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Game Preview #64: New Jersey Devils @ Washington Capitals

After choking a lead in the last five minutes against Toronto, the Devils visit long-time boogy-team the Washington Capitals, who are falling away after selling at the deadline. Learn more about tonight’s matchup in this Devils game preview.

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NHL: Washington Capitals at Los Angeles Kings
The Great Eight in Action
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils versus the Washington Capitals. Opposition Blog: Jasper’s Rink

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV — NBCSWA, MSGSN2

The Capitals

Trending Down

The Caps are a long-time playoff contender that have been trending downwards essentially since they finally got their cup in 2018. This year they are going to miss the playoffs, and their deadline business reflected this, selling off important pieces in Dmitrij Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Lars Eller, Erik Gustafsson, and Marcus Johansson, picking up futures coming the other way.

In the standings, they are 12th in the East, 0.056 points percentage out of Pittsburgh who hold the second wild card spot. The Athletic gives them an 8% change of making the playoffs. MoneyPuck give them 5.7%. In their last ten, they are 3-7-0, having lost to some pretty poor teams in the process.

The Alex Ovechkin powerplay has struggled this year, being 16th in the NHL in conversion rate. Their penalty kill is good at 8th. At 5-on-5, per NaturalStattrick, they are 21st in goals-for percentage, 17th in corsi-for percentage, 16th in xG-for percentage, and 17th in high-danger chances-for percentage. So they are above average on special teams and average at 5-on-5. But even so, they are 22nd in points percentage. They are 22nd in PDO, so that explains a part of it. What the following shows is sequencing for finishing: when goals have been scored, and their incidental impact on results. From HockeyViz.

Evidently, the Caps are above average in the goals for compared to expected goals for differential (they are scoring below expectation, but so are most other teams). However, in terms of cost of finishing, they have lost roughly 10 standings points, which essentially means that they have scored their goals when they haven’t needed them, and not been able to get any clutch goals in game-deciding moments. If the Caps had those extra 10 points in the standings, they would be a point behind the Rangers, firmly with the first wild card spot, and we would be talking a lot differently about them, especially since they likely don’t sell off at the deadline. Hopefully their poor shooting sequencing continues tonight.

The Roster

This is the Washington depth chart from the Athletic:

The grades given at the top is how the different lines, pairings and groupings compare with the rest of the league. The main conclusion I draw from this is that basically any combination they throw out is below league average. The top six is (this season) very poor: Kuznetsov and Wilson are down from consistent 2+ GSVA seasons, Ovechkin is down from 3.5 (he is still playing roughly at a 50-goal pace over 82 games, but has fallen off a bit). The fourth line is very good, which suggests depth, but if the top of the lineup is weak, depth does not really mean anything.

The defense is pretty weak as well. Star D-man John Carlson is out, which is a massive loss. Check out Washington at 5-on-5 with and without Carlson on the ice, from HockeyViz:

The defense does improve, but the offense falls off a cliff. Now, when Carlson was in the lineup he did play much of his time at 5-on-5 with Ovechkin (43%), which does explain to some extent why the offensive with-without contrast is so stark, but even so, Carlson’s absense is clearly felt. At the trade deadline, Washington also shipped out Dmitrij Orlov, which doesn’t help. From Toronto they did acquire Rasmus Sandin, who is a good, young player, but not quite at that star level yet:

He has great impacts both offensively and defensively, but these are from extremely sheltered minutes: his usage of -2.6 shows that he has been playing with good players against bad players. He has been on the top-pairing since the trade to Washington, playing two games so far, against San Jose and LA, where he had Game Scores of 3.09 and 1.13 (he played 25:06 against LA). Small sample size, but he has started well. It will be interesting to see how the Devis attack him tonight.

Goaltending? Darcy Kuemper came in this summer having been the Colorado Avalanche’s cup-winning starter. Charlie Lindgren is a journey-man guy who has had a decent season. Check out Washington’s goalie stats this season, from HockeyReference:

The average for quality starts in the NHL is 53%. The Capitals have a QS% of 53.8%, so basically average here. Goals saved above average is positive, whilst save percentage is above league average of roughly 0.905. Strong goaltending, certainly, but not world-breaking.

Here is a plot of Saving for Washington this year, from HockeyViz:

They are poor in the high-danger areas, so that is something for the Devils to try to exploit. As discussed recently, that area is where guys like Dawson Mercer, Timo Meier (who will play well tonight, I am sure, having been dreadful against Toronto) and Ondrej Palat, clean up. I would like to see them force the puck to those areas rather than taking low-percentage shots where the Washington goalies are better than average anyway.

Your Thoughts

I apologise for the shorter preview today. Hopefully you got the essentials either way. What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Who did I miss to write about in my haste? Who should we be scared of? Who should we be taking advantage of? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading and supporting the site!