The Matchup: New Jersey Devils (25-33-9) vs. the Washington Capitals (39-21-7)
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: MSG+
The Injuries Keep on Coming and Coming and Coming.....: Add another Devil to the (very) long list of injuries. Promising 20 year old Jesper Bratt (8 goals, 25 assists in 51 games) is day-to-day after suffering an injury in the Blue Jackets game. Add in Current MVP Taylor Hall (Knee Surgery), leading goal-scorer Kyle Palmieri (Lower Body Injury), promising 1st overall pick Nico Hischier (Upper Body), speedy sophomore Miles Wood (Fractured Ankle), Pavel Zacha (Upper Body), John Quenneville (Hand), Nathan Bastian (Upper Body), Sami Vatanen (Illness) and Mirco Mueller (Shoulder) and the remaining lineup features a lineup with exactly two forwards over 5 goals (Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac). The curse is so bad that FORMER Devil Marcus Johansson recently suffered a lung contusion, in which we at All About the Jersey can only wish him the best. The Devils are playing their AHL team right now, and if not for strong goaltending recently from Schneider and Blackwood they would be getting dominated. With Bratt likely out for the next game, I’d expect Yegor Yakovlev to step into another game at forward, depending on a Vatanen appearance. If not, maybe Brett Seney? I’d have no clue who gets called up.
Capital Punishment: On the other side of the ice, the Capitals are heating up. Currently in the midst of a five game winning streak, highlighted with a 7-2 drubbing of the equally lowly Senators and a 5-3 win over the Flyers, the Capitals are looking to lay the law on the Devils. The Great Ape Alex Ovechkin leads the way, with an outstanding NHL-leading 45 goals. His sidekick and distributor Nicklas Backstrom is second in points, and is second on the team with 46 assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov is underperforming compared to last season, which unfortunately means he is only a point-per game player, and still has 17 goals. John Carlson is proving immediate dividends on his new contract, with 10 goals and a team leading 47 assists (tied for 3rd among defensemen in the NHL).
In terms of depth, TJ Oshie has again broken the 20 goal mark with 21 goals on the season. 2014 1st round pick Jakub Vrana is likely to break it for the first time in his career, barring a late-season collapse/injury. Tom Wilson, fresh off an extension, sits at 18 goals and 15 assists, and I’m excited to see how Kurtis Gabriel responds to his presence. 2010 6th overall pick and former bust-label Brett Connolly has also been steadily uptrending, and he is currently sitting at 16 goals and 19 assists. Even underachiever Andre Burakovsky has woken up a bit in the past few games, with 4 points in his last 5 games. This is an AHL team facing a Stanley Cup contender, so we can only pray the Devils put up a fight.
In terms of goaltending, Holtby is the starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Copley starts.
Holtby is 24-16-4, with a .909 save percentage. Phoenix Copley is 14-5-3, with a .901 save percentage. The goaltending is (perhaps surprisingly) the Capitals weakness this season.
Small Positives: The season is over, so we can only look forward to what we have right now. Michael McLeod was dang close to scoring his first goal, ringing it off the pipe. I was pleasantly surprised at how well he received a tough pass, and had a very good shot off of it. I can’t help but think that Kevin Rooney has really stepped up and could potentially be a regular for the team next season. His offense is obviously lacking, but he himself is not a deficiency on the ice. Before his injury, Nathan Bastian was really making a difference for this team. He plays rough and hard, and should fight for a spot next season. Rookies Joey Anderson and Brett Seney have obviously struggled overall on the season, but have shown flashes of being quality, with Anderson even spending time on the PK. Damon Severson is in the midst of his best offensive season, though his defensive work could evidently use some more work. Cory Schneider even seems to have recovered in play of late. There are building blocks for this team, and if the Devils get lucky and win Kakko or Hughes, next season could have them as a dark horse yet again!
Projected Lineups: I’d expect a similar lineup for the Devils as they had against the Blue Jackets, though I’d have no idea who replaces Bratt. That means we can witness Drew Stafford and all of his two goals playing on the first-line! Kenny Agostino (Who admittedly hasn’t been bad) might get a chance to play there as well. I’d expect Blackwood to start this one.
As for the Capitals, I’d expect something like this:
Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Wilson
Vrana - Backstrom - Oshie
Hagelin - Eller - Connolly
Burakovsky - Down - Boyd
Kempny - Carlson
Orlov - Niskanen
Orpik - Jensen
Your Thoughts: Who will win? Do you even want the Devils to win? Who will score? Will we score? Let me know in the comments below, and take care.