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Game Preview #34: New Jersey Devils vs Washington Capitals

The Devils have managed to string together back to back wins for the first time under interim Head Coach Nasreddine. Can they make it three against the best-in-the-league Washington Capitals?

NHL: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Match-up: The New Jersey Devils (11-17-5) vs the Washington Capitals (24-6-5)

The Time: 7 pm

The Broadcast: MSG+

What to Expect:

So, the Devils fired the head coach and sold the star player after a bottom 2 start to the season. Then suddenly started winning games. Can we expect that to continue?

In general, its a good possibility. With Nasreddine coaching an entirely different style that does not revolve around a struggling Hall, and the team seeming to buy very quickly into this new style, there’s a good chance things may start turning around for us in the near future. More pieces will need to fall into place and we may still be looking at a playoff miss, but at least it will be a much closer miss than a second tank season in a row.

Should we expect a win tonight? Probably not. They’ve been playing good, but they have not yet been playing Washington Capitals Good.

The Capitals are:

  • First in the league with 53 points
  • First in regulation wins
  • 6th in Power Play % at 22.6% success rate
  • 4th in Penalty Kill % at 85.4% success rate

The Capitals have:

  • the highest scoring defenseman in the league, John Carlson— 45 points in 35 games played
  • The T-#4 goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin— 21 goals
  • the T-#2 goal scorer at 5v5, Jakub Vrana - 14 goals at 5v5
  • 3 players just at or above a point per game - Carlson, Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetzov. Niklas Backstrom is not far behind with 23 points in 27 games as well.
  • Two goalies at or above league average SV% - Ilya Samsonov (.918) and Braden Holtby (.909), AND neither of them are currently injured.

Samsonov is the confirmed starter against us tonight. He has a 2.65 GSAA

The Capitals also have:

  • a relatively even, just barely negative CF%
  • league average shooting percentage and save percentage (Samsonov’s is slightly higher but he’s only played 11 games)
  • a 1.033 xGF%
  • a slightly above average Corsi and expected goals pace

So why have they been so good?

They’re successfully doing what they do well, every single night, because what they do in the games they win is repeatable. They’re not winning games on the back of 40 save performances every night— they’re allowing less than 30 shots against on average. They have an average shooting percentage and save percentage, meaning they’re not likely to see regression. They also have just above league average expected goals for— they’re consistently generating opportunities, and they’re capitalizing on them as often as reasonably possible. In short, they’re just playing good hockey, and that’s a team that’s going to be very, very tough to beat for the Bad News Bears of New Jersey that are still struggling to find their game after the recent changes. They’re still good changes in my opinion — you have to crack eggs to make an omelette (in this case, Deviled eggs) but the Capitals are already perfectly cooked.

The Takeaway: Personally I look forward to seeing how the Devils handle this challenge and how they hold it together against such a well oiled machine type team, but I won’t be discouraged by not seeing a win for us tonight.

Expected Lines:

Bratt - Hischier - Palmieri
Coleman - Zajac - Gusev
Zacha - Hughes - Simmonds
Boqvist - McLeod - Wood

Greene - Subban
Butcher - Vatanen
Severson - Carrick*

*with Carrick back off IR, I’d expect him to draw into the lineup, and it will in all likelihood be in Mueller’s place (so help me God if its not) but the defensive lines may change with his return, so take these with an even larger grain of salt than usual.

Washington’s Lines:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Wilson
Vrana - Kuznetsov - Oshie
Hagelin - Eller - Panik
Leipsik - Dowd - Hathaway

Kempny - Carlson
Orlov - Jensen
Siegenthaler - Gudas

Your Take: Is there such a thing as an acceptable loss at this point in the ‘regrouping’ /omelette making? How do you feel about our chances tonight? Are you happy with the way things have looked so far since the recent changes, or do you think we should be better/worse? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below, and thanks for reading!