Tonight the Devils found a way to win a sloppy hockey game. Special teams proved the difference for both teams. New Jersey’s penalty trouble in the second period allowed Washington to take control of the contest. Fortune turned against the Capitals in the third period as New Jersey found themselves with quality chances on the man advantage. The Devils best players came through to claim the 3-2 victory tonight in the first of two straight games at the Verizon Center.
“It wasn’t textbook, there’s a lot of things we need to work on, but we found a way to win against a very desperate team,” said head coach Peter DeBoer, whose team improved to 10-3-4 on the season, and moved into a tie for first in the conference with Montreal.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s one timer from the point on the Devils two-man advantage proved to be the game-winner in the third period. He was all over the ice tonight, hustling at the ends of long shifts, playing hard on and off the puck. He played a total 28:58.
DeBoer on Kovalchuk’s goal: “A great player found a way to make a great play.”
After the team struggled on a 5-on-3 man-advantage, it seemed a loss to the Capitals was in the works. Andrei Loktionov changed the Devils fortunes. On the ensuing face-off, the 22-year old center won the face-off back to Adam Larsson, who took a few strides forward before sending a shot on goal. Goaltender Brandon Holtby made the save, but the rebound kicked off his left pad to the vacant Loktionov on the side of the net. He shot it on the empty net, tying the game at two with 9:19 left in the contest.
“I scored a goal and I think it will help me to play the next game better and better and feel more comfortable,” said Loktionov, who played in his second game as a Devil following being called up by the team on Sunday. “I’m so glad to score a goal. It was a very important goal too.”
DeBoer helped generate the spark by changing up the lines in the third period. He put the young Russian center between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Stephen Gionta. Afterwards, the head coach explained:
“In the second period I thought we got out of our game. We didn’t have a lot going. I thought we needed a little bit of a spark so we were just moving people around trying to spark something and he (Loktionov) did a good job of taking advantage of his opportunity.
“It’s a big goal. He made some good plays. He gave us a real good contribution tonight.”
Washington started to pour on the pressure as they trailed for the first time all game. New Jersey stayed aggressive, moving the puck out of the zone and kept the attack going. The Devils did get lucky towards the end of it.
With under a minute left in the game, Washington kept the puck in the zone at the blue line. With numbers down low, the puck made its way to Alexander Ovechkin on the left wing side, but he passed it to a breaking Mike Ribero at the top of the slot. The veteran’s shot went past the outstretched Martin Brodeur (17 saves) over the net, breaking a panel of glass. The game would be delayed for a short time, with 55.6 seconds remaining. The Devils would preserve the lead and hold on for the win.
There were some questionable calls against both teams (Andy Greene’s phantom trip on Ovechkin in the first period and Tom Poti’s interference call on David Clarkson, which set up the 5-on-3 that the Devils would score on), but they fought on. It seemed like it would be another disappointing night like Monday’s game against Ottawa. Yet the Devils fought back, kept plugging away, and were rewarded with two points.
The game within the game tonight was Kovalchuk vs. Ovechkin. Both Russian stars stepped up their game where the best players turned the tide. Ovechkin looked reminiscent of his old self, powering through the offensive zone, generating chances and forcing the Devils defenders to take penalties. Kovalchuk was not as explosive, but showed the patience and two-way game that he’s developed during his time with New Jersey. The Capitals were heads up whenever the puck was on his stick. Eventually, a clean pass by Patrick Elias (1 goal, 1 assist) set up Kovalchuk’s point shot that beat Holtby blocker side.
Still, DeBoer has some adjustments to make for Saturday’s rematch against the Adam Oates led team. The penalty kill continues to struggle, surrendering 10 goals in the past 8 games. It has hampered the team, resulting in the difference between 2,1, or no points in these last five games. The Devils also need to tighten up defensively. Tallinder did not have a strong game tonight. His turnover on the blue line led to the penalty, along with his missed check on Brouwner, which resulted in the Capitals first goal. New Jersey also outshot Washington 37-19, but failed to convert on some quality chances. The Devils failed to score more than one goal against Ottawa, allowing them to come back and steal two points on Monday night.
“You don’t want to keep sliding,” Elias said. “It’s going to happen. You’re not going to play perfect. You’re going to go through times when the team game is not there. You just have to find a way. By no means was it a perfect game. We did some good things, but some bad things, too. We’re happy with the two points but we have to be better.”
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia