Caps fall flat, lose to Devils
Copley solid early as teammates struggle
NEWARK, N.J. (WPNS) — Washington Capitals goaltender Pheonix Copley hugged the post, attempting to seal off the right side of the net as the New Jersey Devils again swarmed in front of him. Blake Coleman’s shot found a hole anyway, and for a fourth time Thursday night, the Prudential Center goal horn sounded and Copley again tried to brace himself in net. He’d played pretty well for just his second NHL start, and yet the score was lopsided. The Devils would score two more times before his night was mercifully over.
Washington’s high-powered offense dried up as the team suffered its first regulation loss of this young season, falling to New Jersey, 6-0. The Capitals (2-1-1) had scored 18 goals in their first three games before Thursday’s shutout. Meanwhile, they bled scoring chances, and in his first appearance of the season, Copley allowed six goals on 36 shots.
The Capitals will likely consider this a schedule loss down the road — Washington opened the season with a back-to-back, then had five days off before another back-to-back set of games — but the game was also an example of what the defending Stanley Cup champions can come to expect. Teams will want to measure themselves against the Capitals, putting forth their best effort, and on Thursday, the Devils (20-0) looked like the faster and more organized team.
Copley hasn’t made an NHL regular-season start since Jan. 21, 2017, and his last time in net before Thursday’s game was against St. Louis, when he had a 42-save shutout in the teams’ preseason meeting. That was nearly three weeks ago, and while Copley spent that time working with goaltending coach Scott Murray in practice, he was rusty from lack of game action. Though top goaltender Braden Holtby
started him both of the first two games, when the team played Boston and then division rival Pittsburgh.
“We’ve got a real special goaltender in Braden Holtby who we need to put out there to give our team the best chance we can to have success,” Reirden said before Thursday’s game. “But for me, the right thing to do was not to have (Copley) go into Pittsburgh on a back-to-back in game two of the year.”
Reirden was hopeful that starting Copley against the Devils less than 24 hours after the Capitals beat the Vegas Golden Knights would be a better situation for his season debut. But while Copley looked fresh and sharp to start the game, his teammates struggled. New Jersey unloaded the first five shots of the game in the first five minutes. Center Pavel Zacha broke free and barreled toward Copley 6:25 into the game, and he smoothly saved that and a second shot from Zacha 22 seconds later.
But Copley was under pressure again the next shift, and he couldn’t corral a bouncing puck in the crease. Forward Kyle Palmieri wedged it through his legs and across the goal line for a 1-0 lead. The Capitals were outshot, 10-1, in the first nine minutes of the game. Through 40 minutes, New Jersey had 25 shots to Washington’s 11.
With 2:17 left in the first period, defenseman John Carlson was called for hooking. Palmieri
scored again, this time with a snipe from the top of the right faceoff circle on the power play. Another penalty to start the second period, a Jakub Vrana trip 47 seconds in, proved costly. Washington killed it off, but just seven seconds later, former Capitals forward Marcus Johansson snapped a shot past Copley to make it a 3-0 game.
Though the blame for Thursday’s result rested more on the play in front of Copley than on the goaltender himself, the 6-foot-4 26-year-old is under some pressure to start the season. Washington benefited from having two impressive goaltenders on the roster last season with Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, who was Holtby’s understudy for three seasons. As Holtby struggled in the second half of the regular season, Grubauer played more, ultimately in net for 35 games. Grubauer wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender with a team, so he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche over the summer.
With Copley much less experienced, the margin for error is less this year, and while the Capitals are committed to being patient with Copley as he grows into the role, it’s also the one spot in the lineup that is a question mark for a team that’s returning the bulk of its championship roster.
“He’s a guy who’s well-liked in our room,” Reirden said. “An extremely hard-worker and obviously takes up a lot of room in the net.”
When New Jersey’s Brian Boyle scored the Devils’ sixth and final goal of the game, fans started to serenade Copley, mockingly singing his name and he got back into position in net.