The New Jersey Devils will stand a better chance against the Washington Capitals on Sunday if they can put together a 60-minute game.
The Devils needed little time to reflect on what went wrong in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Capitals, the first game of a two-day doubleheader and a five-game homestand.
"As a group, from the goalie out, that first period was as bad as I've seen out of our group," coach Lindy Ruff said.
"It wasn't a great start," added Travis Zajac, whose afternoon started with a pre-game ceremony honoring his 1,000th career NHL game.
The Capitals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in 13 minutes, 40 seconds with goals from Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong and Lars Eller. Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha replied for the Devils before Jakub Vrana and Nic Dowd scored in the third to put the game away for the Caps.
On the bright side, Zacha's goal extended his scoring streak to nine games, the second-longest active streak in the NHL.
"We weren't ready to play," Ruff said. "We weren't ready to compete. We turned a lot of pucks over. It looked like we wanted to be a little bit of a fancy team because our wall battles weren't great to start the game. I thought the last 40, that's the team I like to see but totally unacceptable the first 20."
Zajac, shouldering the blame for one goal, said the Devils need to play a tighter game, especially against high-octane offenses like the Capitals'.
"We can't give them easy offense," he said. "I had a turnover high in the zone and it leads to a goal. That's go time for them when teams turn the puck over and they can make plays and come up the ice on an odd-man rush. If we can take that out of our game, we limit their offensive."
The Caps outshot the Devils 14-8 in the first period, but once the Devils collected themselves they held Washington to 10 shots through the final two periods.
Defenseman John Carlson, who had two assists for the Capitals, admitted his team may have let up a little once it built the 3-0 lead.
"They did a good job ... backing us off," he said. "They changed the way they were playing, but a lot of it was on us and how we went about our business."
The Capitals, who kicked off a five-game road trip with the win, have to maintain their aggressive play, Carlson noted.
"When we're aggressively positionally, not necessarily taking risks or diving down without support ... it's harder for them to generate (their rush game)," he said. "When we're just a little bit backed off, they have a lot of really young, fast players that we kinda fed them the ice to skate on.
"Any time you can give those guys some ice, that's when they become dangerous versus still playing positionally sound, but being up in their face a little more and stymieing the beginning of their attack more."
The win was a signal to the team that the Capitals are finding their stride, said Eller, who scored the eventual game-winner. He particularly liked the way they started Saturday against the Devils and Thursday in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We were on our toes, all four lines were going," he said. "I'm encouraged by what I've seen the last few games. ... Now we've gotten the feeling of how good we can be, especially last game against Pit and the first today."
--Field Level Media