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Game 21 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-13-2) vs. the Washington Capitals (14-5-2)

The Last Devils Game:  The Devils did a lot of things right, but the St. Louis Blues won thanks to one goal from a non-call, one goal that was a total fluke, and one goal off a deflection.  Those were the breaks the Devils got in their 3-2 loss against St. Louis, as I described in my recap.

The Last Capitals Game: It was up, it was down, it was evenly matched, and it went to a shootout. The Washington Capitals lost said shootout, resulting in a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night.  David Getz at Japers' Rink has this recap that you should read up on to understand what went on in that game.

The Last Devils-Capitals Game:  They Devils went to D.C. to play the Capitals in their second game of the season, back when very few, if anybody could have predicted how bad New Jersey would be.   The first two periods weren't so bad, except for Washington scoring four goals to turn a 2-1 lead to 5-2 at the end of 40.  They tacked on 2 more to make it 7-2.  This game was also notable for Anton Volchenkov getting hit in the face with a shot, Brian Rolston leaving the game with a sports hernia, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond pulling a Federal League move that has since essentially exiled him to the A.  Tom recapped the 7-2 rout here at ILWT; while J.P. had a more favorable recap at his rink.

The Goal:   The New Jersey Devils, who are the worst goal scoring team in the NHL at 1.8 goals per game, will be facing the Capitals, one of the best goal scoring teams with the fourth best goals per game rate - 3.48. While the Devils look pretty good in terms of shots against per game (28.5, 7th best); they've allowed a 3.2 goals per game this season.   In short, it's a team that has had difficulty in scoring goals for themselves and preventing goals against that is playing against a team that can score plenty of them on any given day. 

The goal for New Jersey? Tighten up on defense, it could get rough out there.  (Parenthetical Note: If the Devils can somehow play like they did on Saturday night and dominate 5-on-5 play, then they may be able to come out with a win - but I fear that's asking too much with this team.)

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump. If you're interested in a Capitals-based viewpoint on tonight's game, then please visit Japers' Rink.

The Devils didn't have any practice on Sunday, so any news for tonight's game will happen later today.  Both Tom Gulitti and Rich Chere had a state-of-the-season look at the team.  Per both articles, Lou said he would evaluate the team at the 20-game mark, so I presume he's doing just that.  Though, I'd like to think he's been evaluating this whole time given how closely he deals with the team.   If there's going to be any big decisions, like firing a coach, then it is possible that it might wait until after this week.  After Saturday's game against Philly, the Devils will have four days off before their next game - plenty of time for practices for the rest of the team to acclimate to whatever decision will be made.

Of course, Lou can just as easily pull the trigger when he wishes. 

Getting back to tonight's game, Gulitti did confirm that Jamie Langenbrunner won't play and Matt Taormina isn't skating.  Andy Greene and Travis Zajac seemed to get dinged up on Saturday, but both did finish the game.  I'm going to assume they'll be OK for tonight.  I'd expect the same lineup only with a different goaltender. Hence, my  lineup guess:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Dainius Zubrus - Alexander Vasyunov
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Adam Mair - Rod Pelley - Stephen Gionta

Matthew Corrente - Andy Greene
Henrik Tallinder - Colin White
Anton Volchenkov - Olivier-Magnan Grenier

Johan Hedberg
Mike McKenna

I liked how the three forward lines looked on Saturday.  Hopefully, MacLean will keep them together.

Per Gulitti, Martin Brodeur got an MRI on Friday and word came out on Saturday that while it was negative, the team said he'll be out for two weeks maximum.   While Mike McKenna did just fine on Saturday, there's little reason to not start Johan Hedberg tonight.  Say what you want about the Moose, but he's seen the Capitals a lot more than McKenna and more recently too. He's the more desirable option in net tonight and so I think he'll get the start.

It may not matter because, get this, the Capitals are loaded with talent.  It's no accident that they are sitting atop the Eastern Conference with their Russian goal scoring machine.

2010 - Alexander Semin 21 14 12 26 6 20 4 1 1 69 20.3

Believe it or not, Alexander Semin has more goals and just as many points as #8.  Oh, yeah, here's his statline:

2010 - Alex Ovechkin 21 10 16 26 4 14 2 0 3 86 11.6

The two of them represent 32.4% of all of Washington's goals this season.  Ovechkin always worries me because he's a literal shot machine and he's going to bomb away from wherever.  Semin is just as much of a threat tonight because, well, he's hot - unless you think he's shooting at 20% all season - and he's throwing up plenty of pucks on net as well.  I don't know if anyone has really stopped both in a game, but if the Devils can manage that somehow, then it would be a great feat. It'd also help the rest of the league, who is trying to gameplan for either of them.

Sure, some may point to Ovechkin only having 1 goal and 2 assists in his last 5 games as proof of a slump.   If it was any other player, I'd agree - but Ovechkin still has to be seen as a primary target.  Like Ilya Kovalchuk, just because he hasn't been scoring recently doesn't mean you should give him the opportunity to try.

Even if the Devils can contain Semin and Ovechkin, there's plenty of Capitals who can ruin New Jersey's night.  Nicklas Backstrom can and will be the straw that stirs the drink in the middle of the ice for Washington. Mike Green can easily jump up on the attack to cause havok or bomb away from the point.  Mike Knuble will get in close and create chaos down low.  Brooks Laich can get the job done in both ends of the rink and mesh with whoever.  I could go on.

Moreover, the generalization that the Caps have a great offense but are lacking on defense and in goal doesn't hold much water. The Capitals are tied with Montreal in terms of shots against per game at 29.4, the 11th best rate in the league.  Plus, they are in the middle of the league (15th) in goals against per game with 2.76 - which is way better than New Jersey's current rate.  These aren't bad numbers at all.  Combined with the ineffectiveness of the Devils offense all season long, the Caps should be fine in their own end and in net.

Throw in a very effective power play (23.7% success rate, 5th best in the NHL) and it's quite clear why my goal of the game is for the Devils to not get embarrassed. There's a real potential for an ugly loss tonight in my opinion.  As ILWT user acasser wrote in a comment in the recap post of the 3-2 loss to St. Louis:

I have a nasty/bad feeling about Monday’s game. Washington lost a tough game in a shoot-out last night. They got wiped by Atlanta on Friday. I’ll bet the Caps (more their fans, but the team too perhaps) are licking their chops at getting the Devils, especially with the 7-2 butt-whipping we endured earlier in the season. To me, this has the looks of 9-2 all over it, with a half-empty building by the end of the second period…. and the remaining fans divided between loud Caps fans who made the trip and hardcore Devils faithful who will be chanting for MacLean’s termination.

Highly pessimistic and unlikely as it may be, I can't deny I have a similar fear.  Not with how New Jersey has been this season.  I hope I'm proven wrong (and I'm sure acasser is as well). Especially since I'll be witnessing this one live in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5.


The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss tonight's game in the comments.  If you want to post any news updates (and there will be, given that the Devils didn't practice on Sunday), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source.  Thank you for reading.  Let's go Devils.