The best thing one can say about Monday's Capitals-Devils preseason opener in Newark is that it's over. And that would be true regardless of who won and what the score was.
New Jersey prevailed 4-1 in a dog's breakfast of a hockey game, even considering this was the first preseason tune-up for both sides. Whistles - 20 of them, 10 on each side - for minor penalties blemished the contest virtually from opening puck drop. The festival of infractions started 19 seconds after opening puck drop, and the last penalty was called with just 92 seconds remaining in the game.
All those penalties - six of them for slashing and three for face-off violations - and all those power plays produced precisely zero power-play goals and one shorthanded strike.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | September 18
"We had a couple of scrimmages [earlier in camp]," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "and there were some guys who were practicing and scrimmaging and you said to yourself, 'I think [this player] should show more.' Some of those guys showed more [on Monday], and some guys who looked well in the scrimmages and the practices didn't show very well [Monday night]."
Caps winger Nathan Walker, one of several young job hopefuls in the Washington lineup on Monday night, staked his team to an early 1-0 lead at 4:26 of the first when he netted the aforementioned shorthanded goal, a put-back of the rebound of a Lars Eller shot.
Video: WSH@NJD: Walker buries rebound to tally SHG
The Capitals weathered a slew of first-period penalty killing missions - including a two-man disadvantage of 39 seconds in duration - and nursed that 1-0 lead into the game's first intermission.
New Jersey took control in the middle stanza when it took advantage of some sloppy puck play from the Capitals to score three goals on 17 shots. Mirco Mueller tied it just 99 seconds into the second, the only goal the Devils managed on Caps starting netminder Braden Holtby. Mueller's goal came after New Jersey center Joseph Blandisi won a draw back to Mueller at the left point and the defenseman let one fly from there.
Video: Caps 365 | September 18
Stefan Noesen netted the go-ahead goal at 11:33 of the second, just over a minute after Vitek Vanecek came on in relief of Holtby. Kyle Palmieri's goal with seconds remaining in the period was a deflator; it sent the Caps to the room down two instead of down by just one after 40 minutes of play.
"We got away from our game a little bit," laments Trotz. "We were okay in the first; we had to kill a lot of penalties. The second period, you've got to manage the puck in the second period and I don't know how many times we just threw it to a dead spot and we were caught on the backside a little bit."
Video: WSH Recap: Offense stalls in 4-1 loss to Devils
Eighteen-year-old Swiss rookie Nico Hischier, the first player chosen in the 2017 NHL Draft, put the frosting on the cake for the Devils with his first NHL preseason goal with 4:14 left in the third. Hischier picked Kevin Elgestal's pocket near the Washington line, then he scooted to the net, deked, and lit the lamp with a backhander from in tight.
When it was all said and done, just over 35 minutes of the game was played at five-on-five, which can make it difficult for coaches and scouts to evaluate young job hopefuls.
More than half of the skaters in Washington's Monday night lineup are competing for open job opportunities with the Caps this fall, but the opener against the Devils didn't offer much flow and it produced an inordinate amount of special teams play. But the Caps as a group were also fairly sloppy in Newark; passes weren't crisp or leading, and too often they were unreachable or in the skates rather than on the tape of the intended receivers.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | September 18
"We had some guys who didn't have some of their better games," observes Trotz, "trying to do too much one-on-one. You look at all of the goals [against] - turnover, turnover, turnover - and it was just trying to beat guys one-on-one or not managing the puck."
Trotz noted that some of his veteran players weren't as good as he would have liked, and he singled out forwards Travis Boyd and Beck Malenstyn as two players who did impress him. The Caps coach also had praise for Holtby, who was sharp in his first outing, an outing that included a fair amount of duress.
The Caps get back at it on Wednesday in Montreal when they take on the Canadiens in the second of seven preseason games for the fall of 2017.