Despite twice jumping out to one-goal leads, the Washington Capitals let a lead slip away late after a succession of penalties depleted Washington’s morale which resulted in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night in D.C.. Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game-winning goal on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Kovalchuk’s seven shots on net during the game were almost half of Washington’s 19 shots, as Caps netminder Braden Holtby was significantly busier than his counterpart on the other end of the rink, Martin Brodeur. Holtby made 34 saves on 37 shots, his record dropping to 4-6-0 on the season.
Mathieu Perreault and Mike Ribeiro both scored power play goals in the second frame to stake Washington out to 1-0 and 2-1 leads respectively, with Troy Brouwer earning a pair of assists and Nicklas Backstrom adding a single helper. Alexander Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet, but recorded four shots, four hits, committed one minor penalty and drew two of them.
Perrault opened the scoring by hustling to track down a rebound off a Brouwer breakaway on a second period man advantage. Brouwer, serving as assistant captain with Mike Green’s absence, made a nifty toe drag to split two Devils players and then forced Brodeur to make an acrobatic save on his backhand. The veteran goaltender was good with the stop, but couldn’t recover in time to prevent Perreault’s subsequent shot.
Things were looking up for the Capitals when the Devils took another ill-timed penalty a minute after Perreault’s goal. That atmosphere was dampened just 20 seconds in the power play, when Adam Henrique stripped John Carlson of the puck behind Washington’s net and initiated a passing sequence with Patrik Elias that ended with the New Jersey veteran depositing a quick pass into a wide open goal as three Caps players overcommitted to Henrique with the puck.
Despite allowing the shorthanded marker, Washington bounced right back with a strong offensive sequence, keeping the puck in New Jersey’s end for the remainder of the power play until Ribeiro’s weak wrist shot from the high slot beat Brodeur five-hole with Backstrom providing the screen.
If Washington could take anything away from Thursday night’s game, it would be that second period, even with the shorthanded goal allowed. In the second frame, the Caps scored two goals, allowed one goal, committed zero penalties, and recorded 12 shots on net while only allowing nine against Holtby. Over the other combined 40 minutes of game play, Washington was outscored 2-0, was outshot 28-7, and committed seven minor penalties while only drawing three.
The third period in particular was Adam Oates’s squad’s undoing. Andrei Loktionov tied the game off a faceoff in Washington’s end, parking himself on the weak side post where he was in perfect position to deposit the rebound from Adam Larsson’s lengthy shot past an outstretched Holtby. Two minutes and two Caps penalties later, Kovalchuk’s slapshot put the Devils ahead for good. It was the second 3-on-5 penalty kill for Washington in the frame; the first one was actually a stacked sequence with three minors which the Caps killed successfully. The second time around didn’t end nearly as well.
Washington’s final opportunity, a beautiful Ribeiro one-timer set up by a touch passing sequence between Ovechkin and Perreault that missed the net entirely, broke the glass behind Brodeur’s net. Much like an earlier breakaway miss by Ovechkin, it was representative of the Capitals’ entire game: too much physicality, and not enough precision.