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Game 51: Devils vs. Washington

The turning point of the season, for me, came on November 15, 2008. The Devils were sitting at 7-7-2 with numerous players injured, most notably Martin Brodeur. Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen were splitting starts, and the Devils were on a bad streak. They lost the night before in Washington; they lost their last 4 straight, and the team last won the past Wednesday against Tampa Bay. Brent Sutter rolled the dice and gave Scott Clemmensen a second straight start.

The resulting win wasn't pretty. The offense was explosive, but Clemmensen and the defense became paper tigers at the wrong time. A contrast to the previous night, where the Devils' defense was strong but the offense was lacking. But the biggest contrast was that the Devils got a win. It ended up being a truly important win. It initially led to the momentum for a 4 game winning streak. Then another 4 game winning streak after a single loss. Before you know it, the question went from "How can the Devils be good without Brodeur?" to "How good are the Devils?"

And the answer to this, as we know, is pretty dang good. When the official site is calling that win a turning point, you know it's true.

It wasn't so much a turning point for the Capitals. They've remained strong all season, and it shouldn't be too much of surprise when you have this guy doing what he does on a regular basis leading the way. As J.P. points out, especially within the last 20 minutes of the game.

2008 - Alex Ovechkin 49 36 29 65 14 58 12 1 7 1 323 11.1

Oh, and he just potted a hat trick against Ottawa on Sunday in a 7-4 win. It's not just him, though. That would be too foolish to think that way. Jamie Langenbrunner was named the NHL's First Star from the last week, but in a close third there is Mike Green. A true stud on the blueline, Green is a beast in both ends and he should be expected to be one again tonight. Even if the Devils can somehow quell the carriage full of power that is Alexander Ovechkin, there is still Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and others to deal with.

The Caps must be feeling good with wins over Detroit and Ottawa over the weekend, but they aren't as hot as the Devils. Gulitti reported from practice that the same roster will be used tonight, Clemmensen will likely start, and that we may see Brendan Shanahan up on the third line with John Madden and Brian Rolston. If it becomes a successful line, I call dibs on calling them the Grinding Old Men line. They sound pretty excited about it from Gulitti's post, so it could work out well. And if it doesn't work, David Clarkson and Shanahan can flip-flop. Still, the team won their last 8 games - no need to make major changes to the roster (sorry, Jay Pandolfo!)

I feel that the concern for the Devils, other than trying to repel the Capitals' attack, is complacency. Teams don't go on to win forever and with 8 wins in a row, you wonder when it will end. I don't want to sound too negative, but the Devils won their last two in impressive fashion in overtime. In Boston, they had to come back after dropping a lead. Against Pittsburgh, they had to come back. Both times, they succeeded; but can it keep happening? I certainly wouldn't recommend it. Especially when the other team is a squad that pots in 3.22 goals per game on average; and they are led by Alexander Ovechkin.

Ultimately, I think the Devils need keep their foot on the gas pedal and forget about the streak. If they can get up early and keep applying the forecheck, something they didn't do against Boston and nearly paid for it, then I think it'll be a good chance that they win game #9 in a row. Otherwise, I don't think it'll end well for New Jersey.

Check out Japers' Rink later for a Capitals perspective on the game. As always, feel free to leave your pre-game, in-game, and post-game comments in this thread. Keep it clean, keep it relevant, and go Devils.