Coffee is for closers, but even a silver-tongued salesman such as Ricky Roma would have been hard-pressed to find a drop of the precious brown bean water at Verizon Center on Thursday night. By the start of the second period of the game between the Capitals and the New Jersey Devils, there couldn't have been a drop of it remaining in the house.
Staying awake became a chore very early in the game for those of us in attendance on Thursday.
Video: Vrana scores lone goal to lift Capitals past Devils
The Caps and the New Jersey Devils combined to cure insomnia on Thursday, with Washington earning a 1-0 win in the process. The victory was the Capitals' 14th straight on home ice, establishing a franchise standard for consecutive home triumphs.
Jakub Vrana scored his first career Verizon Center goal on a Washington power play in the third period, and Braden Holtby stopped all 15 New Jersey shots to earn his eighth shutout of the season.
For more than two months now, the Caps have been thrilling the home crowds at Verizon Center. For 11 straight games during the life of the current 14-game home winning streak, the Capitals erupted for five or more goals, tying an NHL record set 46 years ago. But Thursday's game was not one of those free-flowing, high scoring affairs. Far from it.
"Tonight is more of a game that everyone thinks is out of the NHL," says Holtby. "It's like going back in time and playing the old Devils. I don't think we created too many hockey fans tonight, but we got a win."
Video: NJD@WSH: Vrana sweeps in loose puck for PPG
Vrana's goal came on Washington's third power play of the game, and it was an opportunistic tally. Evgeny Kuznetsov surveyed from the right half wall, swirling around the right circle looking for an option. He tried to thread a pass to Brett Connolly in the diamond, but the puck hit something in the maze of bodies in front and fell into the low slot. Vrana jumped off his spot near the right post and pounced on the puck in front, beating New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider for the only goal of the game at 7:21 of the third.
"I held my position on the power play," recounts Vrana, "and the puck bounced in front of me. I got space there, and I just go around the goalie and put it in the net."
Video: Caps players talk after a 1-0 win against New Jersey
The Devils were effective at gumming up the works in the neutral zone and in the middle of the ice, and somewhere, Jacques Lemaire was beaming. But the Capitals were every bit the Devils' equal at playing stultifying hockey in this one.
Caps coach Barry Trotz preaches frequently to his charges about playing the game that's presented to them, and finding a way to be comfortable and to prevail in any type of contest. The Caps succeeded in doing exactly that on Thursday, and in doing so, they established the aforementioned franchise record against the last team to beat them in the big barn on F St.
New Jersey's 2-1 shootout win (oh yeah, that one was quite the tilt, too) back on Dec. 29 marks the last time the Caps have tasted defeat at home. So even though the Devils are headed for a fifth straight season without making the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, they're capable of throwing a wrench on any given night, particularly on the road. New Jersey came into Thursday's game with a record of 8-1-1 in its previous 10 road contests.
Video: Coach Trotz on 1-0 victory over New Jersey
"It was the game that was presented," says Trotz. "[The Devils] did a really good job. We talked about how when you play the Devils - especially when they go on the road - they're probably a little stingier and a little more patient. They work very, very hard and they have a lot of structure.
"You have to sometimes play the game that's presented, and I thought they did a really good job of just playing solid defense. In the five-on-five, we didn't really generate a whole lot, but we didn't let them generate anything, either."
Washington beat the Devils at their own game. Although New Jersey spent a fair amount of time in the Caps' end of the ice, they were hard-pressed to create quality scoring chances and to get pucks on Holtby. The Caps got in the way of 24 New Jersey shots on the night, and Washington was also effective at clogging up passing lanes as well.
"I thought we spent lots of time in the offensive zone," says Devils coach John Hynes. "With our lineup where we have the speed, I thought our forecheck was very good. We spent time in the offensive zone and it wasn't easy for them to come up the ice, which was a big part of [our] defense."
New Jersey had one last good chance to tie or take the lead in the game when Connolly was whistled for a double minor for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct with 6:33 remaining. But even with a four-minute power play and a healthy amount of offensive zone time while Connolly was sweating it out in the box, the Devils managed only one shot on goal, a Kyle Palmieri shot that Holtby calmly gloved.
Video: Holtby earns Thursday's Pepsi Zero Sugar Shutout
"Obviously, it's a big point of the game," says Holtby. "But at that point of the game, it's not that bad. We're pretty confident in our penalty kill, and at that time we're trying to eat away minutes. So we feel comfortable getting clears, making it tough for them to come up ice and putting the pressure on them to make mistakes."
The Caps improved to 17-2-0 in games in which they score at least one power-play goal while not allowing an extra-man tally in the same game.
"For us, at the end of the day," says Trotz, "[we were] huge on the special teams. Obviously [we got] a huge power play goal. I thought our power play was good and generated a lot of chances. We got one goal, and I thought we could have had two or three. We got some really good looks.
"And then our penalty kill had to be huge [on the] unnecessary penalty where we took the four-minute [penalty] there. And that was a real good response by our penalty killers."