The New Jersey Devils are thankfully finished with the Washington Capitals this season. On Easter Sunday, they attempted to come back from a deficit against Washington. In the end, they fell short by a score of 5-4. New Jersey finished the season 0-6-2 against a team that just seemed to have an answer every step of the way.
Even though New Jersey jumped out to an early lead on Sunday, that lead never felt safe. The vital part of this game was the fact that the Devils could not get that 2-0 goal. When Washington tied the game late in the first period, one got the feeling the game was over. Even as New Jersey drew closer late in the contest, no one actually believed the Capitals were in any kind of danger.
Part of that was New Jersey experiencing a lot of the same problems they always seem to.
New Jersey’s lack of special teams hurt the Devils again
It has felt like an endless loop all season but the Devils cannot execute on the power play. Also, the penalty kill created problems again this afternoon. Though Washington only scored once on the penalty kill, it was the short-handed goal that was the big blow. After New Jersey had clawed back to get the score to 3-2, they had a power-play which could have tied the game. Instead, Carl Hagelin found a way to tally short-handed and after that, New Jersey lost its chance to take back control of the contest.
Washington added another goal before New Jersey mounted a late third-period charge that fell short. It felt like the Capitals always had an answer in every one of these games no matter what New Jersey tried. The Devils are one of the youngest teams in the NHL with an average age of 25.3. Washington’s average age is 30.1. That pays dividends.
And on Sunday, it did in a big way. Washington was able to contain New Jersey’s power play four times in a row. Washington scored the short-handed goal and a power-play goal from Alex Ovechkin.
New Jersey was taught a season-long lesson by the Washington Capitals and that lesson was concluded on Sunday afternoon. To play winning hockey, a team has to excel in all three phases. Somewhat excelling in one does not cut it often enough. This is partly why New Jersey has such a difficult time winning games.
New Jersey cannot win the games because they cannot finish the chances given to them. Also, they seem to not be able to stop the penalty kill in needed situations. That seems expected for a team that is so young as they try to find their identity.
Some Positives At Even Strength
Unlike what happened Saturday, New Jersey had a better showing for most of Sunday. The Devils were able to control vast stretches of the first and third period — particularly the first and last ten minutes of the game. Their expected goals for percentage was over 65% at even strength and possession was near 70%. But it was that first period where New Jersey fired in an expected goals rate at 1.43. It was one of their better efforts of the season.
Despite that, New Jersey again only scored once. As Travis Zajac said later, “New Jersey could not find that second early goal”. A 2-0 lead would have sent a message to Washington that this would not be like yesterday. When T.J. Oshie scored, the Capitals countered with simply this will be like yesterday and all the days.
On the bright side, the New Jersey Devils did not back down as they have at times this season. Given the news that was levied earlier on Sunday, a lesser team might have done so.
So, what was that elephant in the room?
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Kyle Palmieri Will Not Be Staying In New Jersey
It always had the potential to end this way. Palmieri stands a chance to play the rest of the way for a contender. Just where that will remains anyone’s guess.
Can confirm that Kyle Palmieri is being held out of Devils lineup today in anticipation of a trade in the coming days or week(s).
— Bartlett Hockey (@BartlettHockey) April 4, 2021
It confirmed something most knew for some time now. The question now is where does the right-winger end up. Palmieri did finish his Devils’ tenure with four goals in his final eight contests. Over the last month, the soon-to-be-former Devil was averaging nearly three shots a game. He began to look more like the forward we saw the previous few seasons. That 30-goal potential is still there.
The biggest dropoff with Palmieri was power-play goals. He has just one on the season where the previous three seasons, the winger had 11 each. Consider this fact.
— Bartlett Hockey (@BartlettHockey) April 4, 2021
That is a rather impressive list. The winger may have his shortcomings but he should be able to fetch a rather good return sometime this week or by the April 12th trade deadline. It will be an interesting week for Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils.