March 18 vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (41-21-10)
New Jersey Devils (33-33-4)
Washington finishes up the front half of a six-game road swing on Friday night in Newark when it faces the red-hot New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
Two nights ago, the Caps’ nine-game winning streak was shot down in Motown when the Red Wings skated away with a 3-2 victory. The one-goal setback was Washington’s first loss in a one-goal game in nearly a month, since a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Sharks in San Jose on Feb. 17.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, the Caps will try to start a new streak in New Jersey.
The Caps could only manage two goals on Wednesday in Detroit, and none in the third period. That ended a streak in which Washington scored at least one third-period goal in six consecutive contests, matching its longest streak of the season.
When Washington scores three or more goals in a game this season, it is 33-0-3. When it tallies twice or less, it is 8-21-7.
The Caps come into Friday’s game four points ahead of Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings and two points behind Philadelphia for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. With a 19-13-3 road record this season, the Caps are one road victory away from reaching 20 road triumphs for the fourth straight season. The Caps have never had four straight seasons with 20 or more road wins in franchise history.
The Capitals’ first visit to The Rock this season didn’t go well. Back on Nov. 22, goaltender Michal Neuvirth was slated to start for the Caps at New Jersey, but he came up lame at the morning skate and backup Braden Holtby was pressed into service with very late notice.
New Jersey scored three times on Holtby in the first and twice more in the second as the Caps went down to a 5-0 shutout at the hands of the Devils and veteran netminder Johan Hedberg. Center Jason Arnott, now with Washington, scored two goals for the Devils in that contest.
Even with their remarkable second-half resurgence, the Devils are still last in the NHL with an average of just 2.13 goals per game.
In its frantic late push for a playoff berth, New Jersey has very little margin for error. In the final dozen games on their 2010-11 regular season schedule, the Devils will face nine opponents that currently reside among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
On Thursday night in Ottawa, the Devils suffered a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Senators, one of the teams beneath them in the Eastern Conference standings. New Jersey trails eighth-place Buffalo by six points with a dozen games to go.
To make matters worse, the 12-th place Devils would still need to leapfrog Toronto, Atlanta and Carolina in order to get a crack at dislodging the Sabres from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Although the Devils have been on an almost unfathomable 23-4-2 run in their last 29 games, their upside is only 94 points. The Devils would need to win a dozen games in a row – on top of the run they’ve been on for two months – in order to get to 94. Given their anemic attack and the strength of their remaining schedule, it’s tremendously unlikely to happen.
That said, the Devils and coach Jacques Lemaire deserve a great deal of credit for not turning tail and nose-diving to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, where the team spent most of the early portion of the season.
Future Hockey Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur started and absorbed the loss on Thursday in Ottawa. Whether he starts against Washington on Friday or not is an open question. The Devils are in dire need of points, but Hedberg blanked the Caps on their last visit to The Rock. Brodeur has also struggled mightily in the second of back-to-back games this season, posting a 3.65 GAA and an .865 save pct. under such circumstances this season.