For the most part, Washington's quick two-game road trip up I-95 got off on the good foot, as the late, great James Brown might have put it. The Caps downed the Devils - who were one of just two teams with unblemished records coming into Friday night's action - by a 5-2 count at Prudential Center in Newark.
T. J. Oshie scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom turned in a four-point night, the Caps scored three power-play goals, they played a more disciplined game and managed the puck better than they have in any game thus far in this young season. And for most of the first 40 minutes, the game was almost exactly what you'd hope for in the front end of a set of back-to-back games.
Video: Backstrom, Oshie lead Caps to 5-2 win against Devils
But the Caps also lost defenseman Matt Niskanen to an upper body injury late in the second period. He did not return to the game, and more information as to his status and his potential availability for Saturday's game against the Flyers in Philadelphia is unknown, at least until Saturday morning. Losing Niskanen for any length of time would be a significant blow to the Caps' defense.
"First of all," says Backstrom of Friday's win, "we managed the puck a little bit better, and we dumped the puck a little bit smarter - to ourselves. When we do that, you get a good forecheck and you're going to create turnovers and create chances from that. That was something we did really good today, and we created a lot of chances from that."
The Caps turned in a strong first frame, taking just one minor penalty and continually making it difficult for the Devils to exit their own zone. It was one such instance that led to the Caps scoring the game's first goal.
Backstrom picked the pocket of Devils defenseman John Moore high in the New Jersey zone, then fed Oshie who quickly ripped it home from the slot for a 1-0 lead at 14:49 of the first.
Alex Ovechkin continued his hot start with a power-play goal from his office in the second, taking a pass from Backstrom and casually slinging it past Devils goaltender Cory Schneider for a 2-0 Washington lead at 8:01 of the second period.
Late in the second, New Jersey's Taylor Hall cut the Caps' lead in half when he finished a neat passing play from Kyle Palmieri on a Devils power play, making it a 2-1 game with 3:32 left.
The Caps responded quickly with what would prove to be the game-winning goal in the final minute of the middle frame. From the right half wall, Evgeny Kuznetsov made a short pass to Devante Smith-Pelly in the right circle. Smith-Pelly fired it toward the net, and Jakub Vrana redirected it past Schneider at 19:00 of the second, restoring the Caps' two-goal lead.
"It was a great job by Devo there, and I just tried to deflect it," recounts Vrana. "Maybe the first one coming in will give me some confidence, and hopefully it's going to help me going forward."
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | October 13
Vrana's first of the season loomed even larger when Palmieri scored a pretty goal in the first minute of the third, slicing the Washington lead back down to a single goal. Damon Severson made a great pass from his own end to spring Palmieri into Washington ice, with a step on the three white sweaters in pursuit. Palmieri then finished with a high backhander just 53 seconds after the outset of the third period.
Things got a little strange from this point onward.
Palmieri was sent to the box for interference just 34 seconds after scoring his goal, and while the Caps were on the power play, Dmitry Orlov went back to his own end of the ice to retrieve a puck from the corner. Before he could do so, he received a reckless shove from behind from Devils center Blake Coleman, sending Orlov awkwardly into the end wall legs first.
Washington winger Andre Burakovsky picked this moment to spark his first NHL fight with Coleman, getting an instigator and a 10-minute misconduct as well.
"That's awesome," gushes Oshie. "I think for us, that's the highlight of the game is Burky stepping in there, protecting Orly, protecting your teammates. It's nice when you see a young guy like him step in. we definitely don't want him doing it every night; he's very valuable to us. But when you see a guy step up like that, I think that's important for the team morale. It shows what kind of guy he is."
Less than two minutes after that bit of excitement, New Jersey's Pavel Zacha performed some inadvertent stick dentistry on Washington's Lars Eller, incurring a double-minor for hi-sticking in the process.
The Caps flashed some killer instinct at this juncture, making good on both ends of the power play to remove any thoughts the Devils might have had about the possibility of their first 4-0-0 start in more than two decades.
First, Oshie ripped a laser of a shot from the diamond that beat Schneider at 5:26, and then Backstrom notched his second of the season at 7:02 to complete the scoring for the night.
It did not, however, complete the entertainment for the night.
Skating in just his second shift after being sprung from the box following his bout with Burakovsky, Coleman unwisely took exception to a clean Tom Wilson hit on New Jersey's Andy Greene, and Wilson made him pay with a flurry of fistic fury.
The Caps then killed off a couple of late penalties, showered, and hopped on a bus for Philadelphia where they'll finish off a rugged season-opening stretch of six games in 10 nights, with four of them coming on the road in three separate trips.
"I thought our game was pretty good," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "There is a real good team across the hall there and I thought we managed the puck a little bit better, we had good commitment from our forwards and I thought it was a pretty good team effort. We managed to jam them up a little bit when we needed to and we bent a little bit, but didn't break."