Washington Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer (20) goes for the puck against the New Jersey Devils in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
WASHINGTON - Having watched his New Jersey Devils fail to score during an earlier 5-on-3 power play, coach Peter DeBoer called a timeout right before another two-man advantage against the Washington Capitals.
This time, the puck wound up in the net.
Dropping to a knee as he let his shot fly, Ilya Kovalchuk scored the tiebreaking goal with about 8 1/2 minutes left to complete New Jersey's 3-2 comeback victory Thursday night over NHL-worst Washington, which has yet to beat any of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
"We drew something up," DeBoer said, "and a great player found a way to make a great play."
The Capitals are missing that ingredient: Two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin was scoreless for the eighth time in 16 games this season, a big reason Washington is 5-10-1. Its 11 points are the fewest in the 30-team NHL.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby turned in another solid performance, making 34 saves, but never had a chance to make No. 35—he said he didn't even see Kovalchuk's attempt off Patrik Elias' assist. Elias had scored a short-handed goal in the second period.
"They keep blocking the shots," Kovalchuk said of the Capitals, who stopped 18 pucks before they reached Holtby, "but then the last one went through."
Washington led 2-1 entering the third period on power-play goals by Mathieu Perrault and Mike Ribeiro.
"You start the third period, you've got a lead, then you give them two 5-on-3s in one period—obviously that's too much," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "I thought maybe a couple of calls were tough calls."
Andrei Loktionov made it 2-all midway through the last period, scoring his first goal for New Jersey since arriving in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings two weeks ago.
"He gave us some real good contribution," DeBoer said. "I didn't know a lot about him."
The Capitals dropped to 0-7-1 against the conference's top six teams. They will get another chance Saturday when they host New Jersey again.
It is the first time the Capitals will play the same opponent in consecutive games both at home since April 5-7, 2006, against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"Less travel for us," Elias said with a grin. "We'll take it."
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur finished with 17 saves, as New Jersey outshot Washington 37-19.
The Capitals had accumulated only two shots in the first 13 minutes. With a little more than half a minute to go in the opening period, Ovechkin deked defenceman Bryce Salvador and broke in alone on Brodeur. But Ovechkin was dumped to the ice by defenceman Andy Greene while shooting—meaning Brodeur had a relatively easy time swatting away the puck with his stick hand.
Greene was whistled for tripping.
The Capitals began the second period with nearly 1 1/2 minutes left on that power play, but didn't threaten.
Later in the second, Ovechkin wrested the puck from defenceman Henrik Tallinder along the boards and headed for Brodeur, only to be upended this time by defenceman Anton Volchenkov.
With Volchenkov off for tripping, and only 15 seconds left on the power play, Washington went ahead 1-0. Troy Brouwer got past Tallinder and Stephen Gionta, then sent a close-range shot on goal. The puck was blocked by Brodeur, but bounced right to a trailing Perrault, who put it at 9:28.
Washington soon earned another power play, and it resulted in a goal for each team. The Devils tied it with a short-handed goal only 20 seconds after the whistle. Capitals defenceman John Carlson was stripped of the puck behind his net, and Adam Henrique set up Elias for his fifth goal at 11:16.
Less than 1 1/2 minutes later, with 16 seconds to go on the man-advantage, Washington took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Ribeiro, whose shot through traffic appeared to be redirected through Brodeur's legs. Ribeiro got hit in the back by Gionta at the end of the play and was wincing on the bench afterward.
By the end, though, all of the Capitals were angry—about some of the officiating calls and the final score. Brouwer got a 10-minute misconduct at the final buzzer for yelling at an official.
"Our penalty kill blocked shots. We did everything we needed to. Unfortunately there was just too many calls," Brouwer said.
Asked to elaborate, he replied: "I'm not discussing it right now. I don't feel like getting fined tonight."
Notes: Capitals D Mike Green sat out his second game in a row with a lower-body injury. ... Devils F Ryan Carter was scratched, three days after leaving a game when he was sandwiched into the boards by two Ottawa players. ... Elias leads the Devils with 21 points.