puck past Braden Holtby. The Devils posted 13 shots compared to Washington’s four, but Holtby stood strong in a match-up with one of his boyhood idols, Martin Brodeur.
The Caps grabbed a lead in the middle frame thanks to a splendid one-on-one move by Troy Brouwer. The Caps leading goal-scorer turned Devs defender Henrik Tallinder inside-out with a toe-drag move that sent him in alone on Brodeur. The Devils keeper made the initial stop on Brouwer, but that did not stop Mathieu Perreault from banging in the rebound for a power-play goal at 9:28.
That tally would set off a rapid-fire sequence on the scoresheet.
While the Caps were on another man-advantage, New Jersey center Adam Henrique made a nice move behind the net, slipped away from a Holtby poke-check, then found an open Patrik Elias for a slam-dunk shorthanded goal at 11:16.
I have said it before, the best way to respond to a shorthanded goal is to strike back on the same power-play, and the Caps would do that.
Mike Ribeiro took a feed from Brouwer and wheeled to the front of the net on his forehand. His 15-foot shot appeared to be deflected by Devil defender Andy Greene and bounced underneath Brodeur.
That set the stage for the third period and the unfortunate parade to the penalty box for Washington.
Niklas Backstrom and Adam Larsson took matching minor penalties at 1:16 of the third. Matt Hendricks was whistled for holding at 2:55. While the Devils skated with a 4-on-3 advantage, the Caps were tagged with a disputed delay of game call. Jay Beagle golfed the puck out of play in the defensive zone and it landed in the Washington bench. After a brief huddle, the four on-ice officials concluded that the puck did indeed clear the glass before it landed in the bench-area.
The Caps were awesome on that penalty-kill. The Devils didn’t get a shot though to Holtby in the 1:39 that Washington was two-men down. Backstrom and John Carlson blocked more than a few heavy-duty blasts from Ilya Kovalchuk in that span of time.
New Jersey tied the game at 9:19 of the third when AHL call-up Andrei Loktionov stashed the rebound of a point drive from Larsson.
It took only 90 seconds from that time for the Caps to be an astonishing two-men down again!
This time the Devils would not allow Washington to wiggle off the hook. Elias sent a soft cross-ice pass to Kovalchuk in the high-slot area, and the high-scoring winger unleashed a wicked drive past Holtby to give the guests the lead. Both Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin had strong games tonight, each trying to out-perform his fellow countryman.
New Jersey has always been a tough team to play against when they have a third-period lead and they would suffocate the Caps over the final eight minutes.
The shots in the third period were 15-3 in favor of the Devils. The Caps never got into any rhythm in that final frame and the officials would bear the brunt of the frustration on the ice and from the stands at Verizon Center.
These same two teams have a rematch slated for Noon on Saturday. We’ll see you for that one on Comcast SportsNet.