Feb 21 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
New Jersey Devils (9-3-4)
Washington Capitals (5-9-1)
Washington returns home for its first Verizon Center contest in 12 days when it hosts the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. In an odd scheduling quirk, the game is the first of two straight between the Caps and Devils in the District. The two teams will meet again at The Phone Booth on Saturday at high noon. Thursday’s game opens up a three-game homestand for the Capitals.
“We just have to set the tone,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of the upcoming pair of games against New Jersey. “They play probably the same system that we use and it’s going to be an interesting battle. It’s important for us and for them.”
As we pointed out in our Postgame Notebook in the wake of Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers in New York, all five of Washington’s wins thus far this season have come against teams outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference standings. During this upcoming three-game homestand, the Caps will be facing only opponents in the upper echelon of the conference standings: New Jersey (twice) and Carolina.
“We need to find ways to win against those teams,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We thought last game we had little glimmers of good play, but we got outworked and they just had a lot of good persistence around the puck last game. We’ve got to find that in our game and we’ve got try and find ways to get points against good hockey clubs. Where we are isn’t good enough.”
The Caps got off to a good start on Sunday in New York, getting the game’s first goal from John Carlson at 1:19 of the first frame. But they were never able to add to their lead, and first-period penalty trouble tilted the ice heavily in New York’s favor. Caps goalie Braden Holtby was outstanding, but he was ultimately beaten twice on shots he had no chance of stopping.
Washington had several strong scoring chances of its own, but was limited to one goal for the first time this season and scored fewer than four goals for the first time in a span of four games.
Caps left wing Wojtek Wolski had multiple scoring chances in each of the three games of Washington’s just-completed road trip. Like most goal scorers, Wolski would be more worried if the chances weren’t coming at all.
“You’ve just got to keep working hard and keep going to the right areas and eventually it does go in,” says Wolski. “I think if you try and change things too much, you might not even get the chances. I’ve got to just keep my head up and play well tomorrow and help us get the win.”
With three days off between Sunday’s game against New York and Thursday’s game against New Jersey, the Caps took Monday off to rest and have spent the last two days buttoning down the details of their system in practice.
“We’re just trying to tighten up our systems,” says Brouwer, “make sure we’re crisp in practice, we’re working on our details in practice because those carry over [into games]. We’re having some times where we’re getting ourselves into trouble, waiting too long in not making a good pass and then we turn it over that way. Those little drills that you normally take for granted, we’ve got to make sure that we’re crisp on our passes and our execution.”
The Caps started the season 0-3 before finally getting themselves together a bit in a Jan. 25 overtime loss to the Devils. Now they know they’ve got to start beating some better teams on this homestand if they hope to emerge from the basement of the Eastern Conference standings.
“It’s really big,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of the upcoming homestand. “New Jersey is a tough team to play against at all times, on the road or at home. The chance that we can get them at home is going to benefit us a little bit. But we need these games. It will get us right back into the mix. We need six points to be in the playoffs right now, so we need to start this way. All the games for us are important right now; we can’t take anything off.”
Braden Holtby will get the start in goal for Washington, his fifth in succession. It’s the longest run of consecutive starts for a Caps goalie in almost a year, since Michal Neuvirth started six straight from Feb. 24-March 6, 2012.
Despite the offseason loss (via free agency) of top six forward and team captain Zach Parise, the Devils have rolled out to an impressive start. New Jersey has collected at least a point in 13 of its first 16 games this season.
“I’m a little surprised,” says Caps coach Adam Oates – a New Jersey assistant last season – of the Devils’ strong start in 2012-13. “But I think the confidence that they got going through the playoff run is a big part of it as well. I think the guys realize that nothing is better than the system, nothing.”
These two games against the Devils will complete the three-game season series between the two clubs. The Caps lost a 3-2 overtime decision to the Devils in New Jersey on Jan. 25. Since that game less than a month ago, the Devils’ forward lines have taken on a different look.
New Jersey center Adam Henrique is back in the lineup after missing time with a thumb injury. The team has added forwards Andrei Loktionov and Alexei Ponikarovsky in deals with Los Angeles and Winnipeg, respectively. On the other side of the coin, the Devils have lost forwards Dainius Zubrus (wrist) and Ryan Carter (head) to injury.
Zubrus is out longterm; he underwent surgery. Carter was hurt in New Jersey’s most recent game, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators in Newark on Monday. After a three-game sentence as a healthy scratch, Devils rookie Stefan Matteau is ex[ected to draw back into the lineup in Carter’s absence.
Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur has been at his best in the early going. He is 7-2-3 with a 2.29 GAA and a .912 save pct. in a dozen starts this season. The 40-year-old Brodeur has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of those 12 starts.
The guys in front of Brodeur have also had an impact. New Jersey has surrendered more than 30 shots on goal in a game just three times this season and only once in its last 10 games.
“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge,” says Caps winger Eric Fehr of the challenge of taking on the Devils. “They’re one of the top teams in the league right now. They’re one of the teams that really stick to their systems and they work hard every game and you know what to expect from them. We’ve got to bring our best game for sure.”
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