With Kyle Palmieri out of the lineup for trade precautions, Nick Merkley was slotted at right wing next to Travis Zajac, opposite Andreas Johnsson. The new Zajac line started the game, and they were unable to get anything going on offense – but also did not give up any shot attempts. The McLeod line generated the first good chance s of the game, as a shot thrown by Ty Smith created a rebound, and Michael McLeod turned and shot the loose puck on goal.
Travis Zajac got the first score of the game, firing a one-timer from the high slot off a feed from Nick Merkley, who drew defenders to the corner on the counterattack after Zajac took away the puck in the neutral zone. 1-0, Devils. Zajac let off an excellent shot for his sixth of the season.
With the Zajac line back on a couple minutes later, Travis Zajac picked up the puck in the corner and sent it out for a Merkley one-timer, which was saved by Samsonov and forced the Capitals to deal with Andreas Johnsson on the doorstep. However, the Zajac line was ultimately denied. The Capitals got a couple of rushes on the following shifts, but missed the net both times.
T.J. Oshie made an excellent move around Dmitry Kulikov, who was caught flat in the defensive zone. He cut across the middle of the net, and his backhand went high past Blackwood. 1-1.
The Hughes line had a good shift three and a half minutes after the halfway point of the period, with Jack Hughes getting multiple shot attempts on the possession, including a one-timer from the top of a faceoff circle. They were denied a goal though, despite a netfront opportunity for Sharangovich.
In the final minute of the first, the Hughes line won the puck out of the corner, and Jack Hughes hit the post on a shanked one-timer. Sharangovich and Hughes had more chances at the puck around the net, but they could not score and the Devils went to the power play, as Carl Hagelin was called for cross-checking. Zacha lost the draw. They regained with seven seconds to play, and the puck got stuck in the corner as time ran out. Through one period, the shots were 17 to five, and the Devils had nearly a minute and a half of leftover penalty time for the start of the second period.
On the power play, Pavel Zacha had a one-timer saved by an outstretched glove of Samsonov. Hughes and Zajac also had chances to score, but the puck was just out of Zajac’s reach in front of the net. The power play expired, and the Devils returned to even strength play.
The Capitals went up on a terrible goal on their sixth shot of the game, as a shot deflected off Damon Severson and into the net. 2-1, Capitals. Conor Sheary got the credit for the goal.
The McLeod line had another good shift, with Jesper Boqvist having a couple of chances on goal that were denied by Samsonov. Play was later blown dead as Dmitry Kulikov was thrown into the Devils’ net, throwing it off its moorings. Kulikov would later get called for high sticking Alex Ovechkin, as his stick was being held too high as he went for the puck along the boards.
With the penalty kill on, Zacha lost the draw and the Capitals took less than ten seconds to score. Nicklas Backstrom skated in on Sami Vatanen, and he threw the puck though Blackwood, and Alex Ovechkin finished the trickling puck. 3-1, Capitals. If Ovechkin wasn’t there, the puck would have gone through the five hole anyway.
Dmitry Kulikov was knocked down as he was going toward the corner, and he appeared to hurt his leg crashing into the boards. The Devils managed to push the puck the other way, which led to a Subban slap shot that shattered his stick. Ty Smith collected, and shot through a Sharangovich screen – but Samsonov saved and covered it.
Nick Merkley was taken down by a slew foot from Daniel Sprong, and the Capitals were called for a two-minute penalty with 7:12 to play in the period. Jack Hughes made an amazing move around Zdeno Chara, but his shot was saved. Jesper Bratt’s rebound attempt was too low to get past Samsonov. After another draw, Zacha played it low to Zajac, but it bounced off him and the Devils had to re-enter the zone after a clear. The Devils circled around the top for awhile before a Smith shot was turned aside. At the very end of the power play, Jack Hughes hit the post after being fed by Bratt at the side of the net.
Yegor Sharangovich drew another penalty after the Devils continued their attack, as Evgeny Kuznetsov went off for tripping him in the corner. The same unit took the ice, and a shot from Zacha went wide, and the referees called a slashing penalty on Zacha as Zacha fought Carl Hagelin for a puck. On the four-on-four, Yegor Sharangovich sped through the neutral zone with authority and ripped it from beyond the high slot past Orlov and Samsonov to make the game 3-2. Following the goal, Jack Hughes fed Damon Severson for a redirection on the rush, but Samsonov made an amazing glove save to keep the Capitals’ lead. Right after the penalty expired, Evgeny Kuznetsov was tripped by P.K. Subban as he entered the offensive zone, and the Devils went to the penalty kill for the rest of the period.
Zacha lost the draw, and Backstrom fed it low to Kuznetsov, who banked the puck off Blackwood before Sami Vatanen cleared the puck, After a re-entry, the Devils cleared the puck again. In the final 30 seconds of the power play, the Devils cleared for a third time, and John Carlson dumped it back for Backstrom, but Michael McLeod cleared for a fourth time after the Capitals entered the zone.
Through two periods, the Devils were outshooting the Capitals 31-12.
The Devils returned to the kill for the first 36 seconds of the final period. The Capitals failed to get a shot, and the Devils cleared as Subban came out of the box, negating the icing as he was the closest to the puck. With the Zacha line on, Lars Eller took a slashing penalty for knocking the stick out of Severson’s hands.
The Devils kept their top unit on the ice. Ty Smith shot off the draw, but it was blocked. The Devils had to re-enter after a poor cycle sequence, and could not generate a shot off their entry before the Capitals cleared. In the second minute, Sharangovich, Wood, Kuokkanen, Severson, and Subban took the ice. They quickly gave up an odd-man rush, and Garnet Hathaway played it across to Carl Hagelin past a diving Subban, and the Capitals scored. 4-2.
The Capitals quickly made it a 5-2 game, as Alex Ovechkin went wide around an outstretched Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson on one knee, and Evgeny Kuznetsov put the puck into the net.
Jesper Bratt got something back for the Devils, as Pavel Zacha won the puck back in the corner from Brenden Dillon. He chipped it to Bratt in front, whose shot got past Samsonov to make the game 5-3.
Travis Zajac continued his hot streak with four minutes to play, as he finished another one-timer from further out than his first goal, on another pass from Merkley on the rush. 5-4, with four minutes to play. Ryan Murray got his third assist of the night on the goal.
The Capitals iced it 12 seconds after the following draw. After winning the puck, they sent it out of play, giving the Devils another chance to win an offensive zone draw. Howeverm Zacha was chased and Wood lost it, but the Dvils quickly re-entered. A shot from Ty Smith went wide, and Conor Sheary counterattacked, forcing Blackwood to make a save. The Hughes line came on the ice, and Janne Kuokkanen dumped in. The Devils won the puck back, but Hughes had it poked off his stick and out to center. The Capitals iced the puck with 2:15 to play.
Blackwood stayed on the bench following the icing. Travis Zajac took the draw, with Jesper Bratt as the extra attacker for his line. The Capitals pushed it to center, and Ty Smith dumped in. The Devils had to re-enter a second time after a clear, but were extremely offsides, and the Devils went for an all-centers line of Hughes, McLeod, Zacha, and Sharangovich. Pavel Zacha played it to Sharangovich for a redirection, but it bounced the wrong way and the Capitals iced it.
The Devils won the draw, and it took them 20 seconds to set up a one-timer for Subban at the point. Samsonov gloved it with 26 seconds to play. The Devils had Zacha take the draw, and he won it to Vatanen. Vatanen held the puck for far, far too long, until the Capitals overwhelmed him and iced it with 6.8 to play. Then, Lindy Ruff called timeout. He sent out Zajac, Zacha, Sharangovich, Subban, Vatanen, and Hughes. Zajac lost the draw, and the puck was stuck in the corner for too long for the Devils to do anything. 5-4 Capitals win.
The Washington Capitals are a very good team. The New Jersey Devils are not. Despite owning a 65.06 CF% at five-on-five, a total 39-19 shots advantage and 60.87 xGF%, the Devils lost. MacKenzie Blackwood had a terrible save percentage, but the only bad goal allowed was the power play goal scored by Ovechkin. Had Blackwood not allowed Backstrom’s shot to go right through the five hole, the Devils would have stayed on the kill for longer. The Devils allowed several odd-man rushes and the Capitals scored a goal off of Damon Severson’s body – they were not good defensively today, as well as their forwards did to keep play in the Capitals’ defensive zone. I’d say the Devils can get them next year, but I’d be lying.
Speaking of next year, the Devils might be without their savvy veteran center who scored two one-timer goals today. Despite not playing with Kuokkanen and Sharangovich, the Zajac line played to a 62.50 CF% and generated two goals (both by Zajac), but they had the worst xGF% of any Devils line with a 35.51% showing. Of the six attempts and four shots they allowed, they allowed three high-danger scoring chances. However, Zajac continues to shine in another lost Devils season, as his two goals brings him to seven on the season, and his 17 points in 32 games figures to a 44-point pace. Not bad for a 35 year old who was written off with increasing frequency at the start of the season. While Kyle Palmieri appears to have played his last game in a Devils sweater, Zajac shows his determination to continue in red and black day in, day out. The question is whether the Devils want him to help moving forward.
Another Special Teams Nightmare
The Devils gave up a shorthanded goal but did not play too poorly on the penalty kill. However, after having some really good showings on the power play, they totally flubbed their third period opportunity and allowed a shorthanded goal. Had Mark Recchi’s unit not been an inconsistent mess today, the Devils could have tied or won the game in regulation. If I had a nickel for every time that happened…