Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/13/11

After suffering back-to-back losses — the first against the New York Islanders, the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and the second an embarrassing effort against the Dallas Stars — it was time to see whether the Capitals could get back to playing the kind of hockey that it takes to remain at the top of their game.  Enter the New Jersey Devils, a team that was hanging around the bottom third of the conference, for a home-and-home series.  On Friday, Washington traveled to Prudential Center, the Devils’ home ice, to attempt to get back to their winning ways.

The first period left many Caps fans with a sense of frustration.  Not only were the Capitals outskated; Alexander Semin once again took another cheap penalty midway through the first period and Washington’s defensive all-star, Mike Green, was back in the lineup for the first time in weeks — only to be injured and not return.  The Devils scored one at the 13:06 mark, but frankly the Caps were fortunate to be down only a single tally at the first intermission.  All in all, not an auspicious start.

Something must have happened in the locker room during the break, however, as the team that played the second period was skating harder and working the puck much better.  The ‘Great 8’ tied the game at one towards the end of the second, so that after two periods the teams were knotted at one.

The third period was a thing of beauty.  It started with Jason Chimera scoring a short-handed goal for Washington less than three minutes into the third, an event that seemed to take much of the wind out of the New Jersey crowd.  Marcus Johansson tallied later in the third to put the Capitals up 3-1.  Of note, Alexander Semin sat the bench the entire third period after having very limited ice time in the second — not due to injury, but no doubt a ‘reward’ for his cheap penalty in the first.  Tomas Vokoun was incredible in net, stopping 32 of 33 shots, most impressively all 16 in the third period.  In the end, a much needed win for Washington.

Back in Verizon Center on Saturday before another sell-out crowd, Washington didn’t fare as well.  It was a hotly contested game from the first puck drop, as the photo for this story and the fact that Alex Ovechkin had eleven hits — the most for a Capital in a game this season — indicate.  The Capitals jumped out to an early lead, scoring two tallies on just nine shots to go into the locker room up 2-0 at the first intermission.  No one bothered to tell the Devils that they were supposed to quit, though, as they came back and scored two goals in the latter half of the second period, to tie the contest at two.

The third period was truly a defensive battle, with Capitals managing only five shots on net and holding New Jersey to just four.  The overtime period was more of the same with each team able to only get a single shot off before the horn sounded.

Michael Neuvirth was between the pipes for the Capitals for only the fourth start of the year.  He had moments of brilliant play, but the Devils’ two goals in the second period came off a total of six shots — and the shootout looked more like the second period than the remainder of the game, with the Devils outscoring the Capitals 2-1 to finish their 3-2 shootout victory.

There is a story behind the story, however.  Before castigating the Capitals for failing to hold onto their lead, it’s worth considering the state of their defense.  As indicated on the Capitals’ website: “During the course of the game, Jeff Schultz suffered a broken finger and John Erskine a concussion, Boyd Gordon left with back spasms and Chris Clark departed with a groin. Those ailments left Washington with 10 forwards and four defensemen available on the bench.”  In fact, Brooks Laich started on defense for the Caps.  Given that damaged state of Washington’s blue liners, I think we’ll take the one point and be satisfied.

There’s no rest for the weary — or should I say injured — Capitals.  They head to Nashville on Tuesday for the first of three consecutive away games.  The black and blue defense bears watching.

Let’s Go Caps!

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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