November 11 vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 2 p.m., Pre-Cap podcast at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (9-4)
New Jersey Devils (7-5-1)
Washington opens up a two-game, home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in Newark when it pays the first of its two annual regular season visits to the Garden State. The Capitals will be seeking to snap a two-game losing skid.
This weekend’s set against the Devils starts a rugged stretch of road in which Washington will play nine games in the next 16 nights.
After playing a nearly spotless game against the Hurricanes in Raleigh – and coming away with a 5-1 win in the process – the Caps have dropped decisions to the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars, respectively, since. Washington surrendered five goals in each of those losses, with nine of the 10 goals in the two contests being scored at even-strength.
Most recently, the Caps dropped a 5-2 home ice decision to the Stars on Tuesday. Washington was even at 2-2 after 40 minutes in that game, but allowed three third-period goals, including what would prove to be the game-winner less than half a minute into the period.
In three of its four losses this season, Washington has been tied after the second period only to allow three goals in the third.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau put his team through an strenuous and arduous practice on Wednesday, and then a more normal on-ice session along with a video session on Thursday.
“I think whether we’re successful or we’re not,” says Boudreau of his players, “they all want the same result. They want to do better than we did. We had a long video session as well today, and they didn’t like a lot of the things that they saw. They know they’re all correctable things, and hopefully we’ll correct them.”
One positive in the Tuesday game with Dallas was a power-play goal off the stick of Caps winger Alexander Semin. With just two goals in the month of October, Semin was off to his worst start since 2007-08. In each of the last three seasons, he had at least six goals in October.
Semin’s goal against Dallas was his third of the season, and his first on the power play. He had a career-high 17 power play goals in 2006-07, but his total of six last season was his fewest since he netted four extra-man markers as an NHL rookie in 2003-04.
Boudreau sees better days ahead for Semin, who is known as a streaky scorer.
“There’s no reason to think that Alexander Semin has all of a sudden become a bad hockey player,” says Boudreau. “He skates too well, he handles the puck too well, he shoots too well. He’s going to break out.”
As a team, the Caps are having no issues with scoring goals. They’ve scored three or more goals in 10 of their first 13 games and are second in the league with an average of 3.77 goals per game, just a shade behind Philadelphia (3.80).
Defense has been another issue altogether. Through the final 50 games of the 2010-11 season, the Caps gave up more than four goals only twice. They have now surrendered five or more goals in consecutive games and in three of their last five contests.
This is the first time the Caps have allowed as many as five goals in consecutive contests since March 28-30, 2010. That’s a span of 99 regular season games.
Washington has missed blueliner Mike Green sidelined since Oct. 22 with a lower body injury. Green has been practicing with the team this week, and seems to be edging closer to a much-welcomed return to the Capitals’ lineup. The team is 7-0 with him in the lineup and 2-4 in the games he has missed.
“Each day it’s getting better,” says Green. “It’s about 10% better each day. Finally, I think I’m getting close. We’ll see what the docs say today and tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”
Washington’s power play has been consistently strong this season, producing at least one goal in 10 of the team’s first 13 games. The Caps have clicked on 25% of their power play chances this season, third-best in the NHL.
The Capitals rank 20th in the circuit in penalty killing with a kill rate of 78.7%.
New Jersey got out of the gates slowly last season under first-year coach John MacLean, and he was dismissed in December. With Jacques Lemaire taking over behind the bench, the Devils put on a strong late-season surge – going 23-3-2 over a 28-game span – but still missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. The Devils finished last season with just 81 points, their fewest since 1990-91 when the registered 79.
Lemaire retired at season’s end, and Peter DeBoer takes over the reins behind the New Jersey bench this season. The Caps are familiar with DeBoer; he coached division rival Florida for each of the last three seasons.
Goal-scoring was an issue for the 2010-11 Devils. Their total of 171 tallies was dead last in the league and the lowest in franchise history. New Jersey is averaging 2.31 goals per game in the early going this season. That’s up from 2.08 in 2010-11 but still good for just 23rd in the NHL.
Zach Parise missed 69 of New Jersey’s 82 games because of a knee injury last season. The Devils have him back in the lineup, but now they’re missing pivot Travis Zajac. Zajac will be sidelined indefinitely because of surgery on his left Achilles’ tendon.
Winger Ilya Kovalchuk leads all NHL forwards in average ice time per game (25:29), but he has been bothered by a lower body ailment and has missed each of the last two games.
New Jersey comes into the weekend set having won each of its last three games. Rookie Adam Henrique supplied the game-winning goal in each of the Devils’ last two wins, becoming the first New Jersey freshman to turn the trick since Patrick Elias almost exactly 14 years ago (Nov. 8-10, 1997).
Henrique has four goals – his total for the season – in the Devils’ last three games.
New Jersey’s power play ranks 24th in the league with a 13.9% success rate. The Devils boast the NHL’s third-best penalty killing corps with a kill rate of 91.3%.
Notes: Caps center Marcus Johansson missed Thursday’s practice for what was termed a “maintenance day” to rest a “sore” area. Johansson is expected to play on Friday in New Jersey … Devils forward (and ex-Cap) Dainius Zubrus reached the 500-point plateau for his NHL career with a goal and an assist in the Devils’ 3-2 win over Carolina on Tuesday. The 33-year-old Zubrus needs just four more games played to reach 1,000 for his NHL career.