NEWARK — Having dropped six of their last seven and welcoming Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to Prudential Center — a team that has owned them in recent history — the New Jersey Devils came to a crossroads in a crucial test between the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division.
As impressive as the Devils’ 22-9-5 start to the season was, the six-game skid from Dec. 29 to Jan. 13 had to be concerning.
New Jersey let not one but two leads slip away, including a game-tying goal from Brett Connolly with 3:48 remaining to force overtime, but all was forgiven when Taylor Hall chipped a puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov to himself before turning on the jets and beating Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby high, glove-side on a nifty breakaway as the Devils fashioned a 4-3 victory over Washington in sudden-death.
The goal, assisted by Sami Vatanen just 34 seconds into overtime, snapped the Devils’ five-game losing streak against the Capitals dating to Dec. 29, 2016.
“In overtime, we’re instructed to strike and create turnovers at the start of your shift since we’re rested and 20 seconds in we’re trying to create a turnover, trying to force pressure,” Hall told NHL.com. “I saw T.J. Oshie back there and he’s a forward and I knew he would play the puck aggressively so I was able to chip it past him.
“On the breakaway, I just had to get it up and get the goalie moving a bit, open up that glove side,” Hall said.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 19, 2018
“That angle with Hall’s speed, he’s got so many options you’ve got to pick one and hope you get it right,” Holtby said. “That’s split-second. Sometimes you got to tip your cap.
“You try and trick your mind in letting your instincts come out but a couple of those plays the timing was just a little off,” Holtby said. “When you do that, sometimes it opens up holes and a couple squeaked in. The first and fourth goals were tough.”
With the victory, the Devils are 24-12-8, back on track and just four points behind the Capitals (28-14-4–60) for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 56 points.
Standing in for Cory Schneider who is battling an illness, backup Keith Kinkaid stood tall with 16 saves on 19 shots in his second straight start, both wins.
“It’s good in a way to get a big save early. That helps with your confidence the rest of the game,” Kinkaid said. “Obviously not a lot of work, but sometimes you just need to be there at key times. Anytime is a good time and we’re having fun with it now that we’re off the six-game slide. It’s just a fun atmosphere, being at home, the fans are really into it.”
The Devils took a 1-0 lead 8:01 into the game when Marcus Johansson sent Drew Stafford in all alone on a breakaway before beating Holtby with a dandy backhander.
Brett Connolly scored his first of two goals in the game just over four minutes later when the former Lightning winger was the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce that sent the puck to his stick before finding the back of the net at 12:10 of the opening frame.
It remained a 1-1 game until defenseman Andy Greene stepped up into the play to tap home a seeing-eye rebound 3:33 into the second. Hall picked up an assist on the play extending his points streak to six games (5-6–11).
The Devils extended their lead to 3-1 when Miles Wood took a Hail Mary pass from Nico Hischier deep in their own zone before going in on Holtby all alone and beating the All-Star netminder low, glove-side.
It would be the second of three breakaway goals yielded by the Capitals defense.
“We do that play a lot. It just happened to work out there,” Wood said. “They’re in first place. They’re a very strong team but we competed hard out there tonight. A good three periods for us then Hallsy made a great play there to score that goal.”
The Capitals never relented, however, and cut the deficit to one when left-handed defenseman Dmitry Orlov got all of his slap shot from the circle boards to make it 3-2 after two.
“A nice play by (Alex) Chiasson, the puck came to me, I tried to shoot and I did score. After that we started playing a little bit better,” Orlov said. “After the break, we didn’t skate yesterday, tried to get the legs going. At least we have a point in this game after the break. It was a good job but we need to play better in the third period.”
Connolly, who is enjoying a breakout second season with the Capitals, tallied his 12th goal of the 2017-18 campaign when the Campbell River, British Columbia native took a pass from Kuznetsov in the corner and snapped a wrist shot past Devils’ goalie Keith Kinkaid from the slot.
“I was fortunate enough to get out there in a good spot and in a good shooting area,” Connolly said. “I actually didn’t get a lot on the shot. I think I got poked from behind and it went on the ice. It seems they’re going underneath the goalie’s legs so it was good to see that one go in at a big time of the game. But that’s just how it goes sometimes.”
The goal, with less than four minutes remaining in regulation only delayed the kids and Hall.
For the Capitals, they’ll take the point in their first game in six days following the bye week.
“I thought we played pretty well tonight, coming off the break with four days off,” Connolly said. “It’s tough to lose, but we battled back to get that point, which is a big point. Those games after the break are always tough, so we’ll take the positives and we’ll move on tomorrow.”
“We have to create more shots. Maybe we tried to get too cute here and there,” Capitals’ center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We came out with a point from here. We’ll take that and move on.”
The Devils will look to extend their winning streak to three in a Saturday afternoon matinee in Philadelphia.
“Our structure, defensively, that’s one of the things we’ve talked about the last week or so,” Wood added. “Stick to the structure and our skill will come out.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils heads for the net and scores the game-winning goal as Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals defends in the overtime period on January 18, 2018 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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