Game 64 Preview: Your New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals (32-26-5, 69 points) vs. New Jersey Devils (35-23-5, 75 points)
7:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus, Radio: WFAN 660 AM
This will be the final meeting of the regular season between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils. The Devils lost the first part of a home-and-home series, 3-1, despite Adam Larsson’s first career NHL goal, then rallied from a two-goal deficit in D.C., winning in a shootout. The Devils blew a 3-0 lead in the most recent meeting, but won 4-3 in a shootout in that game. The Caps are 5-0-4 in their last 9 games against the Devils in Washington D.C.
The Caps are suddenly hot, as they’ve won three straight games, in what has been a disappointing season. On the flip side, the Devils have cooled off dramatically. They’re 0-3-1 since winning 9 of 11 games out of the All-Star break.
Swept in Beantown:
The Devils wanted last night to be a statement win against a team that has had their number all season. The Bruins handled the Devils with ease through the first three meetings of the season, and ten minutes into last night’s game, it looked as if Boston might cruise past the Devils again. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The Devils put together a huge second period, where they out-scored Boston, 3-0, but even that wasn’t enough to knock off the defending champions. The Devils blew another third period lead, and the Bruins won it in overtime on David Krejci’s hat trick goal. It was an up and down night for the Devils in Boston. They got off to a horrendous start against the Bruins, but showed a lot of toughness by coming back and taking a lead in the game. Still, they’re searching to put together 60 minute efforts consistently this season, as it has not happened to this point in the season.
The Devils also felt that the Bruins got away with a hand pass in overtime. Zdeno Chara caught the puck in front of the net, and apparently threw it over to a teammate before Krejci ended up winning it for Boston. The official ruling is that Chara’s stick touched it after the apparent hand-pass. The play was not reviewed, and obviously, the goal counted.
It’s been a frustrating few weeks now for Ilya Kovalchuk. On the one hand, he’s registered 5 assists over his last 7 games. On the other hand, he hasn’t scored a goal since his hat trick in Buffalo, and is now 0-for-his-last-29 shots on goal. He’s also missed the net on countless scoring chances. Even so, his assist on Zach Parise’s goal last night gave him 61 points on the season, which eclipses last season’s total of 60. Adam Henrique continues to struggle in the point-production department, as he has not put up a point since his two assists in Toronto on February 21st. Henrique has only taken 9 shots on goal over his last 9 games. Patrik Elias, meanwhile, also scored last night. It was the first time Elias had a single shot on goal after going four games without a shot. It was Elias’ 20th goal of the season. David Clarkson scored the Devils’ third goal, following a game in which he picked up 19 penalty minutes.
The Devils are also a bit lucky today, as Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson escaped injuries. Ponikarovsky’s knee was banged up after his big hit on Andrew Ference. Clarkson looked as if his leg was injured after being struck by a teammate’s shot. Both of them returned to the game and are expected to dress tonight in Washington. On the other hand, Petr Sykora didn’t play late in the game last night. There is no word on whether he is injured or not.
Johan Hedberg will get the start in goal for the Devils tonight, as they look to snap a four-game losing streak. Brodeur started three games in four days during last weekend, as well as 9 games in a row overall. Hedberg’s last start came on February 9th, when the Devils fell to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3 in a shootout. His last win was on February 4th, when the Devils barely hang on to win in Philadelphia, despite a 6-0 lead after two periods. Hedberg has 13 wins this season after getting many of the starts early in the season. Overall, his goals against average is 2.53 and a save percentage of .908, which aren’t as good as last season’s numbers, but are actually statistically better than Martin Brodeur’s numbers.
Latest from ‘Capital’ Hill:
It’s been a frustrating season for the Caps. For a team that had won their division four years in a row and had been the top seed in the East in each of the past two seasons, this season has been a huge disappointment so far. The Caps enter tonight’s game as the 9th place team in the Eastern Conference. They’re a very average team in goals for (14th) and goals against (16th), however they have won three straight games and haven’t lost in regulation to the Devils at home since February 25th, 2007 (they’re 5-0-4 since, as previously mentioned). The Caps won their last game in dramatic fashion, though, as they overcame a 2-goal deficit with under four minutes remaining in regulation, before Oveckin’s overtime goal to beat the Islanders.
Here’s the real shocker with the Caps this season: they have one 20-goal scorer and nobody over 50 points. Although they’ve been hit hard with the injury bug, especially stars like Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green’s long-term injuries, they simply aren’t the dynamic and explosive offensive power house that they were last season. Alex Ovechkin has been called out many times this season, and he’s been limited to just 26 goals and 49 points this season, not to mention a suspension as well. Alexander Semin has managed just 17 goals this season and veteran winger Mike Knuble has struggled miserably this season. His minus-16 rating is the worst on the team and he’s even been a healthy scratch recently.
The Caps are 20-17-4 under their new coach, Dale Hunter, and always play the Devils tough. Washington is desperate to get back into the top-8 and a playoff spot, just as the Devils are desperate to avoid a five-game losing streak and jeopardize their playoff spot.
Devils’ projected lineup:
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Zubrus
Ponikarovsky – Josefson – Clarkson
Boulton – Carter – Bernier
Greene – Fayne
Salvador – Larsson
Volchenkov – Zidlicky
Capitals’ projected lineup:
Ovechkin – Johansson – Aucoin
Chimera – Perreault – Semin
Hendricks – Laich – Brouwer
Beagle – Halpern – Ward
Alzner – Carlson
Schultz – Green
Orlov – Wideman