On Thursday night at Verizon Center, the Caps suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils in a game in which they teed up 78 shot tries, got 44 on net, and killed off four New Jersey power plays. Washington's to-do list for Saturday's rematch against the Devils in Newark went something like this: score more goals, stay out of the penalty box, and win the game.
Two out of three ain't bad.
Video: Caps' offense dominates in 6-2 win
Despite facing - and successfully snuffing out - nine penalty killing missions in the game, the Caps got six even-strength goals from six different skaters spread across all four lines, and they trounced the Devils, 6-2. Philipp Grubauer stopped 21 of 23 shots in the Washington nets to improve to 6-1-1 on the season.
"Our penalty kill was outstanding tonight," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Our [defense] corps with our penalty killers did an outstanding job, and we got momentum off of it. When the game was in doubt, our penalty killers held strong, got it done and we got some momentum off that.
"As soon as we killed off those back-to-back penalties, we scored a goal and then we scored another goal. I thought the [penalty kill] was the big difference and Grubi made some key saves when the game was tight.
The Caps got on the board first, with the Lars Eller line scoring on its first shift of the game. After a regroup, Brooks Orpik threaded a feed up the right wing wall for Andre Burakovsky at the New Jersey line. Burakovsky gained the zone while linemate Brett Connolly made a beeline for the net on the back door side. Burakovsky fed Connolly perfectly, and the latter chipped the puck past Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid for a 1-0 Washington lead at 2:36.
Connolly's goal put a punctuation mark on a very strong shift all around and set a tone for how the Caps would play during those relatively rare times when they were playing with the full complement of five skaters.
"They've had really good jump the last couple of games," says Trotz of the Eller trio. "That line has got some juice to it. It set the tone."
Video: Trotz talks after New Years Eve 6-2 #CapsDevils win
Seconds after the Connolly goal, there was a scary sequence in the New Jersey end of the ice. Caps winger Tom Wilson checked Devils defenseman John Moore as the blueliner was playing the puck behind the New Jersey net. Wilson shouldered Moore just above the numeral on his back, and the defenseman went face first into the boards. He was not able to get up and off the ice under his own power and was stretchered off and taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
"First off, it's probably one of the worst things in hockey to see a guy go down like that," says Wilson. "You never want to see that. I'm going in on the forecheck. His back is to me, so I tried to let up a little bit. I wasn't trying to finish my check and I kind of rubbed him out. I honestly wasn't aware he had gone down until I looked back. That play happens an awful lot in hockey over pucks. I don't know if he couldn't get his hands up to protect himself or whatever, but it was obviously not my intent. I'm wishing him the best."
Video: Wilson, Niskanen, Connolly, Grubauer on 6-2 victory
Soon after play started back up, the Caps started what has become too much of a ritual of late, a parade to the penalty box. Washington took five minor penalties in the first, facing four New Jersey power plays in the span of 14 minutes and 34 seconds as a result.
Fortunately for the Caps, their penalty killing outfit has been at the top of its game for a couple months now. That was the case again in the first frame of Saturday's game as the Caps limited the Devils to three power-play shots on goal in 5:14 worth of extra-man time. Even better, the Caps held the Devils to just two shots on net during the even strength portion of the first period.
With just under a minute left in the first, the Caps doubled their lead. Orpik floated a shot toward the net from center point, and Caps center Jay Beagle neatly deflected it behind Kinkaid for a 2-0 Washington advantage.
The Caps killed off the carryover portion of their last penalty of the first, but they were whistled for three more minors before the middle period was halfway over. The Devils also incurred some penalties, and at one point in the second period the two sides played 63 seconds with just three skaters on the ice for each side.
New Jersey's Kyle Palmieri beat Grubauer during that three-on-three stretch, shortening the Washington lead to 2-1 at that point. But it stayed close only as long as the Caps were occupying the visitors' penalty box at Prudential Center.
Less than a minute after the sides returned (briefly) to playing five-on-five, the Caps restored their two-goal cushion when T.J. Oshie banged home a rebound from the slot at 11:05.
Thirty-three seconds after Oshie's goal, Alex Ovechkin took a favorable bounce off the back wall and tucked it behind Kinkaid to make it a 4-1 game.
Some 37 seconds after Ovechkin's goal, Justin Williams was sent to the box for holding the stick. Just over two minutes after he served that sentence, Williams drove by the front of the net and tipped a Matt Niskanen point shot past Kinkaid to make it a 5-1 game with 3:26 remaining in the second.
The third period consisted of garbage time for the most part, with Beau Bennett scoring on a deflection for the Devils at 14:52 and Marcus Johansson potting a pretty one just 35 seconds later when he finished from the top of the paint on a rush, thanks to a pair of good feeds from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Williams.
"We wanted to come back," says Connolly. "Obviously, we lost two in a row and there was not a really good feeling in the room. So we were excited about coming back and just having a good game, and we did that. A lot of guys had good games, and it was good to see."