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New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals: Game Preview #35

The Devils will take on the Washington Capitals tonight for their third game of a four game homestand. This preview will look at the potential goaltending match up, Washington's offensive threats, and what the Devils need to do to be successful.

Will Jagr lead the Devils to victory?
Will Jagr lead the Devils to victory?
Elsa/Getty Images

The Devils will look to get a crucial victory over a divisional rival tonight in Newark.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-16-6) vs. the Washington Capitals (15-10-6; SBN Blog: Japers' Rink)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils struggled despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead, blew the lead (surprise), but won it 3-2 thanks to the shootout (surprise!). Keith Kinkaid was once again strong in net stopping 26 of 28 shots as well as all three Tampa Bay shooters in the shootout for his first career win. This ended up being the Devils first shootout win against a team other than the Jets since 3/7/13 (Sabres). John has a full recap of the game here, where he talks about how the Devils aren't going to win many games like this. In a nutshell, Henrique and Elias scored in regulation while Elias had the lone shootout goal. Michael Ryder also took some really bad penalties but thankfully the penalty killers did well to prevent Tampa from scoring. John's recap has much to say about Ryder's horrendous performance.

The Last Capitals Game: Washington defeated Columbus 5-4 in overtime on Thursday. Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby made 22 saves on 26 shots. Washington went 0/3 on the power play and surrendered two goals on the penalty kill. They outshot Columbus 36-26 and out attempted them 49-31 at even strength. Becca H of Japers' Rink has a full recap of the game here.

The Last Devils-Capitals Game: The Devils met the Capitals for the third time of the season on 12/6, suffering a 4-1 defeat, giving Washington a 2-1 edge on the season series so far. Patrik Elias was the only Devil to score in that game as Washington managed to put three goals past Cory Schneider. The Devils actually managed to out-shoot the Capitals 34-29 and out attempt them 58-36 at even strength but lost due to their stupidity as John recapped. As noted in that recap, the Devils struggled to make simple, basic plays which has unfortunately become a trend this season. Karl Alzner took advantage of an Andy Greene turnover to score for Washington. The second Washington goal came when the "great" Jay Beagle stormed passed Dainius Zubrus and Greene to beat Schneider. The third goal was a result of Eric Gelinas taking a careless penalty and the penalty kill conceding to Evgeny Kuznetsov. The final goal was an empty netter to add salt to the wound for Devils fans. Hopefully we'll get a much sharper Devils team tonight.

The Goal: There are two areas that I hope the Devils focus on tonight. Be more efficient in zone exits and entries. Too often against Tampa the Devils got pinned back in their own zone and weren't able to effectively exit the zone with possession, thus inviting Tampa to keep attacking the Devils defenders. The Devils don't win that game if it's not for a hot rookie goalie bailing them out. By the eye test, it seemed like the Devils also struggled to gain much meaningful control of the puck in the offensive zone. Whether they try to carry it in or even go back to their bread and butter of dump and chase hockey, they need to win the puck back and create some cycles. Not only will that lead to more offensive opportunities but it will take the pressure off the defense, which at times was heavily pressured by the Lightning for long periods of play. The other thing I would like to see from the Devils is avoid taking careless, lazy penalties (I'm looking at you Michael Ryder). Washington has the best power play in the league and if the Devils want a shot of winning this game they have to stay out of the box.

Schneider In Net: It was confirmed after last night's game that Cory Schneider will start in net for the Devils, as expected. Schneider may not be having a season up to his own standards or some of the fans, but he has played a league leading 1,715:33 minutes. The emergence of Keith Kinkaid to be a solid backup should allow Schneider to get more rest and improve his performances. Regardless, he's still been very solid for the Devils this season with a .916 SV% and 14 quality starts in 27 games started (51.9%). According to Hockey-Reference's Goals Allowed Percentage Relative (GA%-) and Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) he has been about 3% above average and has saved 1.92 goals above average. According to Puckalytics, Schneider is 9th in the league among goalies with a .931 5v5 SV% minimum (900 minutes). To point out the obvious, he is one of the few bright spots for the Devils this season.

Holtby Likely To Start: Braden Holtby is the Capitals clear #1 over Justin Peters. Holtby has started 25 games this season and has put up a record of 13-7-5 with a 2.38 GAA and .914 SV%. He has 16 quality starts on the season for a 66.7%. By Hockey-Reference's GA%- and GSAA metrics he has been about average with 0.04 goals saved above average. His 5v5 SV% according to Puckalytics is 15th in the league (minimum 900 minutes) at .922.

About Washington: The Capitals currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference with 36 points from 31 games. They have a +6 goal differential on the season and are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. According to War-On-Ice they have a 51.0 CF% at 5v5 play which is fourteenth in the league. Their FF% at 5v5 play is 51.1%, good for sixteenth in the league. Washington also enjoys the eighth best goals per game rateat 2.90 which is to be expected with the league's top PP% at 26.1%. On the flip side, they have the fourth worst PK% at 76.3%.

Washington's Scoring Threats: Nicklas Backstrom (8 goals, 23 assists) and Alex Ovechkin (14 goals, 12 assists) lead the offensive attack on the top line for the Capitals. Lately, Tom Wilson (2 goals, 7 assists) has been the third member of the top unit. In their last game, the Capitals second line was comprised of Marcus Johansson (9 goals, 9 assists), Michael Latta (0 goals, 4 assists), and Troy Brouwer (10 goals, 6 assists). The Capitals have benefited from some offense from third line players like Joel Ward (10 goals, 7 assists) and Eric Fehr (7 goals, 5 assists). On the back end, John Carlson (4 goals, 18 assists), Mike Green (3 goals, 11 assists), and Matt Niskanen (2 goals, 10 assists) have contributed from defense.

As mentioned above, Washington has a very successful power play, obviously aided by Backstrom setting up Ovechkin. Overall, Backstrom leads the team with 13 power play points (all assists) while Ovechkin has 6 goals and 4 assists on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov has centered the fourth line but has seen power play time and contributed 2 goals and 5 assists. Carlson, Johansson, Ward, and Niskanen have also been big contributors on the unit.

According to the War-On-Ice player usage chart, it seems that the top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson does well against tough competition with generous zone starts, though those are certainly earned by Washington. The second line which has mainly featured Johansson and Brouwer appears to get easier minutes and zone starts than the top line as expected. The third line for Washington of Laich-Fehr-Ward appears to be used as a checking line, facing the second highest amount of competition with tough zone starts compared to the rest of the forwards. They appear to do well in possession and as pointed out earlier, Ward and Fehr are capable of contributing goals from time to time. This could end up being a very tough match up for the Devils who have uncharacteristically struggled in possession this season.

Attack Orpik-Carlson: The Capitals top pair consist of Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. According to the War-On-Ice player usage chart, we can see that this pair takes on the toughest competition for Washington, tends to get tougher zone starts relative to the rest of the defensive unit, and doesn't drive play. Orpik hasn't been a play driver for the past few seasons which is one reason I'd like to see the Devils attack aggressively when he's on the ice. In an albeit small sample size, but not shocking result, Carlson has a 63.2 CF% when away from Orpik than the 49.0% with him this season. Orpik fares even worse when away from Carlson with a 46.2 CF%. He figures to see plenty of ice time and it would benefit the Devils to use the last change to get their "top line" out against him.

Your Take: The Devils are going to attempt to build on a rare shootout victory. Do you think the Devils can play well enough to earn two points tonight? Do you think they'll be able to sustain more offensive pressure tonight than last night? Will they be able to stay out of the box and avoid Washington's impressive power play? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!