After 18 straight games of scoring four or fewer goals, the Washington Capitals erupted for six on Saturday afternoon against the Devils in New Jersey. All six Washington goals came at even strength, and all four Capitals lines accounted for at least one of the goals. The result was a 6-2 Caps victory in the team's final game of 2016.
Two nights after 78 shot attempts and 44 shots on net resulted in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils and backup New Jersey netminder Keith Kinkaid, the Caps reached Kinkaid for six goals on just 26 shots on net.
Video: Wilson, Niskanen, Connolly, Grubauer on 6-2 victory
"I think [Thursday] night we played pretty well," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "We played hard, we played the right way and pucks weren't going in. Kinkaid had an awesome game.
"We stayed with the course of our plan and stayed with our system and you see the pucks start to go in. We wanted to get to the net a little bit more and make his job a little more difficult [with] a lot of deflections and net front stuff and you see quite a few of our goals go in like that tonight."
Brett Connolly got the party started on his line's first shift of the game, converting a great feed from Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 2:36 of the first period.
Connolly's goal ended a strong shift for himself and linemates Burakovsky and Lars Eller, and it set the tone for the rest of the game - or, at least for the rest of the game that was played at five-on-five. The Eller line has been consistently solid as of late.
"I thought we were really good," says Connolly of his line's performance. "I thought we had the puck most of the game and were making really good plays. We probably could have had a couple more.
"We'll see what happens here, but I think it's a good fit. Earlier in the year when I was with Lars, I thought we had some good chemistry. Maybe not playing as much as we'd like, but when we're out there we're making good plays. We're kind of feeling each other out and we know where each other are. It could be a good line. We were good last game even though we lost, and tonight might have been one of our best games. We just want to build on it.
"We've got a big game [Sunday]. With the same effort and the same confidence making plays, we'll be fine."
Killing It - Washington spent a good deal of Saturday's game shorthanded, going 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in downing the Devils. The Caps faced nine opposition power plays in a game for the first time since Oct. 6, 2009 and they killed as many as nine shorthanded situations successfully in the same game for the first time since Jan. 26, 2007 when they went 9-for-9 in a game against the Hurricanes in Carolina.
The Caps have successfully snuffed out 25 straight penalty killing missions dating back to a Dec. 16 game against the Canes in Carolina. They've gone six straight games without permitting a power-play goal for the first time in more than two years and they've climbed up to third in the league on the NHL's penalty killing ledger this season with a kill rate of 86.9%.
In Saturday's game, the Caps were faced with four penalty kills in the first period, and then three more before the midpoint of the middle period.
"Success on the first couple of kills breeds some confidence in the game, I think," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We had to kill a lot of them, but after each one we got a little momentum. That definitely gave us a chance to win the game today. It could have been a lot different story if they get one or two on the first four or so power plays, so good job there."
Video: WSH@NJD: Ovechkin scores off of the backboard
Milestone Man - Niskanen had a pair of assists in Saturday's game, the first of which was the 200th helper of his NHL career.
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom had an assist to pull two within two helpers of the 500 mark for his NHL career, and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist to inch closer to the 1,000-point plateau for his NHL career. Ovechkin now has 994 career points (542 goals and 452 assists).
Scoring Spread - Thirteen of the 18 Capitals skaters recorded at least a point in Saturday's game, and no skater had more than two points. Washington also got five assists from its blueline corps in Saturday's game, including a pair of helpers from Brooks Orpik.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears suffered a 4-1 home ice loss to the Providence Bruins on Saturday night at Giant Center.
Zach Sanford scored Hershey's lone goal of the game midway through the second period. Sanford's goal came on a Bears power play with help from Stanislav Galiev and Christian Thomas, and it cut the Providence lead to 2-1 at that point of the night.
Bears goaltender Vitek Vanecek stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced in a losing effort.
The Bears are now idle until Friday when they visit Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Hershey currently sits at 18-7-5-2, which places it fourth in the AHL's Atlantic Division standings. The Bears are just two points behind front-running Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays spent New Year's Eve at home, hosting the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays skated off with a 5-1 triumph.
Kelly Zajac, Wade Epp, Derek DeBlois, Rob Flick and Joe Devin scored for the Stingrays, supporting the 26-save efforts of Parker Milner in the South Carolina nets.
South Carolina hosts Tulsa on Tuesday. The 16-11-1-1 Stingrays are in fourth place in the ECHL's South Division, nine points behind first-place Florida.
By The Numbers - Niskanen led the Caps with 21:58 in ice time … Karl Alzner logged 7:31 worth of shorthanded ice time to pace the Capitals … Marcus Johansson led the Caps with four shots on net and Ovechkin led Washington with six shot attempts … Ovechkin, Orpik, Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with two hits each … John Carlson led the Capitals with three blocked shots.