NEWARK, N.J. – Four straight wins on the road, then five in a row at home.
The New Jersey Devils are winning wherever they go, and suddenly Newark is every bit of a home-ice advantage as the Meadowlands was all those years. Vitaly Vishnevski and Dainius Zubrus scored 4:15 apart in the first period, and the Devils won their ninth straight game by beating the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Friday night.
Even though this wasn’t the crispest win in the run, it was effective. It had the fans yelling and cheering, and even breaking out “The Wave” in the third period.
“I noticed,” goalie Martin Brodeur said. “Winning makes it a lot easier on the crowd to be loud. It’s an old trick they took out from the 80s.”
Travis Zajac added a goal in the third period, and Brodeur made 23 saves for the Devils, who matched their third-best winning streak.
Things got a little dicey in the third when Washington twice cut its deficit to a goal, but couldn’t get over the hump.
Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich scored for the Capitals (9-17-2), who have an NHL-worst 20 points. Washington, playing after five days off, lost its fourth in five games and failed to record 30 shots for the first time in 10. Olie Kolzig finished with 19 saves.
“The first period was the difference in the game. We had no reason to come out sluggish,” Laich said. “The days of practice were good for us. I don’t think we can use that as a crutch at all.”
After honoring recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Scott Stevens in a pre-game ceremony, the Devils played the kind of shutdown defence he helped make popular – at least in New Jersey – during his 13 seasons there that produced three Stanley Cup titles.
“It’s great to have Scotty recognized in this building … but at the same time it had nothing to do with our game,” forward Patrik Elias said. “This is our own team now, different team. We just wanted to keep the winning streak going.”
Semin spoiled Brodeur’s shutout bit to make it 2-1 at 5:48 of the third. Zajac pushed the lead back to two goals 41 seconds later, and Laich made it 3-2 with 1:17 left.
Now the Devils are two wins away from tying their second-best streak and four from matching the record. They face the Rangers in New York on Sunday.
New Jersey swept a five-game homestand to improve to 8-4 at the new Prudential Center.
“It takes a while to build up a home-ice advantage,” Elias said. “I’m glad we’ve done as good of a job as we did.”
Unlike Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory against Boston when New Jersey trailed 3-0 early, the Devils took control in the first period.
After the Capitals recorded four of the first five shots during the opening 10 minutes, the Devils showed why they have surged to first place in the Atlantic Division after a 7-10-2 start and how Washington has sunk to the bottom of the NHL standings.
Capitals defenceman Brian Pothier tried to clear the puck from deep in his zone, but it was intercepted by Vishnevski at the blue line. The Devils defenceman carried the puck into the right circle on his backhand and zipped a shot past Kolzig with 8:18 left.
It was his first of the season and first in 56 games, dating to last Dec. 27 while with Atlanta.
The Devils stretched the advantage to 2-0 on Zubrus’ power-play goal at 15:57, after Kolzig made a pad stop on Elias and was bailed out with a shot off the post, too.
Elias made one stick when he fired a shot from the right point that Brian Gionta deflected in front. Zubrus easily potted the rebound at the right post for his sixth goal and first on the power play.
“We made too many mistakes and they ended up in the back of the net,” Kolzig said. “We made the job a lot harder on ourselves.”
New Jersey had a 12-5 shots edge in the first period, then recorded only four in the second frame when Washington had eight on the strength of two power plays.
Brodeur made four saves while the Devils were short-handed in the period, including consecutive drives by Semin and Alex Ovechkin seconds apart about five minutes in.
Ovechkin played on a line with fellow Russians Semin and Viktor Kozlov, due to the absence of injured forward Michael Nylander, but continued to struggle against Brodeur and the Devils.
Second in the NHL with 20 goals, Ovechkin has only five points in nine career games versus New Jersey, his lowest total among Eastern Conference opponents.
“We’re a team that needs 20 guys to go,” said Bruce Boudreau, 3-3-1 since taking over as Capitals interim coach. “As I told them after two periods, you can’t rely on No. 8 (Ovechkin) to win every game for you.”
Notes: Devils LW Jay Pandolfo (groin) missed his fourth game, and will likely be out at least two more. … Washington captain Chris Clark (groin) sat out for the third time. Nylander missed his first of the season with an undisclosed injury. … The Capitals recalled RW Joe Motzko from Hershey of the AHL, and he earned an assist on Laich’s goal.