Vitek Vanecek and Jack Hughes dominate Capitals in loss to Devils

Vanecek, Hughes dominate Capitals in loss to Devils originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals faced the red-hot New Jersey Devils on Saturday and got burned in a 5-1 loss to the first-seeded team at the top of the Metropolitan Division to begin their six-game road trip.

Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek made his first start against his former team and didn’t disappoint, stopping 37 of 38 shots to continue his stellar season. After the Capitals (9-11-3) traded him to New Jersey (18-4) last offseason, he’s risen to injured reserve as the Devils’ top option at the net with opening night starter MacKenzie Blackwood.

On the other side of the ice, Capitals goaltender Charlie Lindgren struggled to corner the speedy New Jersey forwards. Jack Hughes scored the first hat-trick of his young career with three equal goals and fellow young star Nico Hischier also had a power play record.

Washington, who had back-to-back victories prior to the contest, were held back by just a goal by defender John Carlson in the second leg of a consecutive game.

Here are three takeaways from the Capitals’ loss to the Devils.

Vanecek’s revenge game

The book about Vanecek during his time in DC was always the same: he was a technically sound goalie but struggled to make the spectacular saves a team with championship ambitions would demand of him. On Saturday night, he made spectacular saves and survived a high-volume Washington attack that created 13 high-risk chances.

While the Devils have skyrocketed in the table, Vanecek’s stock has risen with them. He finished the game with a 10-2-0 record, with a .923 save percentage and 2.04 goals against averages in 14 games (12 starts) for New Jersey. With Blackwood suffering from an MCL sprain, Vanecek has a real chance to champion their long-term answer at the net.

The 27-year-old had played against the Capitals before this season, but that appearance was a relief after Blackwood was drawn for five goals in two thirds on Oct. 24. Immediately following that game, New Jersey went on a 13-game winning streak that tied the franchise record. Vanecek appeared in 10 of those games and never conceded more than three goals.

Washington has little to complain about in terms of goaltending quality this season with Darcy Kuemper as a starter, but Vanecek has thrived since leaving the nation’s capital and showed the Capitals what they’ve given up with Saturday’s performance.

The young Devils scorers show themselves

The Devils came into play Saturday with the most goals in the NHL by players under the age of 25, adding to that total that all five goals were scored by Hughes (21), Nico Hischier (23) and Fabian Zetterlund (23).

Hughes has been a rising star in recent seasons, joining the likes of the Anaheim Ducks’ Trevor Zegras as part of the wave of young players pushing the boundaries with unconventional highlight reel goals.

After scoring his first goal from a breakaway facilitated by a Lars Eller turnover, Hughes then fired a tight-angle shot from the corner that ricocheted off the back of Lindgren’s mask into goal.

In the third half, he beat Lindgren again in an odd rush to score the first hat trick of his NHL career. It was the first hat trick the Capitals have conceded this season.

With a young core built around Hughes, Hischier and Jesper Bratt, the long-lived-in-the-basement Devils look like a team that will be a problem at Metro for years to come.

The inability of capitals to complete reworks

After back-to-back victories, the Capitals boarded their flight to New Jersey to begin a six-game road trip that included dates with the Devils, Seattle Kraken and Edmonton Oilers. The team was hoping to come around the corner after a subpar start to the season, which saw them sit seventh at the Metro before picking up victories over the Philadelphia Flyers and Flames.

Their winning streak was short-lived, however, after the offensive struggled to finish games throughout the night. The Capitals put themselves in great positions to score, but a couple of bad bounces and some impressive stops from Vanecek limited them to one goal in the game.

Carlson scored the only goal of the evening, scoring with a shot from high position – a point the Capitals have not often scored from this season.

But it was too little too late for the Capitals, who have scored three goals or fewer in six of their last seven games. They’re taking two days off before taking on the struggling Vancouver Canucks (7-10-3) on Monday.