For the third time in the last season and a half, the Washington Capitals underwent a coaching change.
This time, a former Devils coach is leading the charge.
Adam Oates, an assistant with New Jersey for two seasons, came back to his former team as head coach this summer. Oates, who led Washington to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998, vowed to return Alex Ovechkin to his goal-scoring glory days, bringing a more up tempo system to Washington.
That system has yet to take off.
Washington is 0-3-0 this season, allowing opponents to outscore them 14-6. Ovechkin has just one point, an assist, and newly-acquired Mike Riberio leads all skaters with three assists. Joel Ward leads the Capitals with two goals. The one bright spot is the team’s powerplay, ranked 11th in the league.
The struggles aren’t just on the offensive side. Washington is 30th in the NHL in goals allowed, and just 27th in the league on the penalty kill, with just a 58.3% conversion rate.
The slow start hit between the pipes as well. Braden Holtby, one of the breakout players of last year’s postseason, is 0-2-0 with an ugly 5.04 goals-against average and a .863 save percentage. Michael Neuvirth, making his first start of the season, allowed four goals in last night’s loss to the Montreal Canadians.
Martin Brodeur doesn’t believe Washington is as bad as their record.
“These teams are the ones that might in the middle of the season explode and be dangerous, but it might take a while,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “Who knows? Sometimes you just don’t see the effect. Everybody’s different, but it’s not the ideal situation for a new coach, new system to come in in a shorter period like that.”
The Devils enter the contest on the other end of the spectrum. They’ve won both their games this season, holding the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers to one goal combined. Brodeur has not allowed a goal since a 2-1 season-opening win over the Islanders last Saturday.
New Jersey rode Brodeur’s hot play in its 3-0 shutout of the Flyers Tuesday night. The Devils goalie stopped 24 shots, extending his winning streak over the Flyers to five games.
The Devils won three of the four meetings between the two teams last season, earning a split at the Prudential Center. The Devils outscored Washington, 13-8, and won two of the three games in a shootout.
Here’s a look at last year’s season series:
November 11, 2011: Capitals – 3, Devils – 1 @ Prudential Center
Adam Larsson will remember this game. The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Larsson scored his first career goal against Washington, giving New Jersey a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period. The Capitals took over after the score. Ovechkin tied the game in the second period, and Jason Chimera put the Capitals ahead with a shorthanded tally in the third period. Marcus Johansson put the icing on the cake, scoring late in the final frame to give Washington their only win of the season series.
Martin Brodeur stopped 17 of 20 shots in the loss. Tomas Vokoun had a stellar performance, recording 32 saves.
November 12, 2011: Devils – 3, Capitals – 2 (SO) @ Verizon Center
New Jersey rebounded the very next night, beating the Capitals in D.C. Troy Brouwer and Chimera scored in the first period, giving Washington a 2-0 lead after the opening frame. Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter responded in the second period, tying the game. The two teams completed regulation and overtime, and went to the shootout. Zach Parise scored for the Devils in the first frame, and Ovechkin matched in the second round. David Clarkson, the unlikely hero, scored in the fourth round of the shootout, giving New Jersey the win.
Johan Hedberg stopped 15 of 17 shots in regulation, and three of the four shootout participants. Neuvirth, making his first start against New Jersey, had 17 saves during regulation. He was just 2-for-4 during the shootout.
December 23, 2011: Devils – 4, Capitals – 3 (SO) @ Prudential Center
The Devils once again won in a shootout, earning a split of the games at The Rock. After a scoreless first period, New Jersey broke open the scoring in the middle frame. Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Urbom netted goals before the five-minute mark of the second period, staking the Devils to a 2-0 lead. Adam Henrique added a tally later in the frame, pushing the lead to a 3-0 margin. Washington stormed back in the third period, tying the game on a goal from Brooks Laich and two scores from Chimera. Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias scored in the shootout, and Brodeur blanked the Capitals to get the win.
March 5, 2012: Devils – 5, Capitals – 0 @Verizon Center
New Jersey saved the best for last, blowing out the Capitals to win the final game of the season series. Parise recorded a hat trick in the win, reaching that mark during the second period. Dainius Zubrus and Elias also scored for New Jersey. Neuvirth made just 15 saves, getting saddled with his second loss against the Devils. Hedberg stopped 23 of 25 shots for the shutout.