Home Sweet Home: Capitals Beat Devils to End 2017

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Posted December 30, 2017

Christian Djoos had a goal and an assist. (Caps Outsider)

WASHINGTON — The crowd at Capital One Arena erupted when Nicklas Backstrom scored into the empty net. It iced a 5-2 win for the Capitals, familiar sights to any repeat customers.

Braden Holtby held the line with a save while falling backward to keep the lead as time wound down. He finished the night with 25 saves for his 22nd win.

“Game like this is no more important really than a game against Colorado or someone in the other conference,” Holtby said. “Two points is two points.”

The Capitals ended the 2017 year with a 16-5-0 record at home this season, making for a 36-9-2 record at home in the 2017 calendar year, including playoffs.

“I thought we played really well in Dallas [December 16, a 4-3 overtime win], and since that Dallas game, we’ve been trying to find our way a little bit,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

The Capitals needed to fix two problems: Secondary scoring and getting a good start. Tom Wilson‘s move down to the third line solved both of those problems. Christian Djoos walked past the Devils’ defense and around the net, finding Wilson with his stick on the ice.

Wilson now has six goals and eighteen points in 36 games. His career-high of seven goals came in the last two seasons.

Djoos followed up his first trick with a goal of his own. He dropped a pass backward for Alex Ovechkin, who found Backstrom across the seam. Backstrom returned the pass, turning Corey Schenider on his hindquarters trying to stop the tap-in.

“We’re four-on-three, so I was just trying to join the rush,” Djoos said. “He [Ovechkin] gave it to Backy, and I just kept going to the net.”

Devils’ defenseman John Moore‘s one-timer would be all he Devils got in the first period. Longtime Capital Marcus Johansson added a secondary assist on the goal in his first game back at Capital One Arena since it was called Verizon Center.

He got a video tribute during the second media timeout, and skated a short lap off the bench with his stick raised to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Johansson would set-up another one for his 300th NHL point, with Travis Zajac redirecting his pass by Holtby midway through the third.

John Carlson added to his run of good play with a power play tally in the second.  Seconds after an Ovechkin bid was stopped at the goal line by Will Butcher, Carlson powered a slap shot over Schneider’s blocker to redouble the advantage.

Matt Niskanen did almost the exact same thing as Djoos to score early in the third period. He dropped a pass for Ovechkin, who found Devante Smith-Pelly, who then found Niskanen hanging around the crease for the redirect.

Niskanen, however, admired the confidence of Djoos after the game.

“He’s getting better and better learning how to defend, use his positioning and his stickwork to defend,” Niskanen said. “He’s got the guts to make the play.”

Trotz showered the young defender with more praise.

“When you see a guy like Djoos, who processes so quickly, in a game like tonight when a team that comes making quick decisions, you gotta make quick decisions. He can do that,” he said.

For Ovechkin, this was his 13th three-assist game, and his second this season.

The win over New Jersey puts Washington in first place in the Metropolitan Division at the end of the 2017 portion of the season. They are 11 points clear of last-place Philadelphia.

Trotz credited his team with, to borrow an old team slogan, sticking to the script.

“I thought we were strong in terms of understanding how we can break them down a little bit and we stayed to the process like we did against the Bruins,” he said.

With the win, Trotz passes Lindy Ruff — now an assistant coach with the New York Rangers — for fifth on the NHL all-time wins list for coaches. Do not remind him of that.

Asked what it means, he answered, “that I’ve lost my hair, I’ve turned gray, and I’ve been blessed to be in this game a long time.”

The Capitals will start the new year in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 2, the last Metro team the Caps have not faced this season. They will play three of their first five games in 2018 against them.

Caps Pay Tribute to Marcus Johansson