Tonight, the New Jersey Devils have an opportunity to win three games in a row for the first time this season. Considering that they’ve strung together a series of solid games and have found a renewed sense of urgency and conviction, I like their chances to win their third straight. However, it’s quite the tall order on this Friday evening, as they’re facing the behemoth known as the Washington Capitals.
Sitting at first in the league standings with 53 points, the Capitals are the best team in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Devils, the Capitals also have an astonishing league-leading 15-3-1 record on the road. Needless to say, they don’t lose often, and it’ll require nothing less than a 19-man effort to come close to beating them. With 13 goals and 8 assists, Kyle Palmieri is the Devils’ lone 20-point scorer. The Capitals have seven: John Carlson (45), Alex Ovechkin (33), Evgeny Kuznetsov (32), Jakub Vrana (29), TJ Oshie (26), Nicklas Backstrom (23), and Tom Wilson (22). Washington’s big guns have shown no signs of a rusty trigger, as the Capitals are 8-2 in their last ten games.
I say this at risk of sounding trite, but tonight is a huge test for this young Devils’ team. Although the departure of Taylor Hall leaves their roster devoid of a “superstar,” they’ve played as a more solid and cohesive unit during the last three games. They’ll need some more of that tonight against Washington, which is a coming off of a rare shutout loss in Columbus on Monday. Attention to detail is paramount against a team of Washington’s caliber — with a roster replete with snipers and playmakers, they’ll take swift advantage of defensive-zone lapses.
22-year old Ilya Samsonov will get the start in net for Washington. His most recent game was a win against Tampa Bay on Dec. 14 in which he let up two goals. Though he’s had fewer and more favorable starts, Samsonov’s GAA (2.38) is higher than starter Braden Holtby’s (2.82).
- Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson
- Vrana – Kuznetsov – Oshie
- Hagelin – Eller – Panik
- Leipsic – Dowd – Hathaway
- Kempny – Carlson
- Orlov – Jensen
- Siegenthaler – Gudas
- Bratt – Hischier – Palmieri
- Coleman – Zajac – Gusev
- Zacha – Hughes – Simmonds
- Boqvist – McLeod – Wood
- Greene – Subban
- Butcher – Vatanen
- Mueller – Severson
Keep Your Eyes On…
Washington’s top PP unit: Carlson (7th in the NHL with 45 points) at the top of the point, Ovechkin (5th in the NHL with 8 PP goals) at the left circle, Oshie at the bumper, Kuznetsov at the right circle, and Backstrom behind the net. Sheesh. That’s difficult to contain, and New Jersey’s PK stalwarts (Greene, Zacha, Coleman, Zajac) need to bring their A-game.
Jesper Bratt: He’s slotted into the top line’s left-wing and is expected to produce. With 10 points in 28 games this season, he hasn’t produced at the level that many had expected. Still, he possesses the enviable creativity, quickness, and speed to score off the rush. Watch for him to get into a groove and create some offense tonight.
Mike McLeod: Since his Devils’ debut in Phoenix, his line has looked solid, even with the expected erratic play of Miles Wood. McLeod has found some chemistry with Boqvist, and against a formidable opponent, this is a game for each of them to prove themselves. I expect that the Devils are grooming McLeod for a role similar to Travis Zajac’s, but McLeod’s offensive ceiling is considerably higher. A solid two-way effort will be the highlight of his game tonight. Surely, he’ll cover for a couple of Miles Wood’s inevitable turnovers.
John Carlson: My goodness – he is a man possessed this season. Some expect him to hit 100 points, and you can see why. He has 45 points in 35 games as a defenseman. Let’s see if he can carve up the Devils’ questionable defense tonight.
Fun Fact: Tonight is Andy Greene’s 900th NHL game (all with NJ), and the 900th game that Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have played together. 2 out of 3 of those guys are future Hall of Famers.