The Time: 7 PM EST
The Broadcasting Info: TV: MSG+ (HD) Radio: 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (26-8-1) @ the Washington Capitals (23-8-6)
The Last Devils Game: One for the record books, one for the victory column, and one for the ages to Devils fans all across the world. The New Jersey Devils beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0, Martin Brodeur got his 104th career shutout to set a new all-time record in the NHL, and it was just fantastic.
The Last Capitals Game: The Capitals hosted the Buffalo Sabres and the hometown fans were given a pleasant Christmas present. The Caps decisively defeated the Sabres 5-2, as their offensive talent just ran over Ryan Miller and Buffalo's defense like a freight train. Stephen Pepper has a recap of that game up at Japers' Rink.
The Last Devils-Capitals Game: The New Jersey Devils proved to the Rock and hockey fans all across the world that a 2-0 deficit to the Capitals to start a game does not doom a team. It just means they need to play harder and finish whatever chances they get. The Devils did just that and put up five unanswered goals to earn with their third win against the Caps this season. I pointed out how the goals were the most crucial part of the game in my recap. Becca H at Japers' Rink highlighted the ultimately disappointing result for the Capitals.
The Goal: Get back to work and get working right away. The Devils will play the Capitals for the last time in the regular season tonight. What do the three previous games have in common other than that the Devils won all three games? Easy: the Devils have given up the first (and sometimes the second) goals in each game. Every one of those three wins were come-from-behind victories. Great sign of the team's character, but given how powerful Washington is offensively, I can't imagine that Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau will allow it to happen a fourth time. In my opinion, no one singular player - not even Alexander Ovechkin - will be the key, but how each team plays in their own end. I expect the Capitals to play much tighter on defense as to avoid the errors that led to the Devils coming from behind and winning. Especially if the Capitals do score first this time. To prevent that, I think the Devils need to come out early and set the tone with a high work rate and an strong effort in their own end to dull the Capitals' incisive attacks.
Read on further for my further thoughts for tonight's game, including a wild guess at the Devils' lineup. For the opposition's side, Japers' Rink is as good as a place as any for any Capitals related information. As an example, this send up of links highlights this preview from WNST's Ed Frankovic of tonight's game.
The Devils have done very well this season so far. They went into Christmas as the best team in the NHL; Jacques Lemaire and the coaching staff have done an incredible job so far; and certain players have really taken their game to the next level, like Andy Greene in addition to the excellent players who playing excellent hockey as usual - like this guy:
|2009 - Martin Brodeur||33||1941||23||8||68||2.10||862||794||.921||3|
However, this is a results-oriented business and all of these accomplishments won't really mean anything when the puck drops. That said, I expect the Devils to come out with some confidence tonight. The team played a hard-fought game in the Igloo and Martin Brodeur achieved a historic result on Monday. Since they've had a four day break to "come down" from whatever emotional high after said result, I wouldn't think Devils fans should expect an early slump or an exhausted team. To guard against any rustiness, Lemaire had the team practice on Wednesday per Colin Stephenson's report. Moreover, the Devils did beat this team three times already. I would think Lemaire and the squad knows exactly what to expect from the Capitals for the most part.
Not that it makes me feel any easier about, well, any of these players representing Washington:
|2009 - Alex Ovechkin||29||24||20||44||18||46||7||0||4||0||155||15.5|
|2009 - Nicklas Backstrom||37||14||28||42||13||12||5||0||1||0||94||14.9|
|2009 - Mike Green||36||7||28||35||14||26||2||0||2||0||101||6.9|
|2009 - Alexander Semin||28||14||17||31||10||22||4||0||1||0||112||12.5|
|2009 - Brooks Laich||37||10||17||27||2||16||6||0||1||0||102||9.8|
|2009 - Tomas Fleischmann||26||14||9||23||4||6||4||0||2||0||55||25.5|
Mind you, unlike Pittsburgh, Washington is very, very, very good on the power play; they're converting at a rate of 24% - the second best rate in the NHL right now. (Protip for the Devils: Stay out of the box.)
There will be one new variable: Michal Neuvirth. According to the Washington Times' Corey Masisak, Neuvirth will get his third straight start tonight. While he's really filling in as Seymon Varlamov recovers from a groin injury, he did backstop the team to wins against Edmonton and Buffalo. I'm honestly not too sure as to what to expect from Neuvirth, but he did perform well in those wins - don't pay too much mind to his statline. It's not like he was beaten by soft goals, as I understand it, in those two games and he only allowed 2 in both.
|2009 - Michal Neuvirth||4||238||2||2||13||3.28||120||107||.892||0|
So what's the plan? Bombard him with shots, really. He's faced an average of 30 shots per game, let him see that much and more. Easier said than done, though. Back on November 4th, I noted that the Capitals were averaging 31.5 shots against per game. Now, the Capitals are only allowing an average of 29.8 per game. That may not seem like much, but it's proof that the Capitals' blueline has improved. Combine that knowledge with the Capitals surely remembering what the Devils have done to them three times already this season, and I think the Devils' forwards may find it difficult to find spaces going forward.
Hence, my insistence on the Devils needing out work the Capitals if only to breakdown their defense to get good opportunities on the Capitals' third-string goaltender. As far as the lineup to do it, I will guess it'll be the same lineup seen against Pittsburgh. I'm guessing EMP stays together, Colin White and Mike Mottau are still split up, and Ilkka Pikkarainen is still on the roster. Can this group get it done? Sure, why not?
Zach Parise - Dean McAmmond - Patrik Elias
Brian Rolston - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Nicklas Bergfors
Ilkka Pikkarainen - Rod Pelley - Vladimir Zharkov
Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Johnny Oduya - Mike Mottau
Colin White - Mark Fraser
Steve will be out working tonight, so it'll just be me tonight in the GameThread. Do join me later tonight. In the meantime, please leave your thoughts, questions, news updates, and concerns about tonight's game in the comments. Anything related to the WJCs goes into this post. Go Devils!