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Game Preview #6: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals

The Devils are going for their first 4 game winning streak since the 2018-19 season, but have a tough matchup against a divisional rival that has given them fits over the years in the Washington Capitals.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
This was the scene the last time the Devils faced the Capitals
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-2-0, 6 points) host the Washington Capitals (3-3-0, 6 points). SB Nation Blog: Japers’ Rink

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSGSN, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through the official Devils app)

The last Devils game

The Devils got past a bit of a slow start, scored a couple second period goals, and did the little things to hold on and get a hard-fought 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

The last Capitals game

The Caps fell behind at home and trailed the LA Kings 2-0 after two periods of play, but scored four goals in the third period. Former Devil Marcus Johansson tallied the game winner for Washington with 5:25 remaining in regulation, while Nic Dowd, John Carlson, and Lars Eller also found the back of the net. Dmitry Orlov chipped in with three assists. Darcy Kuemper stopped 23 of 26 shots in the win for Washington.

The last Devils-Capitals game

These teams last met on March 26th of last season, with Washington winning by a score of 4-3. As Chris pointed out at the time, this was a very winnable game for the Devils, as they were up 2-1 after 40 minutes, but the Caps scored three straight goals to go up 4-2. Jesper Bratt pulled the Devils within one with :32 seconds left, but that was as close as the Devils would get.

Niklas Backstrom was honored before the game that night. He also scored a goal that night, so Caps fans threw souvenir plastic apples onto the ice. There’s a reason why I used the image of the soon-to-be GOAT goal scorer helping shovel them off of the ice, and this was it. Frankly, none of this make a whole lot of sense to me as players typically get an apple for an assist, but maybe Caps fans just jumped the gun as Backstrom picked up a helper on the Alex Ovechkin goal later in the period. Yes, I get why you’d hand out apples to honor Backstrom. Whatever.

Chris mentioned that Ty Smith was one of the primary culprits of why the Devils lost this game. Fortunately for the Devils, Ty Smith is no longer here and John Marino has looked very good, as the Devils are pleased with the early returns of that trade.


The Devils continued to roll with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen against the Sharks on Saturday.

I mentioned in my recap of the Sharks game that I’m not a big fan of the 11-7 format, but since its “working” (aka, the Devils have been winning games with it, so its obviously “working” you big dummy), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Devils stuck with it. It might not be that big a deal since the Devils have rotated in several forwards to play with McLeod and Bastian, but with the Devils playing their first back-to-back of the season and the schedule picking up a little bit in general, I’d consider going back to a more traditional 12-6 lineup.

I’d also point out that Kevin Bahl has been flat out better than Brendan Smith and deserves more playing time. Lindy Ruff seemed to see that as well in the San Jose game, so I think we might see that reflected in their playing time moving forward.

As for the goaltenders, Mackenzie Blackwood is on a bit of a roll right now, but between the aforementioned back-to-back and Vitek Vanecek’s struggles in the Detroit game earlier this season, I could see Vanecek getting the assignment against his former team and Blackwood getting Tuesday’s game in Detroit. Or I could see things go the other way and the Devils stick with the hot hand in Blackwood. Yes, I’m really going out on a limb with that prediction that either one goaltender or the other will play. I’d personally prefer the former to the latter, and I expect we’ll hear something official during the morning skate on Monday.

Here was Washington’s lineup from their game against Los Angeles.

Kuemper has gotten in 5 of the first 6 games for the Caps and he has not been great, so don’t be shocked if the Caps start Charlie Lindgren in this spot. Former first round pick Connor McMichael was a healthy scratch Saturday night.

Keys to the Game

The Devils lost the season series two games to one against the Capitals last season. Let’s take a brief look at what the Devils did well in those games and perhaps more importantly, what they didn’t do well.

I already mentioned the March 26th game. The best advice I would give is finish the game if you get out to a lead. I would also recommend against leaving Alex Ovechkin unaccounted for in a power play situation, which is something the Devils have done a lot over the years. Washington had no answers for Jack Hughes the last two times they saw him, so expect to see a heavy dose of him again.

The other loss was a 4-1 no-show early in the season where half the Devils lineup didn’t show up. The Devils tried to be more physical and it blew up in their faces as their roster wasn’t built that way, nobody was intimidated by Mason Geertsen trying to serve in that role, and you’re not going to out-Tom Wilson Tom Wilson. The Devils clearly missed having skill in the lineup as Hughes suffered the injury in the Seattle game a few days prior and Sharangovich and Bratt started the season ice-cold.

The Devils beat the Caps in overtime 4-3 on January 2nd, but that game probably should’ve never gotten to that point as Mackenzie Blackwood let in two late goals, including this stinker. Again, this is where finishing games is so important. I wrote in my recap at the time that he was very good throughout most of the game until a bad 8 minute stretch erased all the good he did. Blackwood was ultimately bailed out by strong performances by Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

What can we take away from these previous meetings? For starters, the Devils are already playing a losing battle if they try to outmuscle the Capitals, so don’t. That’s not to say don’t engage along the boards or finish your checks, but trying to set the tone with physicality isn’t playing to your strengths. When the Devils did good things against the Capitals, it was with their speed and skill. Stick to that. Darcy Kuemper is at an .899 save percentage through five games. The Devils have been peppering teams with shots consistently throughout the early portion of the season. Play your game and continue to do so.

Secondly, take advantage of a Caps team that isn’t at 100 percent. Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Carl Hagelin and Connor Brown are all out of the lineup due to injury. The lineup is not as deep as it has been in years past. Nobody feels sorry for the Devils when they deal with injuries, so nobody should feel sorry for the Capitals who are dealing with it at the moment. Take advantage of the situation.

Lastly, the Devils penalty kill has been very good in the early portion of the season. Is it too much to ask for the kill not to lose track of Alex Ovechkin if and when Washington goes on the power play. I know where he’s looking to shoot from. You know where he’s looking to shoot from. We all know!

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils get their first four game winning streak since the start of the 2018-19 season? Who would you start in net? How do you want to see the Devils approach this challenge against an opponent who has had their number? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!