Washington’s 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at Verizon Center was far from the most scintillating game you’ll ever see. For 50 minutes and 50 seconds, the two teams tried their best to lull each other to sleep long enough to sneak in the game’s first goal. When the Caps finally managed to achieve that feat, it came from a rather unlikely source.
Playing in his second career NHL game, Caps defenseman Julien Brouillette snuck a wrist shot past Devils goaltender Cory Schneider with 9:10 left in the third period. Brouillette’s first marker in the league proved to be the game-winner as the Caps added a pair of empty-netters in the game’s final two minutes to help support the 25-save efforts of Braden Holtby in the Washington nets.
The win enabled the Caps to slide ahead of New Jersey in the Metropolitan Division standings in the final game before the Olympic break. The Capitals’ next game is Feb. 27 against the Panthers in Florida.
“It’s huge,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “After we come back from the Olympics, we’re going to be on a good note, in a good mood. The team will have left with a smile on our face. We did a great job tonight. We knew it was going to be hard.”
Both teams had a pair of first-period power play opportunities, but neither team was able to take advantage. The Caps managed only six shots on net in the first frame, and only two of those came while the two sides were at even strength. Ovechkin was responsible for four of the Caps’ half dozen shots on net in the first period and seven of the Capitals’ 15 shot attempts.
The middle 20 minutes were penalty free, but once again neither team was capable of lighting the lamp. The Devils had the better of the scoring chances, and Washington spent a lot of the first 10 minutes of the second trying to get out of its own end of the ice. New Jersey rarely permitted the Caps to penetrate the Devils’ line, and the best Washington could do was to clear the zone and try to get fresh legs on the ice for the next wave.
Playing with four defenseman who have fewer than 100 games worth of NHL experience under their belts and facing a sizeable and extremely experienced group of New Jersey forwards, the Caps’ defense held its own, and Holtby was sharp as well.
The Devils had diminishing returns in terms of shots on net for the night; they had 11 in the first, eight in the second and just six in the third.
New Jersey’s Ryan Carter was whistled for holding the stick in the offensive zone at 2:40 of the third, but the Caps could get anything going on the power play. Both teams found it difficult to string together a series of decent passes, as the puck hopped over stick blades and wobbled weirdly all night long.
Immediately after a television timeout at 10:46 of the third period, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom won a right dot face-off in the offensive zone, pulling the puck back to rookie defenseman Patrick Wey at the right point. Wey passed to Brouillette at the left point, and the 27-year-old defenseman carried it toward the top of the circle, unleashing a wrist shot that beat Schneider to the short side to give the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.
“I couldn’t think of anything,” says Brouillette, of scoring his first NHL goal with his parents in attendance. “It was so confusing, but great at the same time. It’s going to be hard to sleep tonight.”
The goal came on the first shot on goal of Brouillette’s two-game NHL career.
“I’m sure he’s flying high right now,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Brouillette. “Big goal. I haven’t seen the replay yet, but I know it was close to being tipped and the goalie getting frozen there a little bit.
“But you know what? Backy [Nicklas Backstrom] won a draw. That’s what it’s about. You win a draw, we get it across the blue line, you throw it to the net with a little bit of a screen and you’ve got a chance to get a goal.”
Washington had another power play chance shortly after taking the 1-0 lead, but was unable to get anything established.
The Caps were able to nudge their lead to 2-0 only after Devils coach Pete DeBoer opted to pull Schneider for the extra attacker. DeBoer went with that strategic ploy early, yanking Schneider before the 18-minute mark of the third.
Washington got to a loose puck in its own end, breaking it out from in front of its own net with numbers. Ovechkin passed to Backstrom, who fed Martin Erat near the red line. Erat floated a shot into the empty net at 18:13 to alleviate some pressure on the Caps.
Thirty-six seconds later, Brouwer floated another shot into an empty New Jersey net to account for the 3-0 final. All that was left was for the Caps to help nail down Holtby’s shutout, and they had to spend the final 42 seconds of the game killing off a Connor Carrick double-minor for hi-sticking in order to ensure the whitewash.
When it was all said and done, the Caps had defeated the Devils at their own game, a sluggish, low-scoring affair that lacked luster for most of the night.
“Obviously the Devils play that kind of game,” notes Oates, a former Devils assistant coach. “They are willing to play it every night, and it’s a frustrating team to play. They don’t give you much. I looked up with nine minutes left in the third period, and I think it was 20 each in shots. Both teams played stingy. It was good.”
Whitewashington – Holtby’s shutout was his third of the season and the 10th of his NHL career. Although he ranks 13th on Washington’s all-time goaltending ledger in games played (93), Holtby ranks ninth in wins (54) and fourth in shutouts (10) among all goaltenders in Caps history.
Saturday Night Special – Half of Holtby’s 10 career shutouts and 16 of his 54 career victories have been recorded on Saturday nights.
In 23 career starts on Saturday nights, Holtby is 16-4-3 with a 2.08 GAA and a .930 save pct.
Century City – Brouwer’s goal was the 100th of his NHL career. His first NHL goal came on Nov. 3, 2008 against Colorado while he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Brouwer now has four goals in his last four games and 14 on the season
Water In The Desert – Erat’s goal was his first of the season, and it came in his 51st game of the campaign. Dating back to last season, the veteran winger had been scoreless in 55 straight games before ending that drought with an empty-netter on Saturday.
First Saturday – Holtby’s previous shutout came in Montreal two weeks ago, and three different Capitals notched their first goals of the season to support his goaltending efforts that night. John Erskine, Jay Beagle and Casey Wellman all tallied for the first time in 2013-14 in that Jan. 25 game at Bell Centre.
Holtby's Saturday night whitewashing of the Devils was supported by two more first goals of the season, from Brouillette and Erat.
Skid Stopper – Saturday’s win halted Washington’s seven-game losing streak (0-6-1) against fellow Metropolitan Division opponents. The Caps were outscored by a combined total of 25-11 during the life of that losing streak.
Trips In The Third – Washington scored three goals in the third period for the second consecutive game. The Caps scored three times on Thursday night against Winnipeg to overcome a 2-1 deficit heading into the third en route to a 4-2 triumph over the Jets.
Saturday night’s third-period outburst marks the 20th time this season that Washington has scored three or more goals in a period. The Caps have turned that trick five times in the first period, a dozen times in the second and three times in the third.
Streaking – Brouillette and Wey were recalled from AHL Hershey on Thursday morning, and each collected his first NHL assist in Thursday’s win over Winnipeg. Both blueliners picked up their first points in the league with helpers on Tom Wilson’s second goal of the season.
Both blueliners extended their point streaks to two on Saturday night.
Down On The Farm – One night after suffering a 4-1 road loss in Rochester on Friday night, the AHL Hershey Bears were back in action on Saturday, hosting the Portland Pirates at Giant Center. The Bears eked out a 2-1 victory over the Bucs.
After a scoreless first period, Peter LeBlanc notched his 10th goal of the season with a single assist from Cameron Schilling at 5:22 of the middle stanza.
The Pirates evened the game less than a minute later, and the two teams headed into the final frame in a 1-1 deadlock.
Bears captain Dane Byers notched his sixth goal of the season at 3:57 of the third with help from Chay Genoway and Matt Watkins, and Hershey netminder Philipp Grubauer stopped all 11 shots sent his way in the third to make that tally stand up as the game-winner.
Grubauer made 30 saves on the night to run his record to 8-5-1-1 on the season. The win was Hershey’s 10th straight victory on home ice.
The Bears finish up a busy weekend on Sunday when they host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center. The 25-16-3-3 Bears are in ninth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, but they’re only four points behind fourth-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Hershey has a game in hand.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals were also at home on Saturday night, hosting the Wheeling Nailers at Santander Arena. The Royals went into the third period all even at 1-1, but surrendered four goals in the final frame on their way to a 5-2 defeat.
T.J. Syner and Mike Banwell netted the Reading goals, and goaltender Riley Gill stopped 27 of the 32 shots he faced in a losing effort.
Reading gets another crack at Wheeling on Sunday. The Nailers will be staying over in Reading for a Sunday matinee at Santander. The 25-16-1-0 Royals still maintain a three-point lead over Wheeling for the top spot in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division. The Royals also have three games in hand on the Nailers.
By The Numbers – John Carlson paced the Capitals with 25:11 in ice time on Saturday … Ovechkin and Carlson tied for the team lead with four shots each and Ovechkin led the way with 10 shot attempts … Troy Brouwer led the Capitals with five hits … Carlson paced Washington with seven blocked shots on the night.