The New Jersey Devils headed to Washington, D.C. riding a two-game winning streak on the road — a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and a 4-3 win at the Philadelphia Flyers. They had the momentum they needed but ended up dropping both games on back-to-back nights facing the Washington Capitals. Let’s talk about what happened on March 25 and March 26 with some takeaways from this series.
The Devils Need More Shots
The shots on goal (SOG) were pretty even on the first night. The Devils actually outshot Washington 24-22, but the shots the next night were 31-24 Caps. Considering they were shutout on Friday, more shots could have helped get a few in the back of the net. Miles Wood led the team with seven shots over both games and was the only Devil to have three or more in both as well.
Wood led with four shots on Thursday, then Nick Merkley and Dmitri Kulikov with three apiece and Yegor Sharangovich and P.K. Subban with two each. The Devils started off well with 11 shots in the first period, with Washington only banking four, but it started to even out as the game went on. Although no one team toppled over the other in quantity, the Capitals seemed to have a lot more shots in front of the net, while New Jersey’s shots came more from further out and from the sides of the net. More shots in front would have benefitted and created a better chance of winning this back-and-forth game.
The shots reflected the outcome of Friday’s game in this back-to-back series. There were only five Devils with multiple shots, and only Wood and Subban had more than two. The only consistent shots came from these two over both games, but the team needs more shots overall than that. Washington was all over the net with the shots again, yet the Devils again had more towards the point and less in front of the net. More shots mean more scoring chances; it could have made the extra difference on Thursday and could have put New Jersey in the game Friday. With more than half the season over, they cannot afford to lose many more games if they want to try to make the playoffs.
Young Players Dominating Once Again
With the exception of Wood’s goal and Damon Severson’s assist on Thursday, every Devil to notch a point was 23 years old or younger. March 20 was Merkley’s first game back after being called up from Binghamton, over a month since he last played in the NHL, and since he has a goal and 13 shots in five games. He started the scoring on that first night, a backhand just a little over a minute into the game.
Janne Kuokkanen got his 11th assist of the season on Wood’s second-period goal, along with Severson. New Jersey’s third goal of the night came from 22-year-old Jesper Bratt on the power play, his third of the season. The Devils point leaders, Pavel Zacha and young star Ty Smith, each added an assist on that goal to give Smith his 16th and Zacha his 12th.
The effort from the team’s younger class has really made the difference this season. They are all contributing, and it is ultimately bringing the Devils to more wins. Looking at the few games before the Capitals series and the entire season so far in general, you will see there are always at least a few younger players making plays and racking up points. Thursday night’s game was another showing of that.
Wood Is Continuing to Lead
He’s been having a standout season and was easily one of, if not the best Devil in this series. He accounted for almost 15 percent of their total 48 shots over the two days and also added a goal to his agenda. His consistent speed and working hard for chances have really paid off not just in this series but this season.
Wood scored his tenth goal of the season on the 25th, putting him in seventh on the team in points with 14. He was the most noticeable Devil, in my opinion. Always driving to the net got him all those shots and all those chances, and he is only improving as the season goes on. This series was just another example of the talent he is producing this season, something that will hopefully continue on. But for this series, he most definitely led.
On to Boston
There was some to improve on with this back-to-back, but it is behind them now. The Devils are now in the middle of a series with the Boston Bruins, in which they ended their two-game losing streak Sunday with a 1-0 win. As their next one of the two-game series is Tuesday night, they look to improve their road record just a bit more before heading home to face Washington twice again.
Sam is currently Managing Editor, and used to be Sports Editor, of The Montclarion, Montclair State University’s student-run multimedia newspaper. She’ll be earning her Sports Media and Journalism degree from there in Spring 2021. A hockey fan since she was a young girl, she covers the Montclair State men’s team as well as the Metropolitan Riveters and New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers.