Feb. 8 vs. New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
New Jersey Devils (24-21-13)
Washington Capitals (26-23-9)
Washington closes out a four-game homestand and the pre-Olympics portion of its 2013-14 schedule on Saturday night when it hosts the New Jersey Devils for the second and final time this season. The two teams are dead even in the Metropolitan Division standings heading into Saturday’s game.
The Capitals will be seeking their first victory over a fellow Metropolitan Division opponent since a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Dec. 27. The Caps have dropped seven straight (0-6-1) to Metro opponents since then, and they’ve been outscored by a combined total of 25-11 in the process. Prior to that skid, the Caps owned a 9-5-1 record within their division.
Fresh from a three-goal outburst in the third period that sparked a 4-2 win over Winnipeg on Thursday night, the Caps are aiming to enter the Olympic break with a modest two-game winning run. Washington is now 4-2-1 since it halted a seven-game skid (0-5-2) that stretched from Jan. 12-24.
“We got the momentum there in the third period,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of Thursday’s game against the Jets, “and we’ve got to build off that. That was a huge win for us. We played good there in the third period. That’s what we’ve got to do [Saturday], because we’re playing another good team and a division team as well. We haven’t been that successful against division teams lately, so it’s time for us to get a win against a division team.”
Expecting to serve as a backup to scheduled starting goaltender Michal Neuvirth on Thursday, netminder Braden Holtby instead was pressed into starting duty when Neuvirth became ill in the middle of the day. Holtby made 34 saves to earn his 16th win of the season. In doing so, Holtby also earned Saturday’s start against the Devils, Caps coach Adam Oates announced on Friday.
Making his NHL debut, 27-year-old defenseman Julien Brouillette set up rookie Tom Wilson for the game-tying tally early in the third against Winnipeg, and Alex Ovechkin netted the game-winner just over four minutes later.
“It seems out of the ordinary,” says Holtby of Brouillette’s offensive contribution, “but I’ve seen a lot of Julien in the minors and he’s a very skilled guy and a very smart player. It’s great to see them get the point.”
Facing a hot (9-2 in their previous 11 games) Jets team while deploying a defense comprised of four players with fewer than 100 games on their respective NHL résumés, Washington was able to get two desperately needed points. Now it will scrap with the equally desperate Devils for two more before taking a break for the next two and a half weeks.
Successfully carrying momentum from one game to the next has proven difficult for the Capitals this season. They’ve not been able to string together as many as three wins in succession in two months.
“We have to forget about it and move on to the next game,” says Holtby of Washington’s Thursday victory. “We can’t get too high or too low. Obviously, that’s a cliché, but that’s the way it is. We’re guilty of it at times this year. We’re going to have to enjoy the win for a half hour or so and we have to get back to work. We have one more big game to play before the break and we’ll be ready for it.”
The 19-year-old Wilson had gone 42 games without scoring before he found the range in Thursday’s triumph. Half of his goals (two), assists (six) and points (eight) this season have been recorded in the last eight games, and he is one of eight Washington skaters who have appeared in all 58 of the team’s games to date in 2013-14.
“Tom’s been working extremely hard,” says Holtby. “I think his lack of goals is because he works so hard in the other areas of the ice to make sure that he is being effective before he focuses on goal scoring. It’s great to see that that hard work and the stuff that he does away from the net is rewarded on the [scoresheet].”
Holtby is 1-2-1 in four career starts against the Devils with a 3.53 GAA and an .882 save pct. In his last seven appearances this season (five starts), Holtby is 3-2 with a shutout, a 2.53 GAA and a .911 save pct.
Friday was a good news day for Caps forward Marcus Johansson, who learned that he has been named as a late addition to Team Sweden for the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. Johansson was named as an injury replacement for Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin.
“It’s a great feeling,” says Johansson. “It’s awesome. It’s a dream coming true. Playing in the Olympics for your country is pretty awesome and I’m really excited.”
Like the Capitals, the Devils have had difficulty mustering momentum from one game to the next this season. While Washington’s longest winning streak of the campaign is a four-game run at the outset of November, the Devils have yet to win more than three in a row at any point in 2013-14. New Jersey won three straight from Nov. 16-21, and it has won a pair of games consecutively on seven different occasions this season, but the Devils have not yet been able to piece together a lengthy winning run.
New Jersey leads the NHL with 37 one-goal games this season, and the Devils have now played four straight one-goal games including their Friday night home game against the Edmonton Oilers, a 2-1 overtime win. Devils defenseman Jon Merrill ended the game with a one-timer in the extra session for his first career NHL goal. New Jersey’s record in one-goal games is 15-9-13.
Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, obtained from the Vancouver Canucks at last summer’s NHL draft, has wrested the No. 1 netminding role away from longtime New Jersey stalwart and future Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Schneider started and won Friday night’s game against the Oilers, a contest in which he needed to make only 19 saves. He has started five straight games for New Jersey.
Given the lightness of his workload on Friday against Edmonton and the importance of Saturday’s game, the Devils will go with Schneider in goal again on Saturday against the Capitals. In his last 14 appearances, Schneider is 7-2-4 with a 1.47 GAA and a .943 save pct. He has surrendered two or fewer goals in 12 of his last 13 starts.
The last time the Caps and Devils met was in New Jersey on Jan. 24. Washington came out on the short end of a 2-1 final in that one, its seventh straight loss at the time. The Capitals managed 31 shots on net in that game, no easy feat against the defensively stingy Devils. New Jersey allows an average of just 25.4 shots on goal per night, the fewest in the NHL.
Washington has won just one of its last eight meetings (1-3-4) with New Jersey, and the Caps have fallen by a single goal in six of those seven setbacks.
Notes: Ex-Caps winger Jaromir Jagr will celebrate his 42nd birthday next week. New Jersey’s leading scorer with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists), Jagr is just two goals shy of becoming only the seventh player in NHL history to score 700 goals.
Stick tap to Carter Myers for some of the statistical data contained within.