Keith Kinkaid stood on his head for the Devils earning his team the unlikely 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Thursday.
How it happened: Evgeny Kuznetsov took the puck into the corner off a faceoff in the defensive zone and inexplicably attempted a no-look behind the back pass into the high slot that went right to the stick of P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau wasted little time wristing the shot past Braden Holtby. Down a goal and down a man in the third period, Daniel Winnik pressured Beau Bennett at the blue line to force a turnover and started the rush with Jay Beagle. Winnik finally finished the play off himself knocking the puck past a sprawled Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at one. With no winner in overtime, Jacob Josefson finished the game in the shootout after Kinkaid stopped shots from both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
What it means: The loss was the Caps' fourth in their last five games and the first against New Jersey since Nov. 14, 2014, snapping a seven-game win streak against the Devils. Washington's record against the Metropolitan Division now sits at 4-5-4. The Caps' shootout record also dropped to 1-4.
Turning point: The Caps offense couldn't seem to solve Kinkaid until they were shorthanded and in desperate need of a goal. Winnik's goal in the third period was the Caps' third shorthanded goal of the season, already surpassing last season's total of two. With an assist on the play, Beagle now has three shorthanded points, tying him for second in the NHL. Though the Caps ended up losing in a shootout, the penalty kill earned the Caps a point in the standings.
Second to no one: Cory Schneider is considered one of the top netminders in the league, but it was his backup who stole the show on Thursday. Kinkaid was phenomenal in net with 39 saves in regulation, 43 for the game and he stopped both shots he faced in the shootout. He adjusted well against deflections, he stuffed Jay Beagle on a breakaway, he fought off a scrum in front of the net after losing his stick late in the second period and dove across the crease to get his glove in the way of a wraparound stuff attempt by Nicklas Backstrom in the third. He may be the backup for the Devils, but he sure didn't play like on against the Caps.
Message received? Justin Williams was not happy about the number of penalties the Caps took Tuesday against the New York Islanders. They did not allow any goals, but the penalties took the Caps out of their momentum. On Thursday the Caps again took four penalties including two in the third period, one with the team trailing 1-0 and the other with the score tied at 1. In both situations, it was an inopportune time for Washington to take a penalty.
No easy wins: The Metropolitan Division has established itself as the best division in hockey with teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. Given how difficult it will be for the Caps to gain ground on the teams at the top of the division, they cannot afford to lose to the weaker teams. Yet, those teams seem to be giving the Caps fits this season. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and New Jersy Devils sit 6th, 7th and 8th respectively in the division. The Caps have only managed a 3-3-1 record against those teams this season.
Look ahead: The Caps head to New Jersey for a rematch with the Devils on Saturday. Then they ring in the New Year with a quick turnaround against the Ottawa Senators back in Washington on Sunday.