New Jersey's defense was soft in the first meeting, but it was sturdy in Saturday's win. The Caps' lone goal came on the power play, and the Devils mitigated that by scoring a shorthanded goal on the same penalty.
"It's huge," says Devils forward Blake Coleman, who scored the second shorthanded goal the Caps have yielded in as many games. "We know that they've got a big time power play with a lot of weapons. So to minimize the damage that they did was big. Obviously we had a shorthanded goal; we probably could have had a couple, we had a couple of good chances. I thought we did a good job."
The Caps came out flat, and that's been a disturbing norm of late. They've been outscored 11-4 in the first period of their last 10 games. Washington frequently finds its game after the first, but it didn't happen on this night. New Jersey struck for three goals in the second to open up a 4-1 lead, and Caps coach Todd Reirden called his timeout after the fourth of those tallies at 12:11 of the middle frame.
"Our team has come back in the past," says Reirden, "and I needed to stop the momentum. There are a couple of ways to do that, and the timeout was what I chose to do. At that point, we still had 27 minutes to go, and clearly I wasn't pleased.
"I'm not pleased - and neither are our players - with how we played the game. That was a time that as a coaching strategy, you try to stop the momentum and [think], 'Okay, can we get a goal before the break here?' Along with the execution, we did get some really prime chances, and we didn't put it in the back of the net. So those are some things we'll be right back working on [Sunday]."
Saturday's loss to the Devils is Washington's first setback at the hands of one of the league's current bottom five teams this season; the Caps are now 6-1-0 against those teams in 2019-20.
Power Move - Washington adjusted its power play unit heading into Saturday's game, moving Jakub Vrana from the second unit to the first and putting Evgeny Kuznetsov on the second unit in an effort to spread its weaponry around more evenly.
Although the Caps scored their only goal on the power play, and although Vrana scored it - his first power-play goal in more than a year, since Jan. 8, 2019 - it's too soon to qualify this move as a success.
Early in the second period, the Caps had a four-minute power play when Miles Wood hi-sticked Richard Panik. Coleman scored his shorthanded goal just 31 seconds later, and New Jersey had a number of other high danger chances while it was a man short. Vrana scored on the back end of that double-minor, but trading goals on a four-minute power play did the Caps no good whatsoever; they were already down two goals when the power play started.
Down three goals in the third, the Caps had a 5-on-3 manpower advantage for 43 seconds, but weren't able to muster much in the way of a threat then, either. In allowing a shorthanded goal for the second straight game - and for the sixth time this season - the Caps' power play now owns a net success rate of just 7.1 percent since Dec. 1, the worst in the league over that span.
Washington has scored eight power play goals in 18 games over that stretch, but it has also yielded four shorthanded goals during the same time frame.
Metro Mediocrity - Recently, the Caps have struggled against their fellow Metropolitan Division denizens, going 1-4-0 in their last five games within the Metro. On the season, Washington is now 6-7-1 in its division, and the Caps started the season 3-0-1 in their first four games against Metro foes.
Washington is 12-2-0 against the Atlantic Division, it is 9-0-3 against Pacific Division opponents, and it is 3-2-1 against the Central Division.
Keep The Devil Down - Saturday's loss to New Jersey marks the Caps' first home ice loss in regulation to the Devils in more than five years, since a 1-0 setback on Nov. 14, 2014. It was Washington's first multi-goal loss to the Devils on home ice in nearly eight years, since New Jersey whitewashed the Caps 5-0 here on March 2, 2012.
The Caps are now 16-4-6 against the Devils in the District since the start of the 2007-08 season.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears continued their winning ways on Saturday, downing the Cleveland Monsters by a 4-2 count at Giant Center.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby got the Bears started with a power-play goal - his ninth goal of the season - at 6:11 of the first. Chris McCarthy and Colby Williams picked up the assists as the Bears jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland got even late in the middle period, but less than two minutes later, the Bears regained the lead at 2-1 on another power-play tally. Bobby Nardella netted his second of the season at 17:58, getting help from Martin Fehervary and McCarthy.
The Monsters tied the game again early in the third, but Beck Malenstyn put Hershey back on top with just 3:20 left in regulation, scoring his fifth of the season with help from Brett Leason and Erik Burgdoerfer. In the final minute, Jonsson-Fallby scored his second of the game into an empty net, with Eddie Wittchow and Brian Pinho collecting the assists.
Pheonix Copley stopped 24 of 26 shots he faced in the Hershey nets to improve to 10-5-4 on the season.
The 23-11-2-3 Bears are in second place in the AHL's Atlantic Division, trailing first-place Hartford by just two points. Hershey is back in action on Tuesday night when it travels to Charlotte to take on the Checkers.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays took a 4-1 home ice win over the Florida Everblades on Saturday night at North Charleston Coliseum.
Jonathan Charbonneau, Mark Cooper, Tariq Hammond and Max Novak (empty-netter) scored for the Stingrays in support of Logan Thompson's 41-save efforts in the South Carolina nets. Thompson improves to 14-3-1-0 on the season.
The Stingrays are back at it on Sunday afternoon when they travel to Greenville for a game against the Swamp Rabbits. South Carolina's 26-5-3-1 mark is the best in the circuit, and it leads seconds-place Florida by eight points in the South Division standings.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 23:06 in ice time … Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with eight shot attempts … Radko Gudas led the Caps with four hits … Carlson led Washington with three blocked shots … Lars Eller won seven of eight draws (88 percent) and Backstrom won 11 of 18 (61 percent).