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Game Preview #65: New Jersey Devils @ Washington Capitals

The New Jersey Devils visit DC to take on the Washington Capitals for the final time this season. Can the Devils find a way to win the season series against their division rivals?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
Nico Hischier was the hero last time the Devils faced the Caps
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (23-36-5, 51 points) visit the Washington Capitals (36-20-10, 82 points). SB Nation Blog: Japers Rink

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 3-2 Wednesday evening. I had the recap of that one and noted how you could basically point to the two shorthanded goals surrendered that cost the Devils the game. Nico Hischier, who had a goal and an assist in the losing effort, was visibly frustrated after the game and Lindy Ruff went as far as to call the players out for their “stupid, careless mistakes.”

Hopefully, Mark Recchi, Lindy Ruff, and company find a way to correct these issues that continue plaguing the team with the man advantage. John did a nice job breaking down those.....breakdowns in his post yesterday, so definitely take a look at that at some point today if you haven’t read it already.

The last Capitals game

The Capitals defeated the Sabres 4-3 in the shootout last night, with Alex Ovechkin beating Dustin Tokarski with the backhander to secure the win.

Anthony Mantha got the Caps on the board off of a beautiful feed from Niklas Backstrom. Nick Jensen fired a rocket by Dustin Tokarski (credit some shoddy defense by the Sabres as well as they had nobody up high). Alex Ovechkin had a big windup and slapshot on of a trickling puck towards him off of a Evgeny Kuznetsov faceoff win to get his 41st goal of the season and 771st goal of his legendary career. The Caps had a 2-on-1 in the closing seconds of overtime as John Carlson got the shot on net, but Alex Ovechkin couldn’t bury the rebound in the open net as the puck deflected off Rasmus Dahlin’s skate as time expired.

The last Devils-Capitals game

This is the first meeting between the teams since January 2nd, when the Devils got a 4-3 overtime win against a team that has tormented them in recent seasons.

This game is probably most notable for being the game where Dougie Hamilton took an inadvertent puck to the face, breaking his jaw and sidelining him for the next seven and a half weeks. It’s taken some time for Hamilton to get going, with 2 goals and 5 assists in 14 games since returning, but he does have three assists in the last three contests and has recently been paired with Jonas Siegenthaler. Hopefully, Hamilton can pick up the pace and make up for lost time over the final 18 games of the season.

The game was also notable as Nico Hischier (2 goals this game) tallied the game-winner in overtime off of a feed from Jack Hughes (2 assists). The Siegenthaler (1 assist)-Severson (1 G, 1 A) pairing was leaned on heavily after the Hamilton injury and they delivered in a big way. Yegor Sharangovich also added a goal for good measure.

Tonight’s Lineups

I would expect to see a similar lineup to what the Devils skated Wednesday in Toronto, which you can see below.

It appears that all Devils players participated in full in practice, with the exception of Pavel Zacha and Andrew Hammond. That doesn’t quite mean that Miles Wood, Tyce Thompson, or Janne Kuokkanen are ready to return to the lineup yet though. Judging from Lindy Ruff’s reaction, Wood is close, but I think there’s a good chance we don’t see any of those players this weekend.

Nico Daws has a .858 save percentage over his last four starts, getting pulled twice on the recent Western Canada road trip and getting his only win at home against Our Hated Rivals. That said, with a couple days off, I still think Daws is the best option in net and there’s no real reason not to play him against the Capitals. If they let me make these kinds of decisions, I’d pencil him in as the starter over Jon Gillies and not think twice about it.

The Capitals skated this lineup in their game last night against Buffalo.

Keys To The Game

For me, it starts with Nico Hischier, who has arguably been the Devils best all-around player this season. The captain has 10 goals and 12 assists in his last 16 games, with 8 of those points in the last 5 games since he returned to the lineup from a lower-body injury. Expect Hischier’s line to matchup against the Capitals top line.

The Devils are catching a little bit of a break with the scheduling, as they traveled to our nation’s capital Friday afternoon while the Caps played the front end of a back-to-back in Buffalo. Flying charter from Western New York to Washington DC isn’t exactly the most grueling travel, but its still a late arrival home for the hosts while the Devils get settled in to their DC hotel rooms at a decent hour. With the Devils having a bit of a rest advantage going into this one, it would be ideal if they take advantage and jump on the Caps early and often.

With Ilya Samsonov getting the start last night in Buffalo, I’d expect Vitek Vanecek to draw the assignment against New Jersey. Vanecek has been the better of the two primary Capitals goaltenders this season, but he has been average of late, with a .902 save percentage in his last six outings. Vanecek did not start in that aforementioned January 2nd game against the Devils, but he did play brilliantly against the Devils earlier this season, stopping 25-of-26 in the Caps 4-1 win over the Devils back on October 21st.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Capitals without talking about Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 771st career goal last night in the Caps win over the Sabres. At 36 years old, he is showing no signs of slowing down as he continues to chase down Wayne Gretzky’s goals record. If you’re curious what he’s done against the Devils in his career? 36 goals and 39 assists in 67 career games.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils get a win against their divisional rival? What are the keys to the game for you? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!