WASHINGTON – If the Washington Capitals' goal was to show that they're better than the team that lost in the first round of the playoffs last spring after winning the Presidents' Trophy, consider Saturday night's 7-2 win against the New Jersey Devils as "Mission Accomplished."
Alex Ovechkin scored twice in a four-goal second period as the Capitals chased Martin Brodeur and evened their record at 1-1-0 by winning their home opener and routing one of the teams they figure to battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I think we did make a statement," forward Mike Knuble said. "I think we showed we're not the same team we were last year. We have some different personnel. We can do it on the scoreboard and we have guys who can respond when it gets physical. It is good to see."
Brodeur is the NHL's all-time leader in wins, but he yielded five goals on 20 shots and did not return for the third period. He's allowed nine goals in 102 minutes as the Devils dropped their second straight contest to start the season.
Brodeur yielded five goals only four times last season and never gave up nine in back-to-back appearances.
"It's just a couple of bounces there," coach John MacLean said. "The [first] Ovechkin goal bounced before it went it. It was a team effort – it wasn't just one guy."
Goaltending may be the least of the concerns in New Jersey as the Devils lost for the second time in as many outings to open the season. Because of salary cap concerns the Devils are only carrying 20 players on their roster, and New Jersey could be without three of them for their next contest Monday afternoon against Pittsburgh.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov left the game in the first period with a broken nose after taking a shot in the face and did not return. Forward Brian Rolston also missed much of the third period, and the status of both players is uncertain for Monday.
After a third period that saw five fights, the third guy who could be missing is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. He jumped Washington rookie Marcus Johansson and earned an instigator and game misconduct penalties, as well as a fighting major.
Because the infractions came in the final five minutes, MacLean will be fined $10,000 and Letourneau-Leblond could receive a one-game suspension pending a League review. Given how close New Jersey is to the salary cap ceiling, the Devils may not be able to add reinforcements and have to play with less than 20 players against the Penguins.
An incensed Washington coach Bruce Boudreau stood on his team's bench and yelled at MacLean after the incident.
"I was just mad – the guy went out there and he was going to grab the first guy he saw," Boudreau said. "I thought it was great the way our team stood and protected each other, but I mean that just dumb."
Added Knuble: "I hadn't seen that in a while – a tough guy going after somebody like [Johansson]. I don't know if he's trying to validate his purpose or what. Guys get wound up a little different, but to me he just lost his marbles a little bit."
The Capitals trailed 2-1 before they reeled off six straight goals prior to the fisticuffs for a comfortable victory one night after a lackluster 4-2 loss in Atlanta to open the season.
Washington took control with a four-goal outburst in the middle period. Alexander Semin fed Tomas Fleischmann for a one-timer 1:59 into the second to knot the score at 2-2.
Ovechkin's first tally came at 14:31 and put Washington ahead to stay. He cut inside on New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene in the left circle and beat Brodeur just inside the near post. Knuble was causing a disturbance in front of the net and the puck hit something on the way in.
Jason Chimera came out of the penalty box, received a cross-ice pass from Fleischmann and ripped a shot past Brodeur from the left circle to make it 4-2 with 1:35 remaining in the period. Ovechkin converted a penalty shot 47 seconds later after he created a breakaway opportunity by knocking the puck forward out of the air with his glove and then winning the race before being hauled down.
Johan Hedberg replaced Brodeur to start the third period, but his first appearance with his new team didn't get off to a very good start. Hedberg skated out of his crease to meet the puck with his team on the power play, but Brooks Laich knocked down his outlet pass and was able to slide it into the open net for a shorthanded tally.
Eric Fehr added a power-play goal midway through the final period to finish the onslaught.
"Those nights are going to happen," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "It's a little shocking to happen tonight. We came out ready to play. We jumped out early like we wanted to. Then they came back to answer right away. We played a solid first period and a solid start to the second, and then just got away from it a little bit."
Jason Arnott gave the Devils a quick lead. Johansson made an ill-advised pass into the middle of the ice that was picked off by Patrick Elias. Arnott was near the left post to put home the rebound of Langenbrunner's shot at 1:49 of the opening period.
John Carlson evened the score 35 seconds later when he collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated into the New Jersey zone and ripped a wrist shot from the high slot into the top right corner. Brodeur was slow to react to because of a screen by Devils defenseman Mark Fraser.
New Jersey regained the lead with a shorthanded goal at 13:44. Semin came out of the box for the Washington to give the Capitals a man advantage, but the Devils maintained possession of the puck and took advantage of some lazy defensive work. Travis Zajac sent a pass from behind the net to Dainius Zubrus at the top of the left circle, and he left it there for Henrik Tallinder to blast a shot past Neuvirth to make it 2-1.
Neuvirth was stout after that, earning his 12th career NHL victory – only 590 behind Brodeur.
If these two teams do end up battling for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, this contest could add a bit of spice to their forthcoming matchups. They next meet Nov. 22 at Prudential Center.
"I hope not, but it is hockey," Boudreau said when asked if this could spill over to the next meeting. "It is up to them. I know when we beat the Bruins [10-3] two years ago and the first shift in the first two seconds [the next time] two fights went down. I don't anticipate it, but you can never tell what goes on in this game."