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Game Preview #33: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals

The Devils lost nine games to the Capitals in 2021. Nowhere to go but up.

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils
The Devils will need big games from all three top centers again this afternoon.
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-15-5) at the Washington Capitals (20-6-7). SBN Blog: Japers’ Rink.

The Time: 3:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Returns from COVID Protocol

For the New Jersey Devils, goaltender Jon Gillies has returned from the COVID protocol and was back for the Devils’ skate yesterday.

Tomas Tatar and Jimmy Vesey remain in protocol for the New Jersey Devils. The Capitals, meanwhile, may or may not be playing with a decimated roster this afternoon. Signs do point to the return of as many as five players from protocol for them, though.

While I do not understand how players can be allowed to practice if they are still in protocol, some of the guys there are rather important pieces for the Capitals. Vitek Vanecek in particular is probably the team’s top option in net, though his performance has been about equivalent with Ilya Samsonov - both below-average this season. If Vanacek does not return today, the Capitals might have to go third-string for the game, as Samsonov played games on the 29th and 31st. Mackenzie Blackwood also played on those days, but Samsonov played six hours later on New Years’ Eve. Peter Laviolette may be wary of giving Samsonov another game.

As for the Devils, I do not care if Jon Gillies is more experienced than Akira Schmid. I mean, I literally do not - their results in limited action for the Devils have been about the same in terms of save percentage with Schmid facing a tougher workload. If Mackenzie Blackwood does not get the start today, I would still rather see Alain Nasreddine send Schmid out to play.

The Taxi Squad Arrivals

The New Jersey Devils finally made additions to their taxi squad yesterday. Wingers Alexander Holtz and Nolan Foote have been called up from Utica to be on the squad. In their AHL time this season, Holtz has six goals and four assists in 11 games, while Foote has four goals and six assists in 22 games. It has been a rather disappointing, concerning season for Nolan Foote, who has been unable to find his scoring despite playing on the best team in the AHL.

While the Taxi Squad rules probably prevent either of them from playing unless someone unexpectedly goes down due to the COVID protocol, I am pleased to see Holtz back with the big club for the time being.

Keys to the Game

The Washington Capitals, shockingly, have had one of the worst power plays in the league this season. With 15 goals in 99 opportunities, they are good for a 15.15% efficiency on the man-advantage. With the Devils’ recent increase in power play scoring, they are up to 13 goals in 89 opportunities - good for a 14.61% efficiency. Shockingly, these power plays are about “equal” in terms of effectiveness. However, that does not mean I want the Devils to take the Capitals’ power play lightly. Alex Ovechkin just took the all-time lead in power play goals scored on New Years’ Eve, so I do not think that bears too much need for analysis. Do not give Ovechkin the chance.

On that note, Nico Hischier - not Michael McLeod - needs to be on Alex Ovechkin like a bat out of hell this afternoon. Ovechkin has 24 goals and 26 assists in 33 games this season - which works out to a 59-60 goal, 64-65 assist pace over 82 games. The Devils’ fourth line allowed multiple goals to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday - they need not make the same mistake against the Capitals.

While I stress that Ovechkin and Kuznetsov will play - and some of these players will be bumped down and out - the Devils need to play to their strengths here. Allow Nico Hischier to take what will be the top line of Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson. And if Nasreddine feels the need to match McLeod’s line higher in the lineup, give them the Capitals’ second line, which is plenty dangerous. Regardless, Jack Hughes and Dawson Mercer need to get top minutes tonight alongside Hischier - and Mercer performed admirably against Connor McDavid on Friday. So let the top centers play, and let the energy line do their thing against the opponent’s depth. Please.

Your Thoughts

Will you be watching the game this afternoon? How do you feel about Holtz and Foote being with the team? Do you think Blackwood should start again today? If not, should Gillies or Schmid go? How should the Devils handle matchups? What do you think of Ovechkin in his age-36 season? Do you think the Devils will break their losing streak against the Capitals today? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.