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New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals: Game Preview #4

Wrapping a four-game road trip, the New Jersey Devils take on the Washington Capitals. This preview goes over points of interest for each team, good and bad, that could play a role in tonight's game.

Jaromir Jagr is coming. Evgeni Nabokov was ready on Tuesday. Will Braden Holtby?
Jaromir Jagr is coming. Evgeni Nabokov was ready on Tuesday. Will Braden Holtby?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Three down, one left on the road trip to open the season.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-0-0) at the Washington Capitals (1-0-2; SBN Blog: Japers' Rink)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Tampa Bay to continue their road trip on Tuesday night. The Lightning, fresh off a 7-1 beatdown of Montreal, started off well by shelling Cory Schneider.  After surviving those blasts for eight to ten minutes, the Devils were able to maintain possession of the puck, go forward, and actually respond with some offense.  The two teams went back and forth until a hard-working second-period shift by the Travis Zajac unit yielded the game's first goal.  Andy Greene's slap shot led to an Evgeni Nabokov rebound that Zajac put home on the second effort. The game's flow ebbed back and forth.  Bryce Salvador was made to look real silly on a Tampa Bay equalizer when his mishandling of the puck led to Tyler Johnson feeding Alex Killorn for a shot that got under Schneider's leg.  But the Devils would take back the lead with a successful power play: Patrik Elias was set up for a re-direction in front; Mike Cammalleri slammed in the rebound.  The Devils held on to win 2-1. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Capitals Game: Whereas the Lightning-Devils game was relatively low-scoring, the sirens got a lot of use at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.  The Caps hosted the San Jose Sharks, who swarmed them right from the get-go.  They didn't just score three straight goals, they didn't just benefit from John Scott scoring one of them, but they did it in the first ten minutes of the game.  Fortunately for the home fans, the Caps' response to this was "Plenty of time to get back into it" instead of "Welp."  The second period saw the Caps pull within one with Marcus Johansson kicking things off with a PPG; and two quick goals by Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin after Joe Pavelski re-established a one-goal lead.  Tommy Wingels scored early in the third to make it 5-3, but another quick pair of scores - Ovechkin with a PPG and Troy Brouwer - forced overtime.  That overtime led to a shootout that they lost 0-1 in, so the final score was 6-5 San Jose.  Considering they were down three goals and early in the game, I don't think a point is a bad result at all.  But the Caps fans may feel otherwise.  For a perspective on that, here's Becca H with a recap at Japers' Rink.

The Goal: Don't get too aggressive.  The big key to controlling a hockey game is to control the neutral zone. This is usually done by keeping the puck on one's stick.  Misfiring on passes, getting the puck knocked away, icing or dumping it away, and so forth concedes this crucial part of the rink.  The Devils got off to such a poor start against Tampa Bay because they did not do the basics to establish that.  Ken Daneyko quipped that they needed a spark, but until they had the puck, then the game became more even.  Tonight, the Devils will be visiting another strong, offensively-powerful opponent.  Cory Schneider was excellent on Monday but it would be foolish to rely on him to weather another storm before the Devils figure it out.   I think the best way to do this to be methodical on the ice.  Don't force plays or try to take too many risks against a Capitals team that has speed, talent up front, good feelings about scoring nine goals in their last two games, and a Russian Machine that not only doesn't break but runs incredibly well.  Maintaining control, I think, will lead to more success than pressing the issue.

Also, Alex Prewitt had this interesting post at Capitals Insider yesterday. Given that Karl Alzner has admitted their defense has been aggressive, a conservative approach could help the Devils make the Caps suffer more when they make a mistake.

The Goal #2: Go right after Brooks Orpik and John Carlson when appropriate.  While it's still really early in the season, the competition numbers for the Capitals' defensemen at War on Ice suggest those two are taking on tough competition.   If those two can be decent, then that frees up Green, Karl Alzner, and Matt Niskanen to do more damage to relatively lesser players. That's not a bad strategy.  That pairing did not do well against San Jose, though.  While Orpik wasn't too deep in the red in possession, that duo looked miserable on several of the goals against.  Orpik coughed up a puck to the neutral zone and then couldn't catch the Sonic-like speed of John Scott.  Carlson screened Braden Holtby, let Wingels do as he wished to pile in a goal, and looked like a snow angel on Pavelski's goal.  If head coach Barry Trotz wants to use that pairing for significant minutes, fine.  I want whoever on New Jersey gets them in a match-up to pressure them as much as possible.  Let's make the team learn whether that's a less-than-good pairing or just a bad night the hard way.

Sweet Mike: Mike Cammalleri is just about hot.  I personally don't consider anything a streak if it's not at least three games long.  Well, Cammalleri has a three-game goal streak, totaling four goals and an assist in this young season.  He's also the team's leading shooter with 14 on target.  For all the comments about "dating," it's clear his on-ice relationship with Zajac and Jaromir Jagr is for real.  The trio looked like, well, the Zajac line from last season at times on Tuesday night.  All three had a hand in Zajac's goal, too.  Specifically for Cammalleri, he played well in all situations.  Clearly, he's a player who can contribute beyond the boxscore; though his contributions to the boxscore are very welcomed.  I'm looking forward to see if Cammalleri can extend his scoring streak.

Keep Going Elias Line: One of the other bright spots to Tuesday's win in Tampa Bay was the general play from Martin Havlat, Dainius Zubrus, and Patrik Elias.  Havlat was especially good on the puck, which helped the Devils gain the zone and stay there when they were initially struggling to do so.  The threesome have meshed well with each other.

Please Change this Fourth Line: The Devils held an optional practice on Wednesday, so only a few skated according to this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. I would really like to see Jordin Tootoo switched out for Damien Brunner.  Tootoo really has not done much good so far, so I don't think a switch can hurt.  On the contrary, Brunner playing with a point to prove could help a fourth line be more than that trio of forwards that gets pinned back a lot.  It could give Peter DeBoer more options should the Devils need some extra firepower.  This isn't to say that Stephen Gionta has been good (he hasn't) or Tuomo Ruutu could not do more (he can, he really can).  But I think this is a switch that should at least be considered.  The fourths got beaten for at least two out of the first three games. I don't think it's going to work much more against the Caps or at home against San Jose.

After #91, There Is #8: I'll admit I was blinded by two calls against Damon Severson that I ignored he saw plenty of Steve Stamkos and came out ahead in possession.  Which is remarkable considering it's Steve Stamkos.  Thanks to Triumph44 for letting me know in the comments to the Lightning recap. So what does Severson do for an encore? Does he and Andy Greene get the mighty unit of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Eric Fehr and do well against the potential onslaught they could provide?  And if that happens, do we just do one of those Ted Logan 'Woah's?

I would still tab it as unlikely. Ovechkin has been a beast with four goals, one assist, and 19 shots in his first three games. He's Alex Ovechkin. Rarely does he not see a shot he doesn't like and rarely do those shots not seem like bad ideas given how powerful he shoots the puck.

That Reminds Me: Please, please, please, please do not give the Caps a bunch of power plays tonight. They're 4-for-13 early on in this season, which is one of the better conversion rates in the league.  The Devils did well to (somehow) limit Tampa Bay to only five shots in nearly seven minutes of power play time.  I still don't want to chance the PK by giving Backstrom and Ovechkin tons of space to work with more times than they can help it.

X-Factor: Andre Burakovsky. He's from Austria, he's 19, and he's making his case for a NHL spot.  He scored his first NHL goal on opening night and has contributed three assists in the other two games.  He's been on the left side of Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, two pretty good players in their own right. While the young man hasn't been the shooter - only three shots so far - good things have happened when he's out there.  He also has received power play time as well.  I would expect the shots to come from the other two on that line and from others on their dangerous power play unit; but it appears to me he's getting more involved.  The Devils players won't ignore him. I don't think you should either.

Where I Guess the Starting Goalies: I know Holtby got pulled against San Jose, but I think he'll return.  Cory Schneider is great, so it would be a big shock if he didn't start.

Lastly: Tonight would be a good night for Jaromir Jagr to get his first of the season. He's come close with a number of one-on-one situations.  It sure would be fun to show everyone in D.C. how much damage Jagr can provide. At least more than he did when he was with the Caps.

Your Take: Now it's your turn.  Will the Devils be able to quell Ovechkin & Co.? Can they make Orpik-Carlson suffer?  What do you think Cammalleri will do tonight? Severson? Jagr? More importantly, will the Devils pick up another result before they head for a tough home game against San Jose?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.