WASHINGTON (AP) — On a night that looked primed for Alex Ovechkin to fill the net, another first overall pick took over instead.
Nico Hischier scored twice and was part of a strong defensive effort to end the last-place New Jersey Devils’ three-game skid with a 5-1 rout of the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday. Hischier’s 11th and 12th goals of the season came on the same day the 2017 top pick missed out on a last-chance All-Star invite because fans voted in Washington’s T.J. Oshie instead.
Hischier played like an All-Star in handing Washington its second consecutive loss.
“Right now I’m playing with a little bit more confidence, but I think the whole team is playing with more confidence,” Hischier said. “It’s just simple. For me and for the team, we know what kind of team we are, I know what kind of player I am, so I’ve just got to try to keep skating and some things will open up.”
Devils backup goaltender Louis Domingue made 33 saves on 34 shots in just his sixth start of the season. He was helped by a major improvement in the defensive zone but was up to the challenge against a stacked opponent.
“I felt great from the start, and I thought we played really hard in front of me,” Domingue said. “Teams don’t like the checking game, so if we can get that on our side, we’re going to be tough to play against.”
Blake Coleman scored a short-handed goal, and Nikita Gusev added one moments after a power play ended for the Devils, who were committed to playing a more responsible game after losing 6-3 to the rival New York Rangers on Thursday.
Washington lost back-to-back games in regulation for the second time this season and has dropped four of seven. Defensive-zone miscues continue to haunt the Capitals, who largely hung All-Star goalie Braden Holtby out to dry as he allowed four goals on 21 shots.
“Execution wasn’t there today,” said Capitals winger Jakub Vrana, who scored his 20th goal of the season. “Lots of bobbled pucks. Lots of missed passes. We weren’t really sharp as we normally (are).”
Despite Vrana’s goal in his first game since a promotion to the first unit, the Capitals’ power-play struggles continued. They allowed a short-handed goal for the second consecutive game and went 1 for 5 on the power play — including a botched 5-on-3 chance in the third period.
“Obviously you can’t give up a short-handed goal and a breakaway right after it,” coach Todd Reirden said. “It’s definitely a work in progress. The execution has got to improve all over the ice for us in all situation if we want to be the type of team we expect to be.”
Hoping to get more out of his team during this skid after winning three in a row, Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine held a meeting Saturday morning reminding players about defensive responsibility. The message seemed to get through.
“Guys were committed to playing good defense,” Nasreddine said. “In this league, you can score goals, but you have to defend and I thought we did a really good job tonight. We did a good job not only in our end but also 200 feet away from our net where we tracked pucks and hunted pucks and used our speed.”
NOTES: Miles Wood scored an empty-netter with five minutes left to seal it. … F Jesper Bratt returned to the Devils lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury. … F Jack Hughes didn’t travel to D.C. but skated on his own back in New Jersey, according to Nasreddine, who said the first overall pick is “inching closer” to returning from an upper-body injury. … With goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood out because of an upper-body injury, Evan Cormier was called up to back up Domingue. … Washington sent D Christian Djoos back to AHL Hershey after he healed up from an upper-body injury.
Devils: Return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.
Capitals: Host the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
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