|Recap: Devils at Caps, Opening Night by: Matt Witting October 6, 2001|
| The Capitals opened the 2001-2002 season with a dominating win over the defending Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils. Six different Washington players scored en route to the 6-1 victory at the MCI Center. Stifling defense kept the potent New Jersey lineup in check, and the 38 shots they gave up is deceptive: most of the shots came from the outside, and were unscreened. Olie Kolzig was very sharp in net when he had to be and didn’t make any mistakes.
The night started with very good and bad points. The pre-game ceremonies were quite entertaining, although a little too loud for my taste. The team received a very warm welcome, especially Olie, Bonzai and Jagr. Oates got a few boos, but both he and Halpern were well received for the most part. The loudest applause was for the rescue personnel in DC and New York, as we’ve come to expect, and led to a sustained round of “U-S-A” chants in the upper deck. During the national anthem, the singer’s mike had a faulty connection so he disconnected for a few lines every ten seconds or so. The crowd, however, was more than able to cover for him as everyone was singing. It was a moment that made me proud to be an American, to quote that song.
The first period was about what you’d expect from two teams that pride themselves on very physical defensive play; hard hits, lots of action in the neutral zone, and very few chances either way. The Devils outshot the Caps 15-8 in this frame, had two power plays to the Caps none, and tallied first at even strength with only 5 minutes left. Calle Johansson fell on the bad ice near the boards in his own zone while chasing the puck, the Devils recovered behind the net and hung up the Caps defense. Stevenson fed Boumedienne, streaking in from the right side of the blue line and he beat Olie glove side high with a frozen rope of a wrist shot. Less than two minutes later, however, the Caps evened things up. Ulf Dahlen fed Konowalchuk behind the net and he turned to center the puck. The Devils obviously didn’t watch the Pittsburgh series last year because they left Halpern all alone between the faceoff circles. Halpern took the feed and made no mistakes, beating Brodeur stick side for the first goal of the season. The first period ended in a 1-1 tie.
Just like last year, the second period belonged to Washington and Washington alone. Just 1:50 in Calle Johansson tapped in the rebound of a Konowalchuk shot at the right post and the rout was on. Five minutes later Jaromir Jagr put up his first point as a Capital when he collected a Zubrus rebound to the left of the crease, juked around Brodeur and fired it in to his right. At the 15:17 mark Sergei Gonchar got his first goal when he performed his patented back door cut, collected a gorgeous through-the-crease feed from Adam Oates and tapped it in for a 4-1 lead. Jagr also got an assist on that goal. Less than two minutes later the Caps got their first power play goal of the year on their first full man-advantage. Ulf Dahlen continued his great play by taking a pass from Sylvain Cote and whipping it in top shelf from a sharp angle. The period ended with the Caps enjoying a 5-1 lead and the fans going nuts. Washington out-shot New Jersey 12-9 and both teams had two PP chances.
The third period was a repeat of the first as the Caps kept the pressure up but only tallied once. The Devils pulled shell-shocked Marty Brodeur and replaced him with the backup, Clemmenson. Early in the period the refs finally addressed New Jersey’s huge edge in power play time, catching the Devils for two infractions in one minute, giving the Caps a five on three. For the first time, Washington looked bad with the puck, squandering the entire 2-man advantage. Seconds after it ended, however, Oates fed Gonchar at the point, Sergei moved up drawing the defense to him and slid the puck over to Bonzai for a deadly one-timer that Clemmenson had no chance to get to. 6-1 Caps edge. The remainder of the period went well as the Caps kept up the pressure but didn’t tally again. Oates had the best chance on a partial break-away with 10 seconds to play, but his shot went straight into the goalie’s stomach (out of pity, perhaps?).
All in all, this is the way to start a season. The Caps were perfect on the PK, killing all five New Jersey advantages. They converted 2 out of their 3 chances on the power play as well. Six different Capitals scored, four forwards and two defensemen, and the top three lines all had multiple points. The team’s scoring balance has been dramatically altered for the better. Jagr looked great, despite missing a short-handed partial break-away, and finished with two points. Olie was the number one star of the game, with 37 saves. Dahlen had a goal and an assist and was the #2 star, and Adam Oates was the number three star with three assists. The unsung hero of the game might have been Joe Sacco who did a great job defensively and was instrumental in killing penalties. The defense was smothering, the offense cycled very well, used the walls to pass more than in the past, and put up 6 goals. They were sloppy at times, however, and Nikolishin needs to remember that just because he plays next to Jagr doesn’t mean that he can play like Jagr. I’d like to see more physical play along the boards, but I can’t complain about the results. Even the officiating was pretty good, despite losing a linesman early on to a hard dump attempt that caught him in the shin.
The Capitals now face 9 of their next 10 games on the road, including a brief West Coast swing. The next game is Monday night at Boston to face old friend Byron Dafoe and the Bruins.