Four games into the abbreviated regular season, the Washington Capitals are still winless after dropping a 3-2 result Friday night on the road against the New Jersey Devils.
With nothing to lose after a 0-3-0 start, Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates made wholesale changes to his roster for Friday night’s tilt against the Devils. All four forward lines consisted of never-before-seen combinations, the usually steady shutdown defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson were broken up, and right wing Eric Fehr and defenseman John Erskine saw action for the first time this season while Roman Hamrlik, Tom Poti, and Mathieu Perreault were healthy scratches.
It didn’t work.
After falling behind by a margin of 2-0, the Capitals scored twice in the final eight minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime and earn their first point of the season. Despite killing off a penalty in the extra session, an exhausted scamble in the defensive end with seconds to play left star Devils wing Ilya Kovalchuk open to hammer home a rebound with 21 seconds to play to earn his team a victory.
Mike Green scored a goal and added an assist, while Mike Ribeiro also scored and Joel Ward added his first assist of the season.
Special teams was once again Washington’s downfall, as the Caps were 1-of-9 with the man advantage – and requiring a 5-on-3 to score that one – while allowing the Devils two power play goals on six attempts. The result would have been far worse if not for an all-star caliber effort by goaltender Michal Neuvirth, whose 32 saves included 12 on the PK and seven in the overtime session.
Washington fell behind in the first period due to some poor defensive positioning and a bad instance of puck luck. A turnover in the defensive zone sent Devils forwards Josef Josefson and Stephen Gionta on a two-on-one against Washington’s Tomas Kundratek. A back-checking Troy Brouwer collided with Josefson and Kundratek, whose poke check attempt slid the puck directly on Gionta’s stick. The diminutive forward buried the puck between Neuvirth’s legs as defenseman John Carlson’s languid backcheck left the New Jersey player unpressured.
A series of ill-timed penalties in the second period put Washington on a two-man disadvantage, and New Jersey took full advantage. Veteran forward Patrick Elias was camped out on the left post in perfect position for the rebound off David Clarkson’s shot, hammering it into the open net before Neuvirth could recover.
Elias’s goal was the eighth power play goal allowed by Washington through four games, worst in the NHL. So far this season the Caps are only killing penalties at a 67% rate.
However, Friday night the 5-on-3 giveth as well as taketh away, and Washington’s Mike Ribeiro broke New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur’s shutout streak on the Caps’ first two-man advantage of the season. The Devils actually had three concurrent minor penalties due to a pair of bench minors shortly after an Andy Greene tripping penalty, and all told committed five minor infractions over the final 13:21 of regulation.
In search of bodies in front of the net Oates sent out a forward line of Ribeiro, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer for the power play to accompany Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green on the points. Taking their time to set up the perfect shot, the Caps moved the puck confidently as Green fed Ward in his usual spot at the front of the net. Rather than taking a shot, Ward dished across the face of the net to Ribeiro on the opposite post, and the recent acquisition had the entirety of the goal yawning at him for a shot.
Green’s initial pass was the catalyst for his team’s first goal, and it was again Green’s offense that knotted the game at two apiece. With Ward again crashing the net and Ovechkin drawing New Jersey’s attention, Green took a pass at the blue line and blasted a slap shot on net. His attempt was blocked by a Devils player, but rather than immediately getting back on defense Green wisely held his ground and snared a poor clearing attempt, sending a second shot low to the ground and to the opposite side of the net where it beat Brodeur cleanly with just 2:56 left in regulation.
Washington held off the Devils’ attack for the remainder of the third period to earn their first point of the game, and had several opportunities in overtime to earn the win. They also successfully killed off a rare overtime penalty when Green was whistled for interference. Neuvirth made some of his best saves of the game during the 4-on-3 situation, including two stops on Kovalchuk and one on Elias after one of Washington’s three penalty killers, Jay Beagle, broke his stick.
It was the Capitals’ last attempt, ironically, that was their downfall with seconds left in overtime. Ovechkin rushed the puck into New Jersey’s end but turned it over and had to hustle back into his own end to catch up with the Devils attack. He overplayed the puck after catching entering the defensive zone, creating the scramble that resulted in a wide open Kovalchuk on the far post for the game winner.