WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals turned in a respective performance on Thursday night against one of the NHL's top teams, but the visiting New Jersey Devils broke through the back-and-forth contest for a 3-2 shootout victory.
Washington's losing result was hardly the Capitals' netminder's fault.
Darcy Kuemper was exceptional against the Devils. He recorded 38 saves on 40 shots and allowed just one goal during 5-on-5 play; New Jersey's other goal came on the power play when the puck deflected off one of Washington's skaters and into the net, leaving Kuemper little chance to make the stop.
"Darcy played an unbelievable game," Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said.
One game after Kuemper recorded 37 saves in a loss to the Kings, the 32-year-old goaltender did everything in his power for the Capitals to pick up two points against the Devils. Washington was outshot 30-11 over the final 40 minutes, yet Kuemper made save after save to prevent the contest from shifting in New Jersey's favor.
The reality is that Kuemper was the main reason Washington picked up a point on Thursday night at all.
Despite Kuemper's incredible display in net, the Capitals found themselves on the losing end of the tilt -- a sight that's become way too familiar for Washington since the calendar flipped to 2023. The frustration from not earning a win after Kuemper's stellar outing was evident from the Capitals' head coach.
"[It] might have been one of his better ones of the year in net," Laviolette said. "You have a goaltending performance like that, you want to cash in on something in the second or the third or have that redirect drop for us in the offensive zone and it didn’t. We had some chances and some looks. We couldn’t get it done in regulation or overtime.”
Both Laviolette and forward Tom Wilson said postgame the Capitals found themselves in too many odd-man rush situations, forcing Kuemper to step up and make a stop. While Kuemper came through for the club most of the evening, it's something Washington will look to clean up down the homestretch of the regular season.
"We just gotta work together a little bit better when a guy goes down, the other guy has to kind of reload over him and pick up their guys and keep coming back," Wilson said. "Against a team like that, if Darcy isn't playing how he did tonight, it might have been a little bit worse."
Part of the reason for the Capitals' recent struggles can be attributed to the change in personnel the team has undergone. Washington moved on from five players, all key contributors, prior to last week's trade deadline. It's also worth noting that five of the six Capitals' defensemen from opening night were not in the lineup Thursday against New Jersey.
All of the Capitals' recent lineup changes make Kuemper's performance against the Devils even more impressive. And, if Washington hopes to get back in the playoff mix -- they currently trail the Penguins by five points for the final Wild Card spot -- over the final month of the season, they'll need more elite-level outings from No. 35 in net.
"We needed an excellent goaltending performance to [get a point]," Laviolette said. "We gave up -- I haven't looked at the numbers yet -- but we gave up 40 shots. We ended up giving up over 20 chances and we're in a 2-2 game. So, he was real[ly] good.
"On a lot of nights you need your goaltender to be your best player, certainly when you're playing a team like New Jersey who's high-octane," he continued. "I think they're second in the league in goals for; they are capable of scoring goals. Your goalie has to play really well and I thought he did."