Larsson celebrates with Dainius Zubrus after scoring his first NHL goal Friday. (Getty/NHL Images)
On the day before his 19th birthday, Adam Larsson got the best gift any young player could ask for.
The only thing missing was a win.
Larsson blasted his first National Hockey League goal on Friday, lighting the lamp for the first time in what many believe will be a long and successful career on the blue line. But it was all the offense the Devils could muster in a 3-1 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals.
"[It means] a lot of course and it was a lot of fun," Larsson said. "It's good to have the first goal away, but hopefully it's one of many."
Patrik Elias helped set it up to extend his own points streak to six games. He took a shot on Tomas Vokoun, and the rebound kicked out to the right circle. Larsson stepped into it and ripped the puck inside the left post to give the Devils a 1-0 lead at 13:06 of the first period.
The Devils (7-6-1) saw their winning streak snapped at three games despite outshooting the Capitals, 33-20. They head to Washington to close out the home-and-home series Saturday night. It's also the start of a five-game road trip.
I thought he was good. He got his first goal, which is, I'm sure, a big relief for him. I liked our whole team game. - Coach Peter DeBoer on Adam Larsson
"Hopefully we can win [Saturday]," said Larsson. "It would be the best gift I can get."
Larsson was met head-on by another NHL first – his first game against Alex Ovechkin, who put a heavy open-ice hit on the rookie eight minutes into the third period. Larsson skated slowly back to the bench but stayed in the game.
"It was a good hit," said Larsson, who caught Ovechkin's shoulder in the mouth. "I'll just learn to keep my head up next time."
Ovechkin tied it up in the second before Jason Chimera snapped the stalemate with a shorthanded goal 2:27 into the third. Marcus Johansson put the Capitals ahead by a pair with 9:17 to go in regulation.
The fourth overall pick in this year's Entry Draft, Larsson became the first 18-year-old to make the Devils out of training camp since Petr Sykora in 1995-96. Though he was never guaranteed to make the cut, there's no question now of how valuable he has become.
Larsson's milestone puck.
He ranks third among Devils defensemen with three points (1g-2a) and is the only New Jersey blueliner other than Mark Fayne to have scored a goal this season.
He led all Devils defensemen with 22:03 of ice time against a high-powered Capitals offense, and tops all New Jersey blueliners with an average ice time of 23:30.
"I thought he was good," said coach Peter DeBoer. "He got his first goal, which is, I'm sure, a big relief for him. I liked our whole team game."
DeBoer's squad remains perfect at home on the penalty kill (30-for-30) after going 4-for-4 on Friday, including three straight stops in the second. Entering Friday's action, only Pittsburgh (93.2%) and Buffalo (92%) had a better overall penalty kill than the Devils (91.7%).
The power play, however, squandered five chances and has come up empty in four straight games (0-for-14).
"We have to score, we have to find a way to get our power play going," DeBoer said. "That's obvious. We did a lot more right than wrong."
The Devils smothered Washington in the opening frame, limiting them to just one shot over the first 13-plus minutes. David Clarkson hit the post early in the second period, narrowly missing a chance to make it 2-0.
"I thought we deserved to have at least a couple at the end of two with the way we played," DeBoer said. "That's what happens when you don't put away good teams. You let them hang around, that's what can happen, and that's exactly the story."
Martin Brodeur made his third straight start and finished with 17 saves. Ilya Kovalchuk (lower body) missed his third straight game and will not play Saturday in D.C.
"I think we played well in the first period," Brodeur said. "Taking three penalties in a row [in the second] kind of cut off the rhythm of the game a little bit. I think they took advantage of that. They played better and they got some confidence out of that. They got some breaks offensively, there's no doubt about that. Two of the three goals were unlucky bounces against us."
Elias, the Devils' leading scorer with 14 points, has two goals, five assists on his six-game points streak. He's been held without a point just twice this season.
"I think the effort is there," Elias said. "I thought the game was there for us. They're beatable, obviously. You have to take advantage of that, especially on home ice, and we didn't do that. We have to keep it going; those are valuable points."
Ovechkin's seventh of the season tied the game in the second. Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff back to the right point for a shot by Dennis Wideman. The puck hit Anton Volchenkov and dropped in front of Ovechkin for an easy tap-in at 17:33.
Chimera struck shorthanded to break the 1-1 tie. He caught the Devils changing, slipped around Larsson and moved in alone on Brodeur for his fifth of the year. It was the second shorthanded tally allowed by the Devils in as many games.
"The power play is there for us to score, or at least get opportunities and keep the momentum or get the momentum," Elias said. "We had five chances and maybe one good power play tonight. That's not good enough."
Johansson's sixth of the season made it 3-1. Karl Alzner took a shot from the blue line, and Johansson backhanded in the rebound at 10:43.
Jon Erskine was called for hooking with 3:30 to go, and the Devils pulled Brodeur with about two minutes remaining for a brief 6-on-4 advantage.
Notes and quotes Larsson on what he plans to do with the puck from his first goal "I think I'll hold on to it. Do you want it?"
DeBoer on possible changes for Saturday "Based on performances, I wasn't disappointed in anybody tonight. I don't foresee any unless it's injury-related."
...on the power play "I think everyone's frustrated. I think if you fall into the frustration trap – frustration and power play is counterproductive. We can't fall into that trap. We have to try and keep our confidence, look at some of the good things we're doing, some of the good looks we're getting. Part the of the story tonight was when we had some opportunities, especially later in the game on the power play, we had fatigued people because of the amount of special teams and some of the penalties we took."
Zach Parise on Friday's game "It was a really winnable game for us, I thought. We were in a good position for a lot of the game and it kind of slipped away from us towards the end."
"I thought they played better as the game went on. We didn't take advantage when we had that lead or when the game was tied."
...on keys to success in Washington
"A few less mistakes. I think that cost us two goals, at least. We have to play a little better. We have to convert on our opportunities, because they're there. They're definitely there."
...on Friday's positives "I thought for half the game we did pretty well. We were in control, we were playing the puck down low, working them in their zone for extended periods. As the game went on, I think we got less and less of that."
• The Devils lost for the first time in regulation when scoring first (3-1-1) and when leading after the first period (1-1-1). … The Capitals are 5-1-0 in their last six games against the Devils, who have been outscored 22-10.
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
3 - 1 WSH
Interference - Goalkeeper