Newark, N.J —Don’t know if was the pre-celebration of Travis Zajac who the Devils presented a silver stick before the game for playing his 1,000th game last weekend or the short time off the ice. But whatever it was, the Devils was off their game today.
The Caps broke out of the gate for three goals in the first-period, from Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong, and Lars Eller respectively, and held off the slumping Devils the rest of the way to claim its fifth victory in its last seven games (5-1-1).
“I liked the start, first of all,” said Washington coach Peter Laviolette. “It was an early game in that 12, 12:30, 1 o’clock time slot. We hadn’t jumped out of the gate, so that was nice to see, that we were on point to start. I thought we defended pretty well; goaltender Vitek Vanecek made some pretty big saves when we needed them.
Hathaway got the Caps rolling scoring at 3:36, hitting Justin Schultz with a great cross-ice pass into a wide-open net.
Sprong was a late addition to the lineup when Evgeny Kuznetsov couldn’t go because of an upper body injury – deflected it behind Devils’ goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, making it a 2-0 game at 5:06.
Eller scored in his second straight game, capping a 3-on-1 break. Conor Sheary used Alex Ovechkin as a decoy on the rush to set up the Dane’s fourth goal of the season. It would be all the offense the Caps needed for the afternoon.
Hathaway said the success is paying off because of all the players buying in and understanding the system.
“When guys aren’t wasting time or energy or thinking too much, that’s when we anticipate the play and then you see that work ethic take over in a battle, beating guys to the puck. I think that’s what creates our offense a lot too.”
New Jersey came out sluggish offensively in the first, but they got on the board on a late power play. Jack Hughes won a left dot draw back to P.K. Subban at the point, and Subban smashed a drive off the back wall and right to Nico Hischier, who slipped it passed Vanecek at 18:16 of the first.
“I think Pittsburgh Thursday was maybe our best game of the season and today we finally came out with a really good start, we were on our toes, all four lines were going,” Eller said. “I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen here lately, but especially the last two games more so maybe, and then the last five, seven or so.”
The Devils closed to within a goal at 6:09 of the second, making it a 3-2 game when Pavel Zacha scored from the slot on one of the NJ few looks from the middle of the ice on the afternoon.
Midpoint of the third, the Caps got a insurance goal when Carlson sprung Jakub Vrana on a breakaway. Vrana beat Blackwood at 11:09 to make it 4-2.
Nic Dowd’s empty-netter in the final minute of the contest made it 5-2, the Caps’ second straight victory by that score.
“Obviously we weren’t ready to play,” says Devils coach Lindy Ruff. “We weren’t ready to compete. We turned a lot of pucks over, and it looked like we wanted to be a little bit of a fancy team because our wall battles weren’t great to start the game. But I thought the last 40 minutes, that’s the team I like to see. But a totally unacceptable first 20 minutes.”
The Devils have lost four of its five games. Mackenzie Blackwood had 19 saves as New Jersey opened a five-game home-stand.
The Devils presented C Travis Zajac a silver stick before the game for playing his 1,000th game last weekend. New Jersey reassigned D Connor Carrick from the taxi squad to Binghamton (AHL) and recalled D Matt Tennyson from Binghamton to the taxi squad. Carlsson picked up two assists and is now three shy of 500 points. Backstrom remains one assist shy of 700.
UP NEXT: The teams are back at the Prudential Center for a 3 p.m. game on Sunday.