The Time: 1:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, NHL
The Devils kick off the start of another back to back matinee weekend against the Washington Capitals. Last Sunday’s game against the Caps started off great: we opened up a two-goal lead including a powerplay goal and held it through the halfway point of the game. Then things got sloppy. It all started in the end of the second period with a Sami Vatanen tripping penalty that gave the Caps their first goal, since a Devils penalty kill is basically an automatic goal at this point. We looked good coming out to start the third for a few minutes, but then the Capitals woke up and that was it from there. John Carlson scored on a slapshot from the point, Palmieri took a holding penalty that they scored on again, Murray took a tripping penalty that they scored on again. We had more powerplay opportunities that we didn’t convert on, and way way too many penalty kills that they did convert on. Simple math, that’s four unanswered goals, three on the penalty kill. Gusev did manage to score with 11 seconds left in the game to make it look a bit nicer on the scoresheet as a 4-3 finish, but that ain’t a win.
The key to taking this game and keeping it? Faceoffs. Yes, obviously, special teams have to basically not suck, but there’s no magic switch to making them better. We have to fix the little things that are making them fail, and one of the biggest flaws in both the powerplay and the penalty kill is our inability to win faceoffs. Ovechkin scored 7 seconds into that penalty kill. He couldn’t have if we’d won that faceoff. The Capitals powerplay hasn’t been that deadly this season—they struggle with zone entries. Guess what you don’t have to do if you win the faceoff? Yep, reenter the zone. The same goes for the Devils powerplay which gets turned away at the blueline all too frequently, but looks like lightning in a bottle on the occasions they’re able to set up in the zone.
WTF. Win The Faceoffs.
How do we do that? Well it starts with Jack Hughes not going ELEVEN PERCENT in the circle at 5v5, that’s for sure. Hischier and Zajac were both 1 for 3 in the circle on the man advantage, even though Zajac was looking back up to his usual standards with 70% wins at 5v5 that game. At the penalty kill, we took 5 faceoffs. We won 2 of them. Zajac was 1 for 2, Zacha 1 for 1, McLeod and Maltsev both 0 for 1. I won’t make you do the math: that’s 2/6 on the powerplay, 2/5 on the penalty kill. If you’re struggling with your defensive formations on the penalty kill? If you have a hard time entering the zone on the powerplay? Those numbers are not good enough to get you success in those two minutes. Yes, the rest has to improve as well, but it all starts with the puck drop. That alone is 30 seconds you don’t have to waste trying to regroup and reenter the zone. It’s 15-30 seconds you aren’t hemmed in the defensive end trying to keep your box together. Win. The. Faceoffs.
And no, the answer is NOT to have Andreas Johnsson take faceoffs on the powerplay. I don’t know whose idea that was but good lord let’s not repeat it shall we.
Now, enough with my ramblings, on to the lines!
For the Devils:
Johnsson - Hughes - Palmieri
Bratt - Hischier - Zacha
Gusev - Zajac - Sharangovitch
Wood - McLeod - Bastian
Kulikov - Subban
Murray - Vatanen
I can’t tell you how much I liked these D pairings in Buffalo so I’m very much hoping they stay with it. Murray-Subban and Kulikov-Vatanen got murdered in Washington but did well in Buffalo, so hopefully they’ll stay together. I would like to see Maltsev get a spin in the lineup—he’s actually been a tiny bit better in faceoffs at 5v5 than Zajac which is impressive. I’d like to see what he could do on special teams, but I honestly don’t know who I would pull to get him in here.
Ovechkin is listed as a game-time decision for maintenance per the team. Carl Hagelin also took a maintenance day yesterday but is not listed as a consideration, so that’s odd. Caps fans commented Ovi took an awkward hit to the knee in the previous game against the Penguins so he may be dealing with some lingering soreness. However I’m assuming we won’t get that lucky, and also I have no idea what their lines would look like without Ovi so here’s what they played with on Thursday:
Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Sheary
Panik - Eller - Oshie
Vrana - Backstrom - Wilson
Haglin - Dowd - Hathaway
Dillon - Carlson
Orlov - Schultz
Chara - Jensen
For all you fantasy hockey people, both starting goalies are unconfirmed. We’re probably going to see Dell and Anderson this weekend, but I’m expecting it will be tomorrow.
What do we need to fix the special teams? Will we get a win today or blow it on penalties again? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!