The Washington Capitals played their wildest game of the season defeating the New Jersey Devils 6-4 in a back-and-forth, momentum swinging contest. The Capitals (2-3-1) started the game strong going up 3-0 at the end of the first period.
This was the first time all season that Washington played with a lead. It had been haunting them for the past five matchups and a big reason why was the inability to generate scoring chances and letting the mistakes cause the puck to go into the back of the net.
Then all heck broke loose in the middle frame and New Jersey stormed back with four unanswered goals. However, the Caps did not fold and came back with two quick strikes thanks to Dylan Strome’s second goal of the game and Connor McMichael getting the game-winner.
“So proud of them. In that respect, the character of our group shows again, [the] power play steps up right out of the gate to sort of set the tone for the period. And then I thought probably for the first half of the third period that we were on it,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said after the win. “There’s a lot of situations where you can feel sorry for yourself, you’re down another goal, all the things that have happened to this group through the first five games, but they wouldn’t be denied. They said ‘no, we’re not going to let this spiral and continue. We’re going to come out, we’re going to set the tone on the power play and then finish the job.”
Here are three things that stood out.
Hunter Shepard picked up his first career NHL win in his first career NHL start. Shepard had friends and family in attendance at Prudential Center.
“That’s a cool moment. He’ll never forget that for the rest of his life. And I’m sure family, friends [and] people in the building [to see his] first NHL start and to get a win, [I’m] happy for him. He’s had a long road,” Carbery said.
It was a Shepard Family affair in Jersey this evening ❤️ pic.twitter.com/OgtzY4znlD
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 26, 2023
“I mean 13 or 14 people make it here in a day’s notice from Minnesota, it’s quite the support system,” Shepard said. “I know it’s been going nuts for the last two days and people I grew up with, playing softball in the summer, all that kind of stuff, I’m sure they’re watching the game. It’s crazy, like 10 years out of high school now and it feels special, especially around my family and friends here.”
Though it was not an ideal way to make an NHL debut, allowing four straight goals on 14 shots, he made the necessary saves. The Minnesota Duluth product was left out to dry in the second period but bounced back in the third.
“Obviously, it’s not the way you want things to go at any point during any game, but you know, I think after they got the fourth one that breakaway save gave me a little confidence,” Shepard said. “I think maybe not being my first game I would have made a few different reads on a few plays. I got caught flat footed and I probably should have known the guy was sitting back door, but you just got to stick with it because if you can keep up within one or two goals, you’re always in the game.”
Shepard ended the game with 18 saves on 22 shots.
Mo Money, Money Milano
Anthony Mantha and Sonny Milano had their best games of the season so far. Mantha had two points on the night, which included the game’s first goal and the game-winning helper on Connor McMichael’s lead goal in the third period.
Mantha had a strong game against the Montreal Canadiens and got chances but was not converting. This time around he got rewarded.
Gonna need Shep’s parents interviewed for the whole night pic.twitter.com/VzKnqlUCIU
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 25, 2023
Aliaksei Protas kept the puck in at the attacking blue line and Mantha picked the puck up for a partial two-on-one with Beck Malenstyn with him. He faked a pass and shot five-hole on Devils goaltender Akira Schmid.
Mantha ended the evening with three shots on goal.
Milano was even better. He scored his first goal of the campaign off a perfectly placed snapshot in stride. He almost had his second goal of the game in the third period, but it was called back due to offside. Milano was doing a great job at winning puck battles and getting to the front of the net.
Failing To Build Momentum
After the Caps had their best first period of the season, going up 3-0 and having a lead for the first time all season, they had their biggest collapse allowing the Devils to score four unanswered goals in the second period. They could not carry the momentum they had from the first into the second and allowed New Jersey to come back.
Carbery was forced to use his timeout after Tyler Toffoli gave the Devils the lead.
“I just was making it clear to the group what had changed from the first period to the second period and why we were putting ourselves in really, really difficult spots defensively,” Carbery said. “And what was leading to the extended shifts that they were able to gain against us. The second period was extremely frustrating, and we just completely changed what we were doing and why we were so successful in the first period.”
The Capitals were caught scrambling numerous times in their own zone and could not come up with the puck in all three zones. They were slow to loose pucks and weren’t connecting on their passes like they had in the first.
The Capitals return home for a Friday night date with the Minnesota Wild.
Notable Numbers and Observations
- An unsung hero in yesterday’s contest was Trevor van Riemsdyk. He was very good with his stick and was getting in shooting lanes and breaking up one-on-ones
- The Capitals blocked 19 shots compared to New Jersey’s 11.
- The Capitals power play continues to improve. For their first power play, they were in the offensive zone for just about all two minutes and got some good looks. Strome’s tying goal was on the man-advantage
- The Caps had only one penalty
- Along with Mantha having a strong game, his whole line was buzzing too. They are starting to find chemistry with each other, doing the little things right.
By Jacob Cheris