- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twenty minutes and 51 seconds. That’s a good chunk of a hockey game, but a bad amount of time not to have a single shot on net.

That’s exactly what happened to the Washington Capitals in their 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at Verizon Center, a game that was less about missed opportunities and more about no opportunities at all —- including that 20:51 shot drought.

“It’s a game that we got a little complacent. We stopped picking up our assignments, and they just capitalized on a couple chances we did give them,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “The other thing is, we didn’t generate any offense after the first period —- I think we had two shots in the second, and what was it, five in the third? It’s just not going to cut it, especially with this team.”

Not going to cut it when a two-goal lead is the backdrop. At the end of one, the Caps were taking care of business against an inferior Devils team: Michal Neuvirth was on his game and the offense was opportunistic, scoring twice on nine shots. It looked like Washington would cruise to a second straight victory.

“I was feeling pretty good, and I think the whole team was feeling pretty good,” Neuvirth said.

Then, it turned into Devils hockey. Maybe not Devils hockey circa 2000 to 2003 with the neutral-zone trap wreaking havoc on opponents … but it was enough to frustrate the Caps.

Brooks Laich (playing his first full NHL game as a defenseman) took a shot on Johan Hedberg at the 5:45 mark of the second, and then the doldrums hit. Even with a power play thrown into the mix, the Caps didn’t manage a shot until the 6:36 mark of the third when Nicklas Backstrom got one on net from the slot.

“They made it tough for us to get through the neutral zone but then also I thought their defensemen did a great job winning battles when we would dump it in,” Laich said. “For us as a team, the strength of our team should be our forecheck. We weren’t able to establish that tonight, and thus we weren’t successful.”

In the process, the Devils got goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter to tie the score. Neither goal could really be blamed on Neuvirth, but New Jersey was starting to feel the game turning and seized its chances.

“We did believe,” Hedberg said. “We talked about it in the room: We felt good about their game and just got to stick with it and keep playing it out and we’re going to get our goals. And we did.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau credited both his team and the Devils for playing strong defensively and not having a lot of breakdowns. But he admitted there wasn’t a whole lot of firepower or offensive strength coming from a team with so many weapons.

“When the shots are 17-19 and both teams have six power plays, there’s not a lot going on —- offensively,” he said. “I thought both teams checked really hard.”

Checking really hard didn’t compensate for a lack of offense. The Caps did have a few chances to build their lead, including breakaways by Alex Ovechkin and Jeff Halpern, but all around they couldn’t put the Devils back in their zone enough.

Players talked about the Devils having too “easy” of a game —- but it was the Devils’ game that the Caps fell into. And that’s why they couldn’t sweep the home-and-home series.

“It was tough for us to get sustained pressure in their zone,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “They came at us with some speed; we just couldn’t find a way to get some sustained pressure and get a couple goals.”

Note: Roman Hamrlik left the game in the second period after Boudreau said he was hit with a cross check. The coach called him “day-to-day.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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