October 9 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2:00 pm on washingtoncaps.com
New Jersey Devils (0-0-1)
Washington Capitals (0-1-0)
Washington opens its 2010-11 home slate with a Saturday date with the New Jersey Devils. Both teams fell in their season openers on Friday night. The Capitals dropped a 4-2 decision to the Thrashers in Atlanta while New Jersey lost a 4-3 overtime contest to the Dallas Stars on home ice.
Although Washington launched 67 shots to Atlanta’s 46 in Friday’s game, the Thrashers and Capitals each had 31 shots on goal. Atlanta defenders blocked 23 of the Caps’ shot tries, and Washington missed the net on 13 tries.
The Caps blocked a dozen shots while only three Atlanta shots missed their mark.
“They got in the way of more than we did,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “On their second one, we had a chance to get in the way and we didn’t get in the way. On their fourth goal we had a chance to get in the way and we only partially got in the way.
“When they’re shooting to score and if they’re in the shooting lanes, they’re going to block them. You can’t pretend to be in the shooting lanes and expect to block shots. You’ve got to block shots.”
As long as Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov remains on the injured reserve list, we can assume that Michal Neuvirth will carry the lion’s share of the netminding load. Although he surrendered four goals in backstopping the Caps to a loss in Atlanta, Neuvirth is an almost certain bet to get the nod again when the Capitals return home to host the Devils.
“Two were redirected, one was a penalty shot and one was right from the slot and was a really good shot,” said Boudreau of Neuvirth’s opening night performance. “I thought he held us in the game and he made the big save when he had to make the big save. I wasn’t unhappy with his work at all.”
Starting back-to-back games is very familiar territory for Neuvirth, who has spent most of the last two seasons with the AHL Hershey Bears, where he led that club to consecutive Calder Cup championships.
Including the postseason, Neuvirth started back-to-back games on 17 occasions over the past two seasons in the AHL. In the second of those back-to-back games, he posted a stellar record of 14-3 with a 1.77 GAA and a .938 save pct. He allowed two or fewer goals in 13 of those 17 games. Neuvirth went 10-1 in the second of back-to-backs at home.
“I get in a short pre-game skate,” says the 22-year-old Czech netminder. “I’ve got my routine and I’m not going to change anything. It’s a big game and every guy on the team has to be better tomorrow.”
The Capitals were 0-for-3 on the power play in their opener but killed off all three Thrashers power play opportunities on the night.
After taking an early 2-0 lead in their opener on Friday, the Devils squandered that advantage and lost by a 4-3 count on Loui Eriksson’s overtime goal.
New Jersey takes the ice this season under the tutelage of rookie coach John MacLean, the team’s third bench boss in as many seasons. Although the Devils have made the playoffs in each of the last 13 seasons, they have suffered a first-round exit in three straight springs. They’ve endured four straight postseason ousters at the hands of a lower seeded opponent.
Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur owns most of the league’s goaltending records, and he also owns a chokehold on the starting job in Jersey. With Brodeur starting 76 of New Jersey’s regular season contests in 2009-10, the Devils surrendered a league-low 191 goals against. But since the Devils won the last of their three Stanley Cup championships in 2003, Brodeur is just 16-26 with a 2.57 GAA and a .911 save pct. in six postseason runs.
Against the Dallas Stars last night in Newark, Brodeur extended his own NHL record when he earned a 16th straight opening night starting assignment in goal for the same team. He stopped 24 of 28 shots in a losing effort.
Having signed lethal left wing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year deal worth a total of $100 million, it looked like the Devils would need to turn some salary cap somersaults in order to squeeze beneath the NHL’s $59.4 million salary cap for 2010-11.
Instead of making trades and re-assignments, the Devils get under the cap when defensemen Bryce Salvador was placed on long-term injury reserve and blueliner Anssi Salmela was designated as a non-roster injured player. Even with those moves, New Jersey is working a thin margin. The Devils roster has just 20 players and New Jersey is less than $100,000 under the cap.
Furthermore, the Devils are operating with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Two of the blueliners – Matt Taormina and Alex Urbom – made their NHL debuts with the Devils last night against Dallas.
Taormina led all New Jersey defensemen with 21:38 of ice in his NHL debut.
The Devils annually rank among the league’s least penalized teams, and they went shorthanded just once in Friday’s opener against Dallas. New Jersey had just one power play of its own, and the Devils made good on that one.