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Five observations from New Jersey vs Washington:
1. The Devils gave the Capitals nothing
I thought they played a terrific defensive game vs Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Somehow, they managed to take it to another level against the defending Stanley Cup winners.
It felt like every time the Capitals touched the puck there was a member of the Devils right on top of them. Sometimes two. They were consistently pressured and had no time to breathe. Everything was rushed. That's how you want to defend in today's NHL, especially against a team that didn't have a full gas tank.
Despite all the high-end talent on Washington's roster, they generated very few chances. Their big guns, in particular, were quiet.
Alex Ovechkin had two shots. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson only had one shot. T.J. Oshie didn't muster up any. The Capitals are top heavy so if their big guns don't generate offense, the team isn't going to.
2. Pavel Zacha stood out
Last night was a perfect example of the phrase 'points don't tell the whole story'. Though Zacha didn't find the scoresheet in a 6-0 bloodbath, I thought he was one of the best players on the ice. He posted a ~61 Corsi For% at 5v5 and finished tied for the team lead with four scoring chances in that game state. He and Marcus Johansson connected on some gorgeous plays to create Grade A opportunities. They just wouldn't go.
Defensively, Zacha was once again very strong – particularly on the penalty kill. The Devils gave up just one scoring chance (zero high-danger) in the 2:40 Zacha played while short-handed. On the year he has logged almost six minutes in that game state and only been on for one chance against.
He was quietly one of the best penalty killers in the league during his first two seasons and it looks like he's still trending upwards.
3. The top line feasted
That was one of the best performances I have seen from the Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri trio. They were dangerous from start to finish and that's not an exaggeration. At 5v5, they averaged a scoring chance per minute and were rewarded with an early goal. They connected again late in the 1st period on the 2nd goal. While that was it for them points wise, there were plenty of other opportunities to fill the net. Few lines in the league can match what they bring to the table offensively.
4. Damon Severson quietly solid
I know Severson can be frustrating to watch at times, and a lot of fans get on him as a result, but I think he is off to a terrific start this season. He has been more assertive down low and around the net, which the coaching staff has been on him about for years. He's also moving the puck well and his on-ice impact is *very* positive.
Last night, for example, Severson led the Devils with a +10 scoring chance differential and +7 high-danger chance differential at 5v5. He deserves a lot of credit for how he is playing.
5. Dea looks like a keeper
Only Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier recorded more 5v5 chances vs the Oilers. Dea followed up that performance with a goal and a couple more chances vs the Capitals. If he can contribute the odd point while using his speed to take the top off the defense, and get in on the forecheck, he will be a staple on the 4th line.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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