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Game 71 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals

Two Russian snipers enter the battle field. One comes out victorious. And that man will be KOVALTRON! (hopefully)
Two Russian snipers enter the battle field. One comes out victorious. And that man will be KOVALTRON! (hopefully)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV-MSG Plus(HD), Radio- 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The Washington Capitals (41-21-10) vs the New Jersey Devils (33-33-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils generated lots of chances against the Senators, but thanks to Curtis McElhinney and some breaks in the favour of the Sens, the Devils lost 3-1. John has a recap of the game up here.

The Last Capitals Game: Coming off a victory against the Montreal Canadiens the previous night, a depleted Capitals roster was unable to extend their 9 game winning streak against the Red Wings, losing 3-2. Becca H has a recap of the game at Japers' Rink.

The Last Devils-Capitals Game: The last time these two teams met was back in December. The Devils lost 5-1 to the Capitals. John's recap of the game can be found here, if you want to re-live the horrors of the John MacLame era (which thankfully, ended a few days later)

The Goal: I'd like the Devils to respond well after a tough loss tonight. They should try to avoid sloppy play and keep alert. These guys aren't the Sens or the Isles, they're one of the best teams in the league. If the Caps play down to their opponent tonight, they will be in for a big surprise. If the Devils don't play at the Capitals' level tonight, then they can say goodbye to their playoff hopes because this game should be considered a "must win" if the Devils want to make the playoffs.

For a Capitals based viewpoint on tonight's action, check out Japers' Rink for a Capitals based perspective on tonight's game.

Like the Devils, the Capitals have quite a few key players on injured reserve. Top center Nicklas Backstrom and the recently acquired Jason Arnott are both nursing hand injuries, which means their excellent depth at center has taken somewhat of a hit. Top defenseman Mike Green is still out with a concussion, which hurts the Caps D group quite a bit. Offensively, those three losses are massive. Backstrom's an elite two way center and Arnott's provided a kick in the rear end to the enigmatic Alex Semin. Mike Green provides them with a lot of offensive firepower on the blue line, and hasn't been that much of a liability on defense this season. However, a few youngsters have stepped up in their absence- namely Marcus Johansson and John Carlson.

2010 - Marcus Johansson 59 11 13 24 -1 8 2 1 2 83

2010 - John Carlson 72 6 24 30 16 42 1 0 3 121

Carlson's been able to hold his own against tough competition- only his partner Karl Alzner plays against a higher competition (0.060 to Carlsons 0.058, a very small difference). His play has been held in such high regard, that E.J. Hradek of considers him to be the best rookie defenseman. From what Becca had to say in her recap at Japers' Rink, she noted that the duo of Carlson and Alzner played well, outside of one small error.  The two had no problem dealing with the ultra talented Pavel Datsyuk, which means  Ilya Kovalchuk should see quite a lot of Carlson and Alzner in tonight's game.

Johansson hasn't impressed that much in his rookie season, but lately he's played well in the absence of Arnott and Backstrom, with two goals and 5 assists over his last 10 games. Johansson's played alongside Ovechkin and Mike Knuble, which has helped his offensive numbers and more importantly, covers his inability to play a physical game and deal with big defensemen.

Speaking of Ovechkin... he's always a threat you know. Him and the other Alex, Alex Semin.

2010 - Alex Ovechkin 72 29 46 75 19 41 6 0 10 332

2010 - Alexander Semin 57 25 23 48 18 61 6 1 4 174

Both forwards love to shoot- especially Ovechkin. Limiting his chances will be key, and I'd expect Anton Volchenkov and Colin White to take Ovi's line, as they're both capable of matching his physicality. Tallinder and Fayne are likely going to go up against Semin's line, which will likely feature Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr.

While the Caps have been known as an offensive team, their defense has improved quite abit this season- they rank 4th in the NHL in GA/G3rd in the NHL in PK%% and 9th in the league in Shots against. Adding Dennis Wideman to their defensive corps adds some depth to a good defensive group. The Caps have recieved solid goaltending from whoever's in net- either Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby, which has also helped. One potential chink in their armor- Tyler Sloan. From what Becca had to say about him in the recap, he's not the best defenseman on the Caps. If the Devils do get a favourable matchup against him, they should attack him.

Now onto the Devils- I don't think they will get nearly as unlucky as they did last night. McElhinney stood on his head and they got a few breaks. If there's one thing I want to see tonight, it's all four lines carrying their weight. Yes, the team did end up with a +21 corsi rating, but looking at the chart shows a completely different scenario. The top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Nick Palmieri each had excellent corsi values (+16, +18 and +16 respectively), and the pairing of Henrik Tallinder (+23!) and Mark Fayne (+18). The Tedenby-Josefson-Clarkson line ended up positive, yet the Rolston-Elias-Zubrus line didn't fare that well, with only Zubrus registering a positive Corsi (+2). The Caps are much more talented than the Senators, and with two big threats in Ovechkin and Semin, the Devils could ill afford to let one of those two have puck possession and generate chances- especially with someone as talented as Ovechkin on the ice. Dominating these two might not be as easy as dominating the young, inexperienced Senators, so they shouldn't expect this game to be a walk in the park.

As for the lineup, I'm not sure about what will happen. Tom Gulliti tweeted that Jacques Lemaire will talk with the coaching staff before deciding on a starter for tomorrow's game. Rod Pelley might make his return to the lineup, but I doubt that it would make much of a difference, as Mair wasn't the worst 4th liner out their last night (hey, he did draw a penalty!), and scratching Zharkov would take out one of the team's better penalty killers. Mark Fraser will likely sit out another game yet again, as I don't see any reason for him to come in.

As John pointed out from his recap of last night's game, the Devils weren't terrible last night. If they can maintain possession like they did against Ottawa, they might stand a chance against one of the hottest teams in the league right now. The Caps might not get the same bounces and breaks the Senators got, or having their goalie playing like he was possessed by the ghost of Georges Vezina. The Devils need to put that game behind them and focus on this game, as the things that happened last night probably aren't happening tonight.

With all that being said, what do you think of tonight's game? Who on the Caps do you think might be a threat other than the usual suspects? What adjustments do you think the Devils need to make for tonight's game? Thanks for reading and Go Devils!