The Washington Capitals took on the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, October 25th, at Prudential Center in Newark. Rookie Hunter Shepherd made his NHL debut in net against the Devils and gave a goaltending performance that helped the Caps get their 6-4 win over the notoriously powerful hockey club.
Who is Hunter Shepard?
Hunter Shepard, 27, is a talented goaltender who has been playing with the Washington Capitals organization since 2020, playing with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays and the AHL’s Hershey Bears. In his AHL debut with the Bears, he secured a shutout win, stopping all 28 shots. He played with Hershey in their 2022-2023 AHL playoff run, helping the team earn the Richard F. Canning Trophy as the Eastern Conference Champions. His performance in the championship gave him the go-ahead to be the starting goalie as the Bears took on the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Calder Cup Championship. Hershey clinched the Cup in Game 7, and Hunter Shepard boasted the Jack Butterfield Award as the most valuable player. Following the win, the Capitals re-signed Shepard to a two-year, two-way contract worth $775,000.
The first period looked incredibly promising for Capitals fans, with Hunter Shepard stopping every shot that came his way. He didn’t have to stop many, though, as the Capitals showed incredible skill and consistency in possessing the puck. This led to three goals scored in the first period. Anthony Mantha scored first for Washington, assisted by Aliaksei Protas. Dylan Strome followed up roughly 9 minutes later with a goal assisted by Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Sonny Milano topped off the 3-0 score in the first period just a few minutes later, assisted by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. It was pure, clean hockey, with no penalties taken by either team. New Jersey’s starting goaltender, Akira Schmid, was switched out for former Capital Ilya Samsonov heading into the second period.
The Capitals were looking good and feeling good going into the second– and maybe got a little too comfortable with their lead. They could not maintain possession of the puck, and Hunter Shepard looked like a completely different goaltender from the one we saw just 20 minutes ago. Tyler Toffoli scored first, just 4 minutes into the period. Timo Meier followed up less than a minute later, and Nico Hischer just a minute and a half after Meier. The Devils looked like the explosive and offensive team that they are, and a comeback seemed imminent. Tyler Toffoli scored a second goal in the period, assisted by both of the Hughes brothers. The Capitals went into the locker room down 4-3, with the remaining minutes of a Power Play awaiting them once the third period got underway.
Motivated and ready, the Capitals came into the third period hot, with Dylan Strome notching his second goal just 18 seconds into the period on the Power Play. Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson tallied points on the assist. The Capitals broke the tie when Connor McMichael scored his second goal of the season, assisted by Anthony Mantha and Nicklas Backstrom. As expected, the Devils pulled their goalie, and captain Alex Ovechkin netted his 824th career goal on an empty net, putting him one step closer to the goal tally of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Ovechkin is set to break another one of Gretzky’s records soon, as he is only two empty-net goals away from topping the legend’s career record.
With each period being dominated by one team or the other, it was certainly an emotional roller coaster for fans of either side. Hunter Shepard’s NHL debut was promising, with 18 of 22 shots stopped. The Capitals are in need of a strong, solid netminder, as neither Darcy Kuemper nor Charlie Lindgren have been particularly reliable lately. Shepard, with time and practice at the NHL level, could be just what Washington needs to continue the hunt for the playoffs this season.