The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (19-14-2) at the Washington Capitals (18-11-6)
The Time: 7:30 PM
The Broadcast: TNT
As the Devils returned to practice yesterday, they gave news that Timo Meier would not travel to Washington due to a “mid-body injury.” This injury, Ruff said, was unrelated to the lower-body injury that kept him out of some games and hampered his play in more over the past several weeks. Thus, the team practiced with altered lines. Make of them what you will.
The Toffoli-Hughes-Bratt line may be building some chemistry now, as they’ve taken Lindy Ruff’s “attack the net” message to heart. They seem to be generating more chances than they had been. Otherwise, I am not a fan of these lines. Nico Hischier is playing with two third line players in Palat and Haula, Mercer is playing on what should be a checking line, and Holtz is buried with Chris Tierney and Nathan Bastian. That does not even get to playing Brendan Smith at defense and sitting Colin Miller. Give us a Smith-Lazar-Bastian fourth line if you will, but it’s a waste to play Tierney and Smith, but not Miller.
Washington Slowing Down
Alex Ovechkin may be tied for his team-lead in points, but he stands at a measly-by-his-standard 22 points (eight goals) through 35 games played. His eight goals have come on 130 shots for a paltry 6.2 shooting percentage. Dylan Strome, with 13 goals, is tied with Ovechkin for the team lead in points. Evgeny Kuznetsov only has 11 points in 31 games, playing 19:39 per night. Nicklas Backstrom went into semi-retirement after only eight games this season. Washington’s 85 team goals ranks 31st in the NHL, though they have stayed afloat thanks mostly to Charlie Lindgren, who has gone 7-3-3 with a .928 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average. If Spencer Carbery gives Darcy Kuemper fewer starts, on account of his .893 save percentage and 3.15 goals against average, they might become a more difficult team to beat. However, Kuemper stopped 32 of 35 in a 4-3 win over the Penguins last night. The Devils will be the fresh team against an old team on the end of a back-to-back, but they will be facing the better goaltender in Lindgren.
Playing to Strengths
The Devils need to remember that they can set the tone of the game tonight. Washington won last night and may not play with any desperation tonight, but they are a veteran group and may thrive on a slow, chippy game. Matching the McLeod line with Strome would probably be their easiest route to victory, as shutting Strome down would cut off the best of Washington’s attack. They should not try to use the Hischier line in a shutdown role, as they often have been — Hischier generates offense at a far greater rate than McLeod and should get a greater share of offensive zone starts and matchups against weaker defensive centers such as Kuznetsov.
5:45 Update: Pacioretty's Return and Starting Goalies
Tom Gulitti reported at 5:02 today that Max Pacioretty would be making his season debut for the Washington Capitals. Pacioretty is coming off a surgery for a torn achilles, as he's fought the injury bug repeatedly over the past couple years. Additionally, Gulitti reported that Hunter Shepard would start in goal, as Charlie Lindgren is still not ready to return from a short-term injury. Shepard will face Nico Daws, whom Gulitti reported earlier in the day as the starter for the Devils. Shepard, in his first NHL season at age 28, has stopped 88 of 95 (.926 SV%) shots for a 2-0-1 record in three starts.
Per Caps coach Spencer Carbery, Max Pacioretty will slot into third line at LW to play with Strome and Phillips tonight vs. the Devils.— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) January 3, 2024
Lapierre will come out.
Edmundson is out tonight for maintenance and van Riemsdyk will take his place on D.
Shepard in net.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Are you excited for the first game of the new year being on national TV? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.