Outplayed by the New Jersey Devils, the Washington Capitals’ winning run was snapped at two games on Sunday evening. Peter Laviolette’s side, undone by two goals within the first eight minutes of play, fell in a 4-3 overtime defeat at Capital One Arena, a loss that sees their record slip to 20-6-8 through 34 games.
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Although John Carlson halved the Capitals’ deficit by burying a shot at four-on-four in the final seconds of period one, it wasn’t enough to spark the Capitals into life through the following 40 minutes. Without star forwards T.J Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom through illness, the home side struggled to establish an offensive foothold as Jack Hughes played a starring role for the Devils.
With the Capitals fixtureless until Friday [Jan. 8], it’s the perfect time to consider three takeaways from Washington’s uninspiring defeat to the Devils.
Missed Chances Will Haunt the Capitals
Offensively, it was a frustrating night for Laviolette’s men, who found it difficult to break down their well-drilled opponents. Although the quality of the Devils’ defensive performance was a significant factor in the Capitals’ attacking malaise, the home side lacked their usual fizz in the offensive zone on Sunday. With the Devils’ forwards backchecking quickly to their blue line throughout, the Capitals were often bogged-down on their path to the net – and were outshot as a result.
Even with Dougie Hamilton taken out of the game – he took a puck to the face in the first period and didn’t return to the ice; the Devils were rarely troubled by their hosts. However, when their defense was breached, the Capitals failed to make an impact.
A pair of clear-cut shorthanded chances went begging for the Capitals in the opening frame, with Mackenzie Blackwood making a key post-to-post stop five minutes into the third from Garnet Hathaway.
Moreover, Alex Ovechkin, who became the NHL’s all-time leading power-play goal-scorer last time out, was largely anonymous versus the Devils. However, the Russian did throw his body around in an attempt to spark his teammates into life.
That the Capitals’ first goal of the night came at four-on-four, with the ice at its quietest and their opponents unable to clog up the blue line, is telling. It was a poor night for Washington, and the less said about Lars Eller’s overtime miss, the better.
Devils’ Physicality a Significant Factor in Washington’s Loss
With behemoth forward Alexi Protas reassigned to the Hershey Bears, the Capitals comprehensively lost their physical battle versus the Devils on Sunday. New Jersey’s physicality was a significant factor during the opening frame. The traveling side won the bulk of puck battles in all three zones to swing momentum in their favor early on. The situation didn’t improve for Washington in the second period, as they were outshot 12-4 in the middle frame by the visitors.
However, the Capitals’ lack of physical presence in front of Blackwood’s net was most damaging to Laviolette’s plans. Although no team has conceded more goals from rebounds than the Devils this term, the Capitals were largely toothless around the net.
Capitals’ Late Rally Partly Redeems Poor Display
That said, Washington’s resurgence in the second half of the final period should dampen some of the criticism leveled at their performance.
Nic Dowd’s third-period goal was an example of the Capitals’ exceptional skill, with his backhand-forehand effort illustrating the hosts’ quality around the net. Conor Sheary’s game-tying goal, an absolute gift from Blackwood, served as a reminder of Washington’s spirit – this is a team capable of taking points on nights when they were overwise off the boil.
However, the Capitals’ fightback was only possible because of Ilya Samsonov’s virtuoso performance between the pipes. When his teammates were performing poorly, the Russian was at his sharpest and made save after save to keep them within touching distance.
Unfortunately, Samsonov’s performance wasn’t enough, with Nico Hischier skating into the night as the game-winner instead. Though the Devils 4-3 OT win in D.C. provides another example of the Capitals’ weakness in the final frame, it was a game the visitors should’ve had sown up in regulation. On a disappointing night for home fans at Capital One Arena, their side grabbed a point when they deserved none.
Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.