WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Devils dropped their second straight loss Sunday afternoon, 4-3 to the Washington Capitals.
Center Travis Zajac played his 1000th game against Washington, and becomes the 67th player to do so all for a single franchise. Zajac is the fourth Devils player, and third skater in the franchise to achieve the milestone.
"It wasn't the result we hoped for. Nonetheless, it was a special moment for me and one I'll never forget," said Zajac on his 1000th game. "The guys in the organization did a great job of really making a memorable event for me and it's defiintely something I'll never forget."
"You saw him in the second period, laid out and blocked a shot from Ovechkin and that's just a great example of his leadership right there," said Aaron Dell on Zajac. "He's out there doing what he needs to do to give the team its best chance to win, and that's what a good leader does."
Andreas Johnsson scored on the power play for the Devils. It was the winger's third goal in the last six games. Pavel Zacha and Kyle Palmieri each extended their points streaks - Palmieri has points in four straight games, while Zacha has points in six straight.
Jack Hughes also added a goal of his own, his fourth of the season. Johnsson and Palmieri collected the assists on the goal.
Aaron Dell started in net for the Devils, his first game with the franchise. Dell's last game was for San Jose in March of 2020.
"The first probably five minutes or so I felt a little jittery, a little nervous but you know it came right back to like I had never left, felt like just another regular game for me after that," said Dell on his start this afternoon.
"I thought he played a strong game," said Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff about Dell's performance."He made some key saves at key times for us and there's a couple of goals you couldn't do anything about."
Andreas Johnsson opened the scoring halfway through the first period on the power play. After working the puck around, Kyle Palmieri threw the puck down low to Johnsson, and the winger's quick shot off the feed beat the Capitals goaltender, Craig Anderson. Pavel Zacha had the secondary assist on the goal.
Both teams had a chance at the power play in the first period, as the Capitals got a man-advantage in the final three minutes of the first period. However, the Devils penalty kill was strong against the 7th best power play in the league and kept the Capitals from tying up the game.
After one period, the Capitals outshot the Devils by a slight margin, 11-10. The majority of the home team's shots came in the second half of the period when Washington outshot the Devils 9-1 in that time frame.
Aaron Dell continued his strong play especially in the first five minutes of the second period. The Capitals had several shots on goal which the Devils goaltender was able to withstand.
Jack Hughes scored his fourth of the season with 16:05 on the clock in the second frame. Johnsson found Hughes streaking in on goal and Hughes's backhand shot went past Andersson to make it 2-0 Devils. Johnsson and Palmieri each picked up their second points of the game with assists.
The Devils had their second power play of the night, half way through the middle frame. The Capitals penalty kill was able to clear the puck several times at the start. Miles Wood and Zdeno Chara got into a scuffle in the final 40 seconds of the Devils man advantage, after Wood was chipping away at a puck in front of the net. The power play is killed off and both teams returned to even strength. However, Hughes was able to capitalize on the momentum of the special teams play and got a shot on net in the following seconds.
The Capitals had their second man-advantage opportunity with seven minutes left in the second period. 25 seconds in, TJ Oshie, in the high slot, redirected John Carlson's shot from the point to score. Oshie's goal cut the Devils lead to one.
After forty minutes, the Devils had a 2-1 lead over the Capitals, even though Washington outshot the Devils 15-5 in the second frame.
With 10:44 left in regulation, John Carlson scored for Washington to make it a 2-2 game. The Capitals had increased possession time and a momentum shift before the tying. The Capitals had their third power play of the game with 10 minutes left, and in the final seven seconds of the man-advantage, TJ Oshie scored his second power play goal of the night.
About a minute later, the Devils had their third power play of the night. They had several good opportunities but were unable to score.
Ryan Murray went to the box with just over three minutes left in regulation and seconds later, Alex Ovechkin scored to make it 4-2 Capitals. Ovechkin was by himself right on the left side of the goal and was able to get a quick shot off before Dell could square up.
The Devils pulled Dell with less than three minutes left for the extra attacker to try to come back from the four unasnwered goals Washington scored. With 1:01 left, Johnsson was inches away from scoring his second of the game but Anderson came up strong in net for the Capitals.
With eleven seconds left, Nikita Gusev scored to bring the game within one. Immediately after the Devils took a timeout to come up with a plan for a tying goal. However they were unable to score and lost 4-3 Sunday afternoon.
New Jersey's special teams play is a place the team is still figuring out and they will need to improve especially after allowing two power play goals tonight.
"It's just having urgency and details," said Zajac on the penalty kill's shortcomings during Sunday's game. "It's stuff we went over in the pre-scout and it's just now biting us in the butt right now. But at the same time there's got to be a little more urgency and we have to win more battles. We have to get in shot lanes more. It's just something we have to have to take a step forward because our 5-on-5 game has been pretty good all year."
"It's something that we got to fix. We obviously got some structure issues, we've got some confidence issues with it right now," said Ruff. "The difference in the game was special teams...It probably would have gotten us two, three, maybe four more wins if our special teams had been a little bit better."
The Devils return home tonight and will take Monday off before hosting the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.