Dec. 21 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
New Jersey Devils (14-15-7)
Washington Capitals (19-13-3)
Washington closes out a set of games on back-to-back nights when it entertains the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center on Saturday night. The meeting is the first this season between the two Metropolitan Division rivals, and the Devils are the only Metropolitan team the Capitals have yet to face this season.
The Capitals earned a 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Carolina in the front end of the weekend set of back-to-backs on Friday night. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves in the Washington nets, and the Caps scored three power play goals in the second period to finally defeat the Canes for the first time in three meetings this season.
Getting the job done in regulation prevented the Canes from claiming a point, and also kept the Caps a shade fresher for Saturday night’s date with the Devils.
“It obviously helps,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “New Jersey played into overtime [on Friday against Anaheim]. Every little minute helps. We were short a man there and a lot of guys played minutes. Every second counts. The fatigue factor is obviously very important.”
Washington took a 3-2 lead over Carolina with its third power-play goal in the second period on Troy Brouwer’s deflection of a Mike Green point shot at the 15:29 mark of the middle period. There were nearly 25 minutes of hockey remaining at that juncture, and the Caps have had some difficulty maintaining slim leads for that long late in games this season.
With the help of Grubauer, a pair of clutch penalty-killing missions in the third period and some strong cycling shifts from the trio of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Joel Ward late in the frame, the Caps were able to get two points while preventing the Canes from getting any.
“Right before the Christmas break here we need to get ourselves into a good situation here,” says Brouwer, “playing against our own division the majority of the games.
“We’ve had some struggles trying to beat [the Hurricanes] in the past few games that we’ve played against them. To be able to score four and to be able to win in a good fashion and a way that we wanted to, killing off big penalties at the end, playing the right way, Chimmer and Wardo with a great cycle shifts down low, killing off clock at the end of the game. And with Grubi playing as well as he did, it was a good all-around win for us.”
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin iced the game with an empty-net tally in the contest’s closing seconds, recording the 400th goal of his NHL career in the process.
Saturday’s game against the Devils finishes off a week in which Washington has played four straight games against fellow Metropolitan Division denizens. The Caps split a home-and-home set with the Philadelphia Flyers to start the week before taking down the Hurricanes on Friday night.
“Every point is important right now,” says Backstrom. “We’re getting closer to playing half a season. We want to separate ourselves from the teams on the bottom and we want to take as many points as possible from this. Once you’re behind and you’re too far behind, it’s hard to catch up. We’re just trying to win every game and make sure we get those two points.”
Washington has had some success in playing on back-to-back nets thus far this season. The Caps have swept each of their last two sets of games on successive nights, and they are 3-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back contests thus far this season.
With Grubauer having faced so many shots on Friday night, it’s a good bet that Washington will go with Braden Holtby in goal on Saturday against the Devils. After a strong showing in November, Holtby has scuffled in his four December starts. He is 1-2 with a 4.91 GAA and an .863 save pct. this month.
Like Washington, New Jersey is playing its second game in as many nights on Saturday. The Devils suffered a 3-2 overtime setback at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in Newark on Friday night, the lone blemish on a 2-0-1 homestand. New Jersey will depart for Chicago after facing the Capitals; the Devils will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Monday night in the Windy City.
The Devils went winless in their first seven games (0-4-3) of the 2013-14 season and won just one of their first 10 contests (1-5-4) this season. New Jersey has rallied since, and it comes into Saturday’s game just six points behind Washington for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
New Jersey has gone 23 straight games without getting more than four power play chances in a game. Since going 4-for-7 with the extra man in a 4-3 win over the Bruins on Oct. 26, the Devils are 10-for-68 (14.7%) on the power play. They have not had more than four chances with the extra man in a game since going 0-for-5 in a 1-0 loss to the Flyers on Nov. 2.
As has been the case traditionally over the years, New Jersey is quite stingy in allowing shots at its own net. The Devils have allowed an average of just 24.5 shots on goal per game this season, the best mark in the league. The Devils have allowed more than 30 shots on goal only five times in 36 games this season.
Contrast that to the Capitals, who have permitted fewer than 30 shots on net only five times in 35 games in 2013-14.
Veteran goaltender and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur has backstopped the Devils in four of their last six games and he figures to get the call on Saturday against the Capitals. Cory Schneider was the starter and loser in goal for the Devils in Friday’s loss to Anaheim.
In nine home starts this season, Brodeur is 5-3-1 with a 1.56 GAA and a .933 save pct. In 11 starts on the road in 2013-14, he is 5-5-1 with a 2.90 GAA and an .887 save pct.