December 31, 2017 / 3:10 AM / a year ago

Capitals dominate Devils, vault to top of Metropolitan

Capitals dominate Devils, vault to top of Metropolitan

WASHINGTON — Until the rapidly improving New Jersey Devils figure out a way to beat the Washington Capitals, they’ll still have a hill to climb before claiming the Metropolitan Division as their own.

The Devils were blitzed once again, this time by Washington’s defensemen, who had a banner night with three goals in a 5-2 victory on Saturday night that propelled the Capitals into first place, one point ahead of New Jersey.

“We have to find a way to beat these guys because they are a good measuring stick for us,” Devils goalie Cory Schneider said. “Back-to-back President’s (Cup) trophies, experienced team, good team. This is a team that we’re going to have to handle in the second half of the season if we’re going to make some noise later this year.”

From the opening whistle, Washington’s defensemen were all over the ice, with Christian Djoos leading the early charge.

Using some nifty moves, Djoos shed his defender, skated behind the net and found Tom Wilson in front of the net, who beat a screened Schneider for a 1-0 advantage just 2:26 into the game.

“Every day, you feel more comfortable,” Djoos said. “So far, so good.”

Later in the period, Djoos was on the receiving end of some sweet passes from Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the latter of whom found Djoos staring at a wide-open net against a flailing Schneider to give the Capitals a 2-0 advantage.

“He was good,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said of Djoos. “You talk about the growth of a young man. I thought he and (John) Carlson were fantastic.”

Carlson added a power-play blast in the second period and Matt Niskanen added another easy defenseman goal in the third to continue Washington’s impressive blue-line performance.

With a three-point night, Carlson now has 31 points this season, second only to Dallas’ John Klingberg’s 32 for defensemen.

“It’s cool. It’s obviously nice, but it’s based on my team and what guys are doing around me,” Carlson said. “Sometimes with that, you get kind of lucky here and there.”

Backstrom added an empty-netter as Washington moved to 8-0-1 in its last nine games against New Jersey. Braden Holtby made 25 saves to improve to 14-3-2 against the Devils, tied with the Boston Bruins for his most wins against any opponent.

John Moore and Travis Zajac — in his 800th NHL game — scored for the Devils, who suffered their first regulation loss since Dec. 9.

“We knew what was at stake, and even thought it’s early, it’s a four-point swing,” Schneider said. “To lose in regulation and not get a point is tough. The results are not what we wanted at all.”

Schneider made 30 saves for New Jersey (22-10-6), which fell one point behind Washington (24-13-3) as both teams closed out the calendar year. New Jersey hasn’t defeated Washington in regulation since Nov. 14, 2014.

“We talked about it being a big game, an important game to come in against a very good team, and we didn’t perform the way we needed to, but I think there’s a lot of things you can learn,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “This was a big game — you could see Washington came to play.

It was important to them, it was important to us, and they were the better team tonight.”

With the 737th win of Trotz’s career, he passed Lindy Ruff for fifth place on the NHL career list.

“Honestly, my first year, I wanted to get through the full season and not get let go,” Trotz said. “I’ve been blessed to be standing here a lot older and a lot more game-weathered than the young man from Dauphin, Manitoba, my first year.”

NOTES: The Devils acquired G Eddie Lack from Calgary in exchange for D Dalton Prout. Lack, who was 1-2-0 with a 5.29 goals-against average in four games with the Flames, was reassigned to New Jersey’s AHL team in Binghamton. ... Washington shuffled its lineup, with LW Andre Burakovsky and D Madison Bowey scratched in favor of C Chandler Stephenson and D Taylor Chorney. ... LW Alexander Ovechkin skated in his 961st game, tying Peter Bondra on the Capitals’ career games played list. ... Devils LW Marcus Johansson was honored with a video tribute in the first period by Washington, the team with whom he played for eight seasons. ... New Jersey scratched RWs Jimmy Hayes and Drew Stafford and D Ben Lovejoy.

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