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Capitals continue hot streak by defeating Devils

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Washington Capitals were looking for a spark after an average, if even, first period. They found it from three old reliables.

Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin provided the spark and the goals to lift the Capitals to a 4-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at Prudential Center.

Green and Backstrom scored in the second period to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Ovechkin made it 3-0 with one of his vintage highlight-reel goals at 7:16 of the third, and Backstrom capped it with his 10th of the season, an empty-net goal at 17:49.

"You could see how we played today, it was pretty good, like back in the old days, you know," Ovechkin said.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season for the Capitals (16-10-6), who are 6-0-2 in their past eight games. They've gone from a team struggling through an identity crisis earlier this season to one of the hottest in the NHL in a span of two weeks bridging two visits to New Jersey.

Washington also defeated the Devils 4-1 on Dec. 6. That was among a handful of complete games the Capitals had played to that point. They didn't feel they were at their best Saturday, but that's as much a sign of growth in the Capitals as anything else.

Earlier in the season, when the Capitals were hot and cold, losing more than they were winning (10-10-4), it wouldn't have mattered how they got a 4-0 win as long as they got it. Now they're comfortable picking apart their play in search of perfection even after a landslide victory.

"We need to keep on doing it because we're not in a position now where we can sit back, and I don't think we ever will be throughout the season," Green said. "I thought tonight we maybe played 35 minutes out of the 60. Our first period wasn't up to par and we didn't execute the things we wanted to execute to start the game, but the bottom line is, we got our points."

Ovechkin's goal was easily the highlight of the night. He said it probably falls somewhere in the top-10 goals he's scored in his career.

He carried the puck in from the far blue line, put it through his legs and got around Devils defenseman Jon Merrill, eluding a hip check before roofing a backhand over goalie Cory Schneider's blocker. It was his 15th goal of the season.

"I don't know how he does it," Green said. "I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible."

Ovechkin, who hadn't scored in eight of the previous nine games, had a chance to score again when he was awarded a penalty shot at 10:48, but Schneider stopped it with his left pad. Ovechkin also was inches away from scoring two goals earlier in the game, but he had two shots ring off the left post, one in each of the first two periods.

"He could have had five goals today," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He got the dynamic goal, but he was dangerous all night. He rattled a couple off the post. He drew a penalty shot. He scored a highlight goal. He had one really good look on the power play when they sort of jammed him at the last minute, but if he got it off just a hair sooner I'm sure he would have hit the back of the net and his arms would have been up. He was real dangerous."

The Devils (12-17-6) weren't. They failed to build on a 3-2 shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, which ended a five-game losing streak. They managed four shots on goal in the third period and went 0-for-3 on the power play, including 0-for-2 before Washington scored.

"We needed someone to be a first star tonight, whether it was our goalie, whether it was our power play, whether it was an individual effort," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We didn't get that."

Green gave Washington a 1-0 lead at 3:08 of the second period with a slap shot from the top of the right circle into the top left corner of the net. Troy Brouwer stood in front of Schneider to shield the goalie, who never reacted to the shot, an indicator that he never saw it.

It was Green's fourth goal of the season, but his first since Oct. 22, a span of 19 games. He scored three goals in his first five games.

"It has been a while, so it's good to get one again, maybe get some more," Green said. "Maybe the flood gates will open now."

Backstrom extended the lead to 2-0 with a glove-side wrist shot from the left circle at 16:38 off a drop pass from Jay Beagle.

Holtby made 17 saves through two periods, including a quick left-pad save on Martin Havlat's backhand from the slot at 5:43 of the first period and a right-pad save on Sislo, who had a breakaway with three minutes remaining in the second period.

DeBoer used Sislo instead of Michael Ryder, who was a healthy scratch. Ryder hasn't scored in 20 consecutive games and committed a four-minute high-sticking penalty late in the third period Friday.

Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen returned to the lineup after sitting out as a healthy scratch the past four games. He had an assist on Green's goal. Nate Schmidt was scratched for the first time this season.

"Ovi had jump all night, [Backstrom] was pushing it, and they carried us," Trotz said. "That's another way to win. I thought we weren't as sharp as we needed to be as a group, and the big guys led the way when we needed a push."


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