Offense was hard to come by. For sixty minutes, it was virtually nonexistent in a tight checking game between the Devils and Capitals. Only two goals went in during regulation. That would change during the three-on-three with the Caps prevailing on a Dmitry Orlov ripper high bar and in past Mackenzie Blackwood in a frustrating 2-1 overtime loss at The Prudential Center.
This wasn’t exactly a Picasso. The Devils have had trouble beating their old Patrick rival all year in this eerie season. They aren’t a high scoring team to begin with. So, it wasn’t exactly a revelation that they only were able to beat Caps rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek once in 64 minutes and 39 seconds. It was the second time they’ve fallen to their Kryptonite in the artificial three-on-three crap that isn’t hockey.
By now, it probably sounds like a broken record to Hasan. The Devils are 0-7 versus Washington with only Sunday’s rematch left in Newark. If they can win, they would avoid losing all eight meetings. To get technical, they’re 0-5-2 against an otherwise flawed team that has taken full advantage of the Devils and NHL doormat Sabres. They’ve banked 25 of 26 points versus the seventh and eighth place teams in the East Division. That’s basically half their point total of 52, which for now has them in first place over the idle Islanders and Penguins.
Are the Caps good? Having seen them implode a couple of times against the Rangers, I’m not so sure. If you’re winning most of your games versus inferior competition, that means you can’t be a great team. But it also means you’re beating the teams you’re supposed to. After giving up a ridiculous 13 goals in consecutive losses to the Rangers and Islanders including eight on Thursday night, the Capitals played more defensive minded against the Devils. It was good enough to win.
Even though they were outshot in every period, the Devils were able to draw even when Mike McLeod rebounded home a Jesper Boqvist shot for his sixth at 12:53 of the second period. It answered a John Carlson goal in which he got loose in front to put away a Lars Eller feed at the doorstep for his 10th a few minutes earlier. That was it for the scoring in regulation.
Despite getting outshot 37-20 in the three periods, the Devils had a couple of opportunities to win the game. Especially what has to be a frustrated Jack Hughes, who despite getting some quality chances, remains without a point over the last eight games. It’s been a tough go for the 19-year old former top pick. It was during the third when he was able to get to a bouncing loose puck in the slot and fire a quick shot that rang off the goalpost with a few minutes remaining. It wasn’t the only great look he had.
There also was the offensive to the eyeballs Andreas Johnsson, who can’t put the puck into the ocean. Oh. He got five shots on net. But none went in. Acquired by GM Tom Fitzgerald from the Maple Leafs to boost secondary scoring, the 26-year old left wing has been the biggest disappointment for the Devils. He remains stuck on three goals and five assists in an exasperating 35 games. Interestingly, his last goal came in a loss to the Caps on Feb. 21. Coincidentally his only two-point game of a lost year. Johnsson had one good chance in front when he was one-on-one with Vanecek during OT. Hughes found him isolated, but Johnsson lost control of the puck after trying to make a move. That sums things up in a nutshell.
Without Blackwood, who was very steady in finishing with 38 saves on 40 shots, the Devils don’t get a point. More often than not, it’s the play of the young netminder that keeps them in games. He can’t do it by himself. He’s a very good goalie. Without run support, it’s tough to win in this league. Over his last three starts, he’s faced 40-or-more shots. That included a 40 save shutout of Boston. Blackwood has stopped 122 of 128 shots in those games, but only has one win to show for it.
In the overtime, the best chance came when Hughes was in alone on Vanecek. He made a good move going to a backhand deke. However, the Caps first-year goalie was able to get a pad on it to deny Hughes’ bid. Prior to Orlov’s winner, the Devils had one more great opportunity to finally beat Washington. P.K. Subban came in with under a minute left and waited before making a good centering feed for a cutting Travis Zajac. But Zajac’s point blank chance was stoned by a sprawling Vanecek.
Orlov picked up the loose puck and rushed up the ice with only rookie Yegor Sharangovich back. Orlov pulled up and fired a pea past Blackwood short side top shelf that was in and out so fast, neither Steve Cangialosi or Ken Daneyko realized it was in. It was a great shot from a defenseman that isn’t exactly Carlson or Sergei Gonchar for the Caps. Even he was surprised by what he did, giving an oh shucks look before smiling following his overtime winner with 21.7 seconds left.
Sometimes, it’s like that when you’re losing games. It’s also worth noting that Blackwood had to deny Conor Sheary right at the beginning of extras. Off the draw at center ice, Carlson slipped a backhand pass past Damon Severson sending Sheary in. Blackwood made a terrific save. So, Sheary got to play in three-on-three. Strange stuff.
Rookie defenseman Ty Smith took two 20-second OT shifts. Lindy Ruff opted to use Subban and Severson mostly. Dmitry Kulikov was on for a 54-second shift. Much of the three-on-three depends on puck possession. With so many mind numbing resets, it doesn’t make for good hockey. That sometimes can limit how much a player plays. They really need to go back to four-on-four. It was much better.
As for the Devils, they have 21 games left including Sunday’s rematch versus the Caps. That game will conclude the season series. They remain at 13 wins up and 16 down with six more defeats coming in extras. So, they’re really 13-22. Not good enough. With 32 points, they’re essentially playing out the string. It’ll be interesting to see which players are available over the next week. The trade deadline is April 12. It’ll be here before you know it.
Of all 31 teams, the Devils lead the NHL in rookie scoring. They’ve totaled 61 points (22-39-61). In fact, 26.2 percent of their goals (84) have come from rookies. The Blackhawks are second with 55 and the Senators rank third with 50. At least there’s a commitment to playing their young players.
Both Aarne Talvitie and Tyce Thompson recently signed two-year entry level contracts. Nikita Gusev cleared waivers and was assigned to the Taxi Squad.