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New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals: Game 18 Preview

The New Jersey Devils will visit the Washington Capitals once again for the final game between the two teams this season. This preview looks at the changes (and non-changes) for both teams and highlights why the Devils should be more disciplined.

Twice, the Devils have celebrated Kovalchuk goals in wins and the Capitals have skated off disappointed. Will it happen again?
Twice, the Devils have celebrated Kovalchuk goals in wins and the Capitals have skated off disappointed. Will it happen again?

Once again at the Verizon Center, these two teams will meet for the last time today for the 2013 regular season.

The Time: 12:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, NHL Network (US); Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-3-4) at the Washington Capitals (5-10-1, SBN Blog: Japers' Rink)

The TiqIQ Ticket Link: The TiqIQ Ticket Link: In the D.C. area and need a seat to this afternoon rematch at the last second? Visit our partners at TiqIQ to get something from the secondary market. Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils-Capitals Game: It was on Thursday and the two teams faced each other in D.C., so there's no need to split it all up.

The Devils opened up the game with shots, shots, and more shots on Brayden Holtby and the Capitals. There were shots off the rush, off possession, off the forecheck, and off turnovers (thanks to John Carlson). Holtby was big to stop them all. Alex Ovechkin led the little offense the Caps got in the first (and the game) and drew a call near the end of the second. While the Devils killed it, penalties became the deciding factor. The Capitals score on their third power play of the evening when Mathieu Perreault roofed a rebound created by Troy Brouwer. The Devils respond with a penalty and another kill. Adam Henrique's forecheck won a puck from Carlson and it led to Patrik Elias slamming in an up-close opportunity for a shorthanded equalizer. Alas, the Caps gained the zone and pinned the Devils deep. Mike Ribiero converted when he slid a low shot through Martin Brodeur's right pad. The Devils were still ahead at evens but down 2-1 at the end of the second. The shots have not turned to goals.

The refs turned their ire to the Caps and called five straight power plays in the third period among the Devils bossing the home team around at 5-on-5. The Devils wasted most of the power plays; they got their equalizer off a rebound by Andrei Loktionov (his first as a Devil) after faltering on a 5-on-3 opportunity. The Caps' lack of discipline gave the Devils a second long two man advantage and Ilya Kovalchuk rocketed a one-timer past Carlson and Holtby to give them the lead. Kovalchuk was a monster all game, particularly in the third, as he and his team continued to attack even with the lead late in the game. Washington pulled the goalie, the Devils escaped a wide-open one-timer by Ribiero missing and cracking the glass, and they held on to a 3-2 win. My recap of the comeback win is here. Becca H highlights the penalties and more in her recap at Japers' Rink.

The Goal: Seriously, be more disciplined. I know the Devils are fourth in the league in being shorthanded the most, so it'll be a challenge. Nonetheless, they really need to be more careful today. Washington was fantastic on special teams on Thursday. They went 2-for-4 on the power play and their PK did as well as one could hope with five straight killing situations against them. Despite the Devils having all of that time in the third period with the man advantage, the Capitals power play still out-shot them 7-6. The Capitals' power play is too good to give them chances that could be avoided, especially in succession. I doubt the Devils will get the benefit of five power plays in a row again to try and strike back, so it falls on the players to not put the Capitals in a position to succeed. In 5-on-5 play, the Devils were dominant. I doubt they'll be as dominant again, but it is in their best interests to do what they can to keep the game at evens. That will require discipline.

Now, coming in pretty close to the goal would be a more direct approach on the power play. Against the Capitals, the Devils tried to be too clever in moving the puck around. They were keeping it away, which is good for holding onto the puck and bad for getting shots to the net. While they were able to get into the Caps' end and get set-up, they kept much of their puck movement to the points and when they did fire it, it went right into traffic. After the game, based on this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Elias revealed that they didn't even run the play they drew up right away on the 5-on-3. Today, should they get on the power play (and they likely will, the Caps aren't the model of discipline either), they should A) try doing what the coach instructed as best as they could and B) get the puck around the zone more to create more spaces. I understand that power plays are the time to set up a quality, open shot into a lane. Keeping it astray and among three guys rotating above the circles isn't going to get it done without some wonderful luck. Let's hope the Devils perform better.

In terms of the lineups, the Devils appear to be status quo except for the man in the net. Tom Gulitti confirmed on Friday after the team's practice that Johan Hedberg will play today's game. Given that he got let down by special teams and poor defending in his last start, it's all the more reason to demand better discipline from the skaters. I'm not worried about the Moose otherwise. The good news in the lineup not changing is that it confirms that David Clarkson is OK. It appeared his wrist was jammed on a hit in the second period on Thursday; but he did return to the ice to finish the game. Gulitti reported that he says he's fine. I think he'll generate more than just one shot on net today. The bad news is, of course, that Mark Fayne continues to be benched. While Henrik Tallinder was a net positive in possession on Thursday, he got torched a few times and was limited to only 13 minutes of ice time. I want to be sympathetic since he was a solid defenseman the last two seasons, but he's simply not making the most of this opportunity. I would rather have Fayne in to support captain Bryce Salvador and move Marek Zidlicky down to beat up weaker competition. Alas, i'm not holding my breath.

The Capitals have made some adjustments to their lineup outside of the net. That should surprise no one, they did get out-shot 30-12 in 5-on-5 play and 48-24 in 5-on-5 attempts. According to Stephen Whyno's report at Capitals Watch from Friday's practice, Eric Fehr has been bumped up to be the left wing to Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer while Wojtek Wolski was moved to the third line with Perreault and Joel Ward. The Devils beat up the Backstrom line with Wolski and then continued to wail on them when Matt Hendricks took Wolski's place later in the game. It only makes sense for Adam Oates to at least give him a shot. They did keep the unit of Jason Chimera, Mike Ribiero, and Alex Ovechkin together. That trio was the Caps' best of their four lines on Thursday, as Ovechkin played like one would expect from him. No, he didn't score, but he eventually will if he keeps it up. I think he will, which gives New Jersey a line to really focus on. They will need to be particularly careful about #8 getting open in space on offense and just having the puck before a vintage Ovechkin late hit.

Mike Green remains a question mark for today's game. Green did practice as per Whyno's report, however, Green emphasized that he wants to be fully healthy before returning to the ice in this post by Whyno. I can understand Green's point of view. He's been injured plenty of times in his career and he doesn't want to risk re-aggravating his current issue. I'm sure the Capitals faithful are hoping he gets the "OK" for today. While Green isn't a defensive stalwart, he is at least someone who can clearly threaten the opposition on offense (imagine, the Caps' power play improving) and play significant minutes. His return would mean fewer shifts for the other regulars, most notably John Carlson, who was overmatched in his half-hour of work on Thursday. That in of itself could be big in addition to the real possibility that Carlson, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, and Tomas Kundratek would have better performances than they did on Thursday. They all got pounded on the shot and attempts count; and they relied heavily on Brayden Holtby to have a strong game. Holtby will be back in net as confirmed in this post by Whyno; and most of their defense should play like they have a point to prove so I'm expecting them to cut down on the 37 they allowed to New Jersey on Thursday. However, it is still not known whether Green will return this afternoon. The Devils probably have prepared for the possibility; we will just have to wait and see.

As a final point, I'm personally looking forward to what Ilya Kovalchuk will do today. He played a lot on Thursday and he put his mark on the game, especially in the third period. Kovalchuk did all the things we would want him to do. He carried it in forward, he stayed late on shifts to ensure good changes, he came back on defense to help, and he took 14 attempts on net which yielded six on net and one in the net. He was even very positive in Corsi for a change. What does one do for an encore? While I am not expecting him to storm the ice like he did in the third all game today. I want to see him put an effort like we saw on Thursday. I want him to take all kinds of attempts and charge through lanes on offense to make an impact. The Devils will have to have another great team effort to win the 5-on-5 battle; but Kovalchuk being Kovalchuk will greatly help them along.

What do you think will happen in today's rematch? Will the Devils be the better team in 5-on-5 play again? Can they avoid needless penalties? Can they quiet the ferocious power play of the Capitals? How will they quell the power of Ovechkin? What do you expect out of Kovalchuk? Who else among Devils skaters do you think needs to have a good performance for the team to succeed? Will you miss the Capitals after today? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.