NEWARK, NJ – The party lasted a little too long, and the hangover set in Tuesday night for the New Jersey Devils. Riding the high of an eight-game winning streak, the Devils ran out of gas against the quicker Washington Capitals, losing 5-2 in regulation.
Despite Captain Jamie Langenbrunner’s best effort to revive the team, by scoring a short handed goal in the opening moments of the third period to get the Devils within one, Washington was able to shut down the rest of the team. The NHL’s first star for the month of January scored his seventh goal in four games, but for the first time in that streak did not net the game-winner.
“For whatever reason, we weren’t sharp and our battle level wasn’t as good as it has been,” Langenbrunner said.
New Jersey was hampered by penalties at inopportune moments. Shortly after Langenbrunner’s goal, Mike Rupp was called for goalie interference when he led a breakaway and was tripped up in the crease. Rupp slid into Washington goalie Josè Thèodore before bouncing into the boards.
The Capitals, who had scored two of their earlier goals on the power play, took advantage of the extra skater again. Michael Nylander scored his second goal of the game at 10:59 in the third period, extending Washington’s lead to 4-2 by putting the puck between Scott Clemmensen’s legs.
“I thought we were getting a little bit of momentum there, but the call on Rupper wasn’t that hard and it’s a tough play, but our PK, we didn’t do our job tonight,” explained Langenbrunner.
Washington added an empty-net goal with 1:10 left to seal the 5-2 victory.
Coach Brent Sutter had mixed up some of the lines during morning skate, moving Brendan Shanahan onto a line with John Madden and Brian Rolston. The lines took the ice in the modified state, but it only lasted into the second period.
Despite maintaining offensive pressure, the Devils could not create many scoring opportunities in the first period.
“I just think we didn’t have any lines going no matter who you put together. The first period was just really slow and we didn’t create anything, we didn’t do anything, we just stood around and watched them play hockey,” explained Madden.
Washington scored their two power play goals in the first nine minutes of the game. Mike Green took a cross-ice pass from Alexander Semin and put it past Clemmensen 5:58 into the first period. Alex Ovechkin assisted.
Ovechkin assisted again nearly three minutes later, when he sent a pass to Brooks Laich in the crease, and Laich caught Clemmensen on the opposite side of the net.
“We got down 2-0 pretty early once again, we were still fighting, it’s just they had that little step on us all night long, pretty much, and that was the difference, I thought,” Clemmensen said.
Brian Rolston notched a goal for the Devils’ power play unit in the second period. With a 5-on-3 advantage, Zach Parise sent the puck from the corner up to Patrick Elias at the blue line. Elias then pushed the puck over to Rolston in between the circles. Rolston took one stride to his right and ripped a shot that slid under Thèodore.
New Jersey’s power play unit has scored in each of the last three games, and is now 4-7 in 5-on-3 opportunities this season.
The Devils go on the road Friday for a game in Atlanta, and then turn around and come home to play the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Because of the Rangers’ shootout loss Tuesday night, New Jersey remains four points ahead of the Blueshirts for the Atlantic Division lead.
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