Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz didn't know that his team had just overtaken the New Jersey Devils to move atop the Metropolitan Division.
Sure, the season isn't quite halfway over, but the Capitals' 5-2 win over the Devils on Saturday night ensured that they'd end 2017 in first place.
Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson had a goal and two assists each, Alex Ovechkin had three assists.
"To me, it's about playing well," Trotz said. "I just want to want to get into the dance playing well. There's so much parity in this league."
Braden Holtby stopped 25 shots as Washington won its eighth straight home game. Christian Djoos had a goal and an assist, and Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen also scored for the Capitals.
New Jersey had gone eight games without a regulation loss. John Moore scored late in the first period and Travis Zajac midway through the third. Cory Schneider stopped 30 shots.
"They came out the first 10 minutes of the game, playing to win, and we didn't," Devils coach John Hynes said. "This was a big game. You can see Washington came to play. It was important to them, and it was important to us. They were the better team tonight."
While Trotz professed not to study the standings, his players knew the significance of the game.
"I think any game is big right now the way the division is shaking out," Carlson said. "You've got to collect them while you can, certainly against teams like this when we're home and rested and they're playing on a back-to-back and on the road."
On Friday night, New Jersey lost in overtime at home after five straight wins. The game against the Capitals was the Devils' first of four consecutive road games.
Marcus Johansson played in his first game as a visitor in Washington after seven seasons with the Capitals and assisted on both goals.
Wilson got the game's first goal, his sixth of the season, beating Schneider at 2:26 in the first period. Djoos gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead at 11:09. It was Djoos' third goal this season and his first since Oct. 21.
"That's where we want to be," Djoos said of his team taking the division lead. "It shows that we can play against them and win."
After Moore's goal, Carlson's fourth at 7:01 of the second made it 3-1. Niskanen added his third goal of the season at 4:25 of the third. Backstrom added his eighth goal, an empty-netter, in the game's final minute.
The win was Washington coach Barry Trotz's 737th. He's now in fifth place on the career list, passing Lindy Ruff.
"I've lost my hair. I've turned
Trotz, who is in his fourth season coaching Washington after spending 15 seasons with Nashville, feels fortunate to have lasted so long.
"My first year, I just wanted to get through the whole season and not get let go," Trotz said. "I'm blessed to be standing here, a lot older."
NOTES: Johansson was applauded by the crowd after a video tribute in the first period. "It feels a little weird," he said before the game. "It's going to be a fun one and a special one for me, and I think something I'm going to remember for a while afterwards." ... Washington F Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. ... The Devils acquired G Eddie Lack from Calgary for D Dalton Prout. Lack will report to Binghamton of the AHL.
Devils: Visit St. Louis on Tuesday night.
Capitals: Visit Carolina on Tuesday night.
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Rich Dubroff, The Associated Press