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Game 2 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals

Will Henrik Tallinder play better tonight?  For the Devils' sake, I hope so.  The Capitals don't mess around.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Will Henrik Tallinder play better tonight? For the Devils' sake, I hope so. The Capitals don't mess around. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-0-1) at the Washington Capitals (0-1-0)

The Last Devils Game: It was last night, so it should be fresh in your minds. The Devils played an up-and-down game where the ups had some dominance and the downs involved the defense playing like morons and the team getting burnt on mistakes. Overtime was required, and one more error by a Devils defender led to a Dallas goal.  My recap of that 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas is here.

The Last Capitals Game: The Capitals actually lost their season opener in Atlanta to the Thrashers, 4-2.  The game took a backseat in the beginning. since Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavalec collapsed on the ice and had to be rushed to the hospital. Thankfully, he became conscious later in the evening.  Hopefully, he will be fine going forward.

Chris Mason stepped in relief and played very well, as did Evander Kane, whose 2 goals and 7 shots on goal even outshined Alexander Ovechkin. Becca H at Japers' Rink has a recap of the regulation loss here.

The Goal:  Since I harped on this over and over in the recap of the overtime loss, it's pretty simple: cut down on the stupid errors. This is especially vital for the defense. It would be one thing if Matt Taormina was making these blunders, but against Dallas they were made by the veterans like Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene.  We can argue over who was the worst, but as a whole, they must be sharper against the offensive machines that are the Washington Capitals.  No, they didn't light up Atlanta last night. But last I checked, this is a team that boasts Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstom, and Mike Green among many other talented players.  Plus, they're at home in what will be a hot crowd.  Not to mention their slogan for this season is "Stay Angry," and after last night's 4-2 loss, the proverbial weapon-laden squad have every reason to work out some frustrations.

In short, the defense, if not the whole team, needs to be worlds better than what they were against Dallas. They cannot make as many gaffes as they did with the puck, be it in one period or throughout points in the game, and expect the Capitals to not capitalize on them.

I have more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump, including a guess at the lineup, a defense of Martin Brodeur starting this game (if he does), and .  For the Capitals' side of things, please visit Japers' Rink - arguably one of the top Caps sites on the Internet.

Since the Devils have only 20 men on the roster, it'll be pretty straight forward what the lineup will be.  As it is with 11 forwards I do not need to see Ilya Kovalchuk go out for a shift with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Rod Pelley. I do not need to see Pelley have Kovalchuk and Zach Parise and wingers for a shift because that's how the rotation went on.  That happens when a team is missing a forward in their lineup.   Ideally, I would not like to see Pelley play tonight, but the Devils are up against the cap as it is so he will (and hopefully play better).  Ergo, I'll settle for just a 12th forward. 

I'm aware Taormina played 21:38 last night whereas Alexander Urbom only got 8:57.  For an offensive defenseman, Taormina didn't contribute any.  He looked nervous with the puck at times, he made a number of errors in judgement, and Colin White had to do a lot to clean up after him.  Dallas has several good forwards, but Washington is simply stacked.    Why give him similar minutes when he didn't do so well in the first game with them? Why risk him against a stronger attack on the road, where the Devils won't have the last line change?  Why trust Taormina with more minutes when you can split those up with Mark Fraser or Alexander Urbom?

Yes, I know that the cap situation and the injury to Bryce Salvador means one young defender is going to do a lot more than he should.  Yet, I see no reason to make it Taormina for a second straight game.  Why not send him down and call up a forward like Adam Henrique, Brad Mills, or someone else - like they did on Thursday evening?  If the plan is to use Taormina for big minutes again (not that I would like it),  then why not send down Urbom?  It's not like he's gaining much playing less than 10 minutes in the NHL.

Alas, until a transaction is made, the team is what they currently are.  It'll likely be last night's lineup to start:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Rod Pelley

Henrik Tallinder - Andy Greene
Colin White - Matt Taormina
Anton Volchenkov - Mark Fraser / Alexander Urbom

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Now, it seems that Brodeur will get the start in DC tonight.  As Tom Gulitti reported after the loss to Dallas:

Martin Brodeur will likely be in net for the Devils again Saturday night when they visit the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.

After the Devils’ lost 4-3 in overtime to Dallas tonight in the team’s season opener, I asked head coach John MacLean if he would start backup Johan Hedberg Satruday and he replied, "probably not."

I'm sure some of you may be wondering why Hedberg isn't getting the start.  Isn't that why he got $1.5 million?  To start in back-to-back sets like this one so the time can be split up?  Why give Brodeur a second start if the Dallas game didn't go so well? 

Well, first, I don't think he did badly on Friday.  Second, it's the beginning of the season. There's no reason to believe he's tired or in need of rest.  Third, consider the opponent: a scary-good team on offense.  They have stars in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, and Green. They have talented forwards who don't get all the accolades like Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, and Eric Fehr.  It's not that Hedberg hasn't seen this team before, he's seen them plenty; especially last season as a Thrasher.   But if the Devils want to beat a team as loaded as Washington, then it compels them to put in the best goaltender.  Especially (and call this reason #4) when the defense's last game was a mixture of OK and groan-inducing bad decisions.

For what it's worth, I think the next back-to-back set would be more favorable to give Hedberg a start. Both games will be at home and either won't be against superpowered attacks.  

There's my defense of Brodeur starting this game for New Jersey. Of course, things may change by gametime, so I wouldn't write it all down in pen just yet.  As for Washington, unless Semyon Varlamov gets healthy, it will likely be Michal Neuvirth in net.  I could be dead wrong, though, and if I am, then it's either a healthy Varlamov or Dany Sabourin.   The Devils forward lines will have to contend with John Erskine and Jeff Schultz in addition to Greene on the Capitals' blueline.   Hopefully the Devils forwards - regardless of what line it is - are able to penetrate the Capitals zone more consistently than they did against Dallas.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: David M. Getz of Japers Rink answered some questions I had about the Capitals. Here they are, so you can get a better idea of who the Capitals are all about:

Question 1: Let's get it out of the way: Michael Neuvirth and Seymon Varlamov are the Caps goaltenders this season.  How much faith do you have in either right now?

David M. Getz: With the talent and production the two have shown at the NHL level this far, I have near-complete faith that at least one will emerge as a very solid NHL goaltender this year.  The only concern at this point is durability - both Neuvirth and Varlamov have missed time with injuries over the last couple of seasons, and Varlamov, who's on injured reserve to start the season, can't seem to stay healthy for any length of time.  If the Varlamov injury woes continue and/or Neuvirth has to miss games because he's hurt, it's time to start looking for help outside the organization.

Question 2:  One of the new Capitals to join the roster, at least to start the season, is center Marcus Johansson.  While George McPhee is big on him, how do you think the Capitals will utilize him tonight if he plays? What do you expect from him should he stick in the NHL?

DMG: The Caps seem content to ease Johansson in, using him as a third line center, a role he won primarily because he is a better defensive player than the other camp front-runner for the spot, Mathieu Perreault. 

The doesn't mean he's without offensive talent, though.  In Friday night's game against Atlanta, Johansson displayed some great skating ability and soft hands early on when he rushed the puck up ice and made a deft saucer pass to winger Jason Chimera, and seemed very comfortable rushing the puck up the ice all game long.  It's in those situations - using his smooth skating to attack quickly, especially with Chimera, who's also an excellent skater - that he'll be most dangerous. 

Finally, don't be surprised to see him play a little on the penalty kill, though he likely won't get enough time there to be a difference-maker

Question 3: Obiviously, the Capitals are loaded with offensive wizards like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Semin, Knuble, and others.  Who among the Capitals not in the spotlight should fans pay attention to when they are on the ice?

DMG: Well, I would have said Johansson, but since we've already covered him, I'll go with Eric Fehr and John Carlson.  Fehr, a right wing, is a former first round draft pick who's had his progress slowed by injury, but has really come on strong in the last couple of seasons.  He's not a dominant player by any stretch, and he's going to be on the third line, but he was good enough to be tied for fifth in the league in goals per minute at 5-on-5.

Carlson, also a first round draft pick, has had a great couple of years since being drafted, tearing up the OHL, scoring the game-winning goal at the World Juniors last year, and picking up four points in seven playoff games last spring.  He'll most likely be playing second-pairing minutes with Tom Poti, and could see time on the powerplay and penalty kill.

Question 4: Special teams for Washington was a like a pair of drama masks last season.  The power play rate was high and so it was the happy half, but the penalty killing success rate was low and was the sad half.  I don't think anyone expects the PP to suffer, so what do you think the Capitals will have to do to be successful on the PK tonight and this season?

DMG:The consensus is that the Capitals' 2009-10 penalty kill was far too passive, giving opponents too much time to set up get good scoring chances.  Coach Bruce Boudreau has promised a more aggressive kill this season, and if the team can follow through on that, there's opportunity for significant improvement.

Question 5: Given the Devils went 3-1 against the Caps last season, I'm sure Staying Angry requires them to try for some revenge. Do you think they'll get that tonight, or will the game go some other way?

DMG: I think the Caps will come out strong tonight.  They're likely to still be smarting after last years playoff disappointment, and they'll be playing in front of their home crowd for the first time this year.

Then again, they looked flat in Atlanta last night, so you never know...

Big thanks to David for getting back to me and answering my questions.

As always, check with Gulitti and Chere during the day for any updates.  Please feel free to link to those as well.  Please feel free to add any additional news about the Capitals.  In fact, feel free to discuss anything related to tonight's contest in advance of the GameThread.   Tom will be taking care of the GameThread and recap, so support him tonight.  Of course, support the visiting team in DC too.  Go Devils!