Our Favorite Team left the nation’s capital with a huge win last Saturday. Now they have to try and do it again. Somehow. Someway.
The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcasts: TV - MSG+ 2, NBCSWA; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network
The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils visited Toronto to play the Maple Leafs. Goaltender Louis Domingue was hung out to dry by some poor defending as he also cooled off. The speed and skill of the Maple Leafs was too much early on for the Devils. John Tavares scored on a re-direction. A failed clearing attempt that did not reflect well on Will Butcher or Connor Carrick led to Frederik Gauthier scoring. With seconds left in the first period, Zach Hyman converted a power play with a deflection of his own. Early in the second period, William Nylander made it 0-4 when Pierre Engvall found him alone to the right of the goal to re-direct his pass past Domingue. The Devils finally had a response when Miles Wood fed Blake Coleman streaking down the middle of the ice. Coleman turned, kicked the puck to his stick, and beat Frederik Andersen high to make it 1-4. Any faint hope of a comeback was squashed when Auston Matthews was found alone to Domingue’s left by Mitch Marner to convert a power play. Shortly after that, Cory Schneider came in relief of Domingue. Would the Leafs beat Schneider? Yes. An odd-man rush early in the third period ended with Matthews being wide open and beating Schneider with a one-timer to make it 1-6. Would the Devils just lay down and let the game ride? Not exactly. There were attempts made for goals and they did eventually come. Coleman torched Andersen with a high backhander to make it 2-6 with 8 minutes left. With 4:25 to go, Coleman completed his hat trick when he put in a shot in close after fishing a pass by Butcher from a Leafs defender’s skate. Toronto took penalties late and Schneider was pulled to make it a six-man attack. After a brief 6-on-3, P.K. Subban found the net on a long slapshot to make it 4-6 with 1:58 left. Schneider was pulled again for an extra attacker because, hey, you never know. Alas, Matthews intercepted a pass and sent in a long shot for an empty netter to complete his own hat trick. The Devils lost 4-7. At least the consolation goals were nice. Chris recapped the game here.
The Last Capitals Game: On Monday, Washington hosted Carolina. This was the Ilya Samsonov show as the goaltender denied Carolina every opportunity at scoring that night. This would be a game filled with runs of penalties as the visitors took all four in the first period, the Caps took all three in the second period, and then Carolina took all two of them in the third period. Only one of those penalties would be punished - and it was by the most frequent Capital ever to punish penalties: Alex Ovechkin. This would also be a historic night for Alex Ovechkin as he surpassed Teemu Selanne to take eleventh place in goals in NHL history with two goals against the Canes - his 685th and 686th of his career. He scored just before the twelve-minute mark in the first period. He converted a power play from a delay of game call on Dougie Hamilton, which also yielded a tripping penalty from Jordan Staal right after the goal was scored. The double from Ovechkin was all that Washington needed in a 2-0 win over Carolina. Jason Rogers had this recap of the victory here at Japers’ Rink.
The Last Devils-Capitals Game: Last Saturday, the Devils went to Washington D.C. to play the Capitals. No one expected what would transpire. Nico Hischier got the scoring started by sliding a puck under Braden Holtby - who did not have a good game - while fighting through a hook by Michael Kempy. The Devils came close to making it 2-0 multiple times in the first. But the second goal would come after a Devils power play in the second period. A shot by Will Butcher rebounded perfectly to Nikita Gusev, who put it home on Holtby’s flank. Miles Wood took an ill-advised high-sticking penalty later in the second. There would be two goals on the resulting four-minute situation. The first came from the Pickle Juiceman, Blake Coleman, as he torched Holtby for a shorthanded goal. He nearly had a second. But the languishing Capitals power play finally got a conversion when Jakub Vrana put the puck in out of a netmouth scramble. That would be the only time the Caps would solve Louis Domingue as either the goalie would get a crucial stop, the Capital trying to take a shot would miss or whiff on a shot, or said Capital would get stuffed by a Devil. Hischier hammered a one-timer from Kyle Palmieri minutes after Vrana’s goal to restore the three-goal lead. The Capitals threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Devils in the third period but to no avail. With five minutes left, they boldly pulled Holtby for an extra attacker. The result was Miles Wood scoring an empty netter. The Devils won and won big, 5-1, in Washington. Devin recapped the game here. For the other side, Geoff Thompson had this recap at Japers’ Rink.
The Goal: Do not expect a repeat of what happened on Saturday, but do try to put in a similar effort. The Devils benefited from the Capitals just wasting and botching a lot of offensive opportunities. I would not expect that to happen for a second game. Especially not after a performance that held Carolina to 23 shots and drew six penalties from them in a shutout win. Especially since they will not get the struggling Holtby in net tonight. I do think the Devils will need to put their working skates on and really compete in their own end like they did on Saturday. What that means is that they need to win battles to clean up rebounds, they need to do more than just settle for shot blocks in their own end, and they need to be careful about giving up odd man rushes. If that means the defensemen need to pinch less or backcheck harder - they should do both - then so be it. Washington likely remembers what happened last time and will seek to avoid repeating it. The Devils should bring back how hard they competed that night and continue to go after the Caps on offense to keep them honest. I doubt the Devils will go up early and never look back again. I doubt the Devils will be able to keep Ovechkin, Backstrom, and their friends relatively quiet. I do not doubt that a win tonight will at least a stronger team effort compared to whatever that defensive effort was against Toronto.
Check This For More Details on the Opponent in General: The Devils and Capitals really just played each other. Not much has changed in the four days between these games in terms of how the teams have been playing this season or who is really dangerous on Washington. Sure, Ray Shero is out as Devils GM,and Nicklas Backstrom secured a lot of money for his future. However, that really does not impact how this particular game would go. So if you want to know in more detail how good the Capitals are, then you should check out the game preview that went up last Saturday morning.
Things Since Saturday That May Impact This Game: On the Devils side, there are some questions regarding the health of two players. Kyle Palmieri was injured in that last game against Washington. He did not play in the team’s previous two games. It is not certain if he will return. Jack Hughes returned against Tampa Bay but left the Toronto game early due to illness. If Hughes is feeling better, then he could return too. If both are out, the Devils will be thinner up front and that could be a problem for the Devils in terms of match-ups (Washington may feast on a weaker Hischier line) and offense in general (which may be problematic against an offensive powerhouse in Washington).
The goaltending match-up will be one to watch for. It is up in the air for New Jersey. As Louis Domingue was pulled in the Toronto game, it is not out of the question that Cory Schneider will start this one. Of course, if Mackenzie Blackwood is ready to play, then he may slide right in. Or perhaps Domingue will get another crack at it. It is not up in the air for the home team. Washington’s goaltender is set for this one. As tweeted by Tarik El-Bashir of The Athletic on Wednesday, Ilya Samsonov will get the start. That is bad news for New Jersey. Samsonov has been the statistically better goaltender than Holtby this season. He also played better than Holtby in game against the Devils this season. Lastly, he is coming off a 2-0 shutout win in Carolina so he is definitely up for this game.
Keep Feeding the Pickle Maverick: With Palmieri’s uncertain status, the Devils will likely need to continue to lean on the Travis Zajac line in both ends of the rink. While you may not think much of Zajac on offense, the wingers have been bringing it. Nikita Gusev is handling the puck with confidence and he is much more savvy at creating opportunities for other. He has been a big reason why the Pickle Maverick, Blake Coleman, has been bombing away loads of shots.
Seriously, Coleman leads the team with 140 shots. That is an average of over three per game, which is a very high amount. Much less for a second-line winger making less than $2 million average on his current contract. In recent weeks, it is not uncommon to see him take five or more. It is also not uncommon for him to break away from defenders and get one-on-ones with the goalie either at even strength or shorthanded situations. (Aside: This is a strength of Coleman’s and putting him on a power play means he will not get to exercise it.) Coleman is coming off a hat trick in Toronto, which also makes him the Devils’ current leader in goals with 18. This is a man who needs to be fed the puck.
The good news is that he has been fed The Goose has been doing the right thing to make it happen (a great reason to not keep these two apart), Zajac has not been a hindrance to it, and it seems the defenders behind him know what is up to: feed Coleman the puck and he will attempt to make things happen. The line has been arguably the best thing on New Jersey from a forward-perspective for the last month or so. They should draw the main attention of Washington and if they do not, well, Coleman may force a switch. (Sort-of related: If Nico Hischier wants to flex on the opposition while Coleman draws their attention, then that would be swell.)
One Last Thought: One of the many issues from the Toronto game was a lack of discipline. The Devils took plenty of penalties that were avoidable. I get that they were frustrated. I get that they were annoyed. This is the wrong team to do that to. With a PPG against the Devils and the Canes recently, the Washington power play may be coming back to its fearsome form. The last the Devils need is to give more offensive situations to Washington that will end up with Ovechkin in the right circle making every Devils fan around the world worried that he is not covered and you know he is going to shoot it and so they are hoping and hoping the eventual one-timer is stopped. The best way to prevent that? Do not take needless penalties. The Devils survived this last Saturday. They need to be more mindful tonight.
Your Take: This is a familiar game as it is a rematch from not that long ago. Do you think the Devils will able to pull out another win? If so, how will they out-score the Capitals? If not, who on the Capitals will cause the biggest problem for New Jersey (e.g. Ovechkin, Samsonov, John Carlson, the ever-popular Tom Wilson, who?)? Please leave your answers and other thought about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.