The Devils head to the District of Columbia to take on Alex Ovechkin and the second place Washington Capitals with a chance to possibly jump back into the playoff picture.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM/101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-15-7) vs. the Washington Capitals (19-13-3; SBN Blog: Japer's Rink)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils took on the Ducks at the Rock in a game that went into overtime after a fairly even, if ugly, three periods. Before the game, John's preview started with this statement: "There will likely be no accidental own-goal winners tonight." Welp, unfortunately that proved to be... whatever the opposite of prescient is. The Ducks ended up winning in OT as a wraparound attempt by Nick Palmieri was accidentally deflected in by Jon Merrill. The Devils' rookie d-men had a rough night in general as Eric Gelinas was burned on the winning goal and had some troubles all game while paired with Marek Zidlicky. The loss also featured Damien Brunner getting knocked out of the game during the first period after colliding knee-to-knee with Cam Fowler. It certainly wasn't the best of nights overall, but the Devils were at least able to salvage a point with an Andy Greene power play equalizer off a brilliant Jaromir Jagr feed with five minutes remaining in the third. John had the recap where he called the game "a rock fight on ice." Go have a look for more on last night's tilt.
The Last Capitals Game: The Caps were in Raleigh last night to take on former Southeast Division and current Metropolitan Division rival Carolina. The game had six total goals but only one of them would be at even strength. The Hurricanes struck first late in the opening frame with a Jordan Staal wrister on an odd-man rush, but the Caps would battle back with a pair of power play goals from Marcus Johanssen and John Carlson in the first half of the second. After that, the Canes would battle back with a power play goal of their own from Riley Nash. Before the period was done though, the Caps would pot yet another one with the extra man on a tip-in by Troy Brouwer. The third would feature the same number of power plays as the second, but they would result in no more goals. The score would remain 3-2 until Ovechkin added an empty netter in the game's final minute, giving him the 400th goal of his career. Geoff Thompson recapped the game, which included a big effort by goalie Philipp Grubauer, over at Japer's Rink.
The Goal: Somehow try to stop Alex Ovechkin. With his milestone goal last night, he now has 29 for the season. He is the 6th fastest in the history of the NHL to reach 400 goals. He has been on an absolute tear this season as well as most of last. He has put up an insane 173 shots in 33 games. Simply put, he has returned to his former place as absolutely the most feared goal-scorer in the league. If the Devils can keep him off of the scoresheet, they could be well on their way to a victory, as he has accounted for more than a quarter of Washington's goals for this season. To make it happen, they will have to be strong at evens as well as on the penalty kill, as he also leads the league in power play goals.
Brunner Injury: It really is a shame that Damien Brunner went down last night because he has been so good of late. Perhaps if he was able to stay in the game, it ends differently, given how red hot he has been. Early signs on the injury were not particularly great as he had to be helped off the ice and was ruled out rather quickly. There was no further information on his condition at the time of writing this preview, but if I had to guess, I'd say he probably won't be in the lineup in Washington.
Is a Returne in Ordere?: Ryane Clowe has been out of the lineup ever since suffering a concussion in the sixth game of the season. Reports out of New Jersey have stated that he does, in fact, exist and will be traveling with the Devils on their pre-Christmas road trip. Prior to Brunner's injury, the probability of Clowe playing in Washington looked pretty slim, but with a void now open in the lineup, perhaps he finally sees action. With how cautious the Devils have been since Ryane went down though, don't be surprised if one of the Josefson/Tedenby/Janssen scratched yesterday trio gets reinserted into the lineup instead.
Where's That Urbom Guy?: Way back before the beginning of the season the Devils exposed one of their young defensive prospects, Alexander Urbom, to waivers and he ended up claimed by the Capitals. This led to a lot of grumbling from the fanbase (myself included) about the loss of a prospect for no return. So far, he hasn't done a lot to make anyone miss him all that much, though. In 20 games for the Caps, he only has a goal and an assist, and he has some of the worst possession numbers on a team full of guys with crummy possession numbers. He has now been a healthy scratch since November 30th. He's still a young(ish) guy, but right now, it's not going great for him.
Be Disciplined: The Devils have had some trouble staying out of the box of late. It would behoove them to keep their noses clean tonight for two reasons:
- First, Washington has a lethal power play. They are second in the league in conversion rate at 26.3%, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Alex Ovechkin bombing away from the left circle and the rest of the Caps feeding off the space, they are a well-oiled machine with the man-advantage.
- Second, Washington is actually a pretty lousy team at evens. They have the third worst close-score 5-on-5 Fenwick% in the league right now, in addition to an almost equally-bad goal differential. Simply put, the Caps are a team which is succeeding mainly due to the success of their power play. If the Devils can keep the game mostly at evens, where they are one of the stronger teams in the league, they have a chance to overwhelm Washington. Taking lazy penalties tonight will be even more inexcusable than usual. Stay out of the penalty box (looking at you, Marek).
Playoffs Within Striking Distance: The Devils sit only a single point out of the final playoff spot at the start of today's games. If they can get a win coupled with a Flyers loss, they will be, at worst, tied for 8th in the Eastern Conference. Yup, it doesn't take much to zip up the standings in the Metropolitan Division. A regulation win would also put the Devils only 4 back of Washington for second in the division.
Final Thoughts: Tonight is an important game. Marty has had a couple of good starts of late, and the secondary scoring has actually picked up well in the month of December, so hopefully the Devils can stay on point and get a win tonight. They are coming off a back-to-back, but so is Washington, so fatigue shouldn't be too much of a deciding factor. I think this game is winnable, and with a trip to Chicago looming on Monday, it probably would be in the Devils' best interest to bank some points. What do you think about this game? Are you confident that the Devils can get a positive result? Is there anyone outside of Ovechkin on the Capitals who scares you in particular? Sound off in the comments below and GO DEVILS.