Washington Capitals\' Donald Brashear, left, fights with New Jersey Devils\' Pierre Luc Letourneau-Leblond in the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game, Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bill Kostroun
NEWARK, N.J. - Michael Nylander is showing no ill effects from missing half a season with a surgically repaired left shoulder.
Nylander set up two second-period goals and 2007-08 Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin added a what proved to be a game-winning short-handed goal early in the third as the unbeaten Washington Capitals held off the New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight pre-season victory.
"I think he is a little on a mission himself," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Nylander, who now has two goals and four assists in three pre-season games. "Here is a guy who got 89 points two years ago and he gets hurt and misses the last half of the year, and the team succeeds without him.
"So he has come in here and said: 'I am a good hockey player. I am one of the elite players in the NHL.' And he was two years ago when we signed him. So he is a proud man and he has come back with a vengeance."
Nylander, who played in 40 games before surgery in January, said his shoulder is getting better every day.
"I am just going to play the way I know I can play, and be the same player I have been in the past," Nylander said. "I want to get back to that level. I know my level. I want to be there and I am going to get there."
Defenceman Mike Green and centre Boyd Gordon were the beneficiaries of Nylander's nifty passes, while goaltenders Brent Johnson and Jose Theodore combined for 23 saves as Washington continued its best pre-season start since posting a 5-2 record in 1999.
Zach Parise scored midway through the third period and Petr Vrana scored with 1:52 to play for New Jersey (2-2), which had a two-game winning streak snapped.
Nylander made two lovely passes on the first two goals.
With the Capitals on a power play, Nylander took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, skated to the left side of goaltender Kevin Weekes and then slid a pass across the crease to a wide-open Green. The defenceman, who led NHL blue-liners with 18 goals last season, slammed the puck into an open net for his first goal at 3:09.
A little more than four minutes later, Nylander lifted a pass from the right circle that found Gordon all alone in front for an easy backhand goal.
"He is great passer," Boudreau said. "The problem is the guys can't think along the same line as him. He holds on to it and holds on to it and he can make the great play. If you are not ready to do it, you are in trouble."
Ovechkin, who scored 65 goals last season, got his third goal in two pre-season games on a 2-on-1 rush with David Steckel. Ovechkin carried the puck into the zone, sent a cross-ice pass to Steckel and then dunked the return pass with Weekes out of position.
"We've been looking for a little more offence out of our penalty kill and tonight it got the winning goal," Bourdeau said.
After Johnson stopped all 18 shots he faced in the opening two periods, Parise scored in close after taking a pass from David Clarkson. Vrana deflected a shot by Sheldon Brookbank for the other goal.
Johnson made 13 saves in the scoreless first period, with his best being a snapping glove save on Fedor Fedorov, whose brother Sergei was given the night off by Boudreau.
Notes: Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear got the better of Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond in a long third-period fight. ... The game at the Prudential Center drew 8,536 fans. ... The Devils only used two veteran lines and two rookie defencemen. Washington used more veterans.