Photo: The Runner Sports
The Washington Capitals face the New Jersey Devils for the second time this season when the two meet up at Capital One Arena at 7 PM on Friday night. The Devils crushed the Capitals by a score of 6-0 back on October 11 at Prudential Center in the first meeting between the two Metropolitan Division rivals. Action from the District can be seen on NBC Sports Washington+ and NHL Network for those outside of the DMV.
New Jersey concludes a three-game road trip against the Capitals on Friday night. The team recorded a 5-2 loss in the trip opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday before a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers the following day. The Devils come into town on the losing side their past three games and five of their past six.
The Devils came into the season with confidence after making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year, falling to the Lightning in five games in the first round. After rattling off four consecutive victories to begin the season, the Devils suffered a big drop, going 5-10-4 since. While they have an impressive 7-1-3 record at home, New Jersey comes into Friday night’s tilt 2-9-1 on the road. Their 22 points are tied with the Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers for the fewest in the conference.
The Devils did not make any significant moves during the offseason, signing defenseman Eric Gryba, who has yet to make his team debut this season. The team lost some key contributors who helped New Jersey make the playoffs after winning the draft lottery the year prior, such as forwards Michael Grabner, Brian Gibbons, and Patrick Maroon in addition to defenseman John Moore.
After winning the Hart Trophy with a 39-goal, 93-point output, which accounted for 16% of the Devils’ offense, a season ago, forward Taylor Hall leads the Devils in scoring once again. The 27-year old forward has posted seven goals, 24 points, and a -5 rating in 23 games this season. The 2010 first-round pick enters Friday two goals shy of 200 in his career and two points shy of 500. Despite losing 6-0, the Capitals did a good job of limiting Hall to just one assist the first time these two teams met.
Goaltender Keith Kinkaid has appeared in 19 of the first 25 games and has recorded a record of 9-5-4 with a save percentage of .912, a goals-against average of 2.72, and three shutouts. Expect him to get the go on Friday night. Lifetime against Washington, the 29-year old has a record of 3-3-0, a save percentage of .882, a goals-against average of 3.24, and one shutout. He stopped all 21 shots that came his way in the Devils’ 6-0 win over the Capitals earlier this season.
The Capitals will likely get center Evgeny Kuznetsov back in the lineup on Friday night after the 26-year old missed six games with an upper-body injury. The center was a full participant in the team’s practice on Thursday and took contact for the first time. He was injured in a 3-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on November 14 after being on the receiving end of a high hit from forward Marko Dano. The team’s head coach, Todd Reirden, has yet to confirm Kuznetsov, who has six goals, 21 points, and a -3 rating in 18 games this season, will suit up against New Jersey.
The team enters Friday’s game looking for their seventh consecutive win and eighth in their past nine outings. The Capitals’ current winning streak is their longest since they won nine in a row in January of 2017. Their longest winning streak last season was five games, which was accomplished twice. They won all of those games without Kuznetsov and forward T.J. Oshie. Oshie, 31, has also missed the past six games with an upper-body injury. He has yet to practice with the team but was on the bench on Thursday prior to practice shooting pucks but was not in uniform.
Forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are each tied for the team lead with 28 points. Ovechkin, 33, enters Friday’s game against New Jersey tied for fourth in the league with 18 goals and is currently riding a six-game point streak, where he’s tallied six goals and eight points in that span. He has scored a goal in all but one of those six games, including each of the past three. Backstrom, 31, has two goals and eight points in his past six outings. He tallied three assists in the Capitals last game, a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Monday night. The Capitals’ have five players who average at least a point-per-game: forward Tom Wilson (1.50), Ovechkin (1.17), Kuznetsov (1.17), Backstrom (1.17), and defenseman John Carlson (1.13).
The team’s penalty kill comes into Friday night’s contest on a roll. Since Wilson returned to the lineup, the team has killed off 88.9% of their penalties after killing off just 72.9% of their penalties in the 16 games he was out of the lineup due to suspension. Before Wilson, 24, returned, the team had allowed at least one power-play goal in four consecutive games, going 10-for-16 (62.5%) in that span, including 5-for-9 (55.56%) in the last two games leading up to his suspension.
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start for the Capitals, who entered Thursday night a point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division, against the Devils on Friday night. Holtby, 29, is 9-5-2 with a save percentage of .917, a goals-against average of 2.74, and one shutout, including 5-2-0 with a save percentage of .970 and a goals-against average of 1.50 in his past seven appearances. Lifetime against New Jersey, Holtby is 15-3-3 with a save percentage of .925, a goals-against average of 1.98, and four shutouts. His 15 wins are tied for his most against a team (Boston Bruins and New York Islanders) while his four shutouts are tied for the most he has against a single franchise.
-During the six-game streak, 10 different players have recorded a goal and all 18 skaters that have played at least two games have recorded a point
-The Capitals have earned a point in 11 of their last 12 games against the Devils (9-1-2)
-Center Nic Dowd is currently on a three-game point streak (two goals, three points) and a two-game goal streak
A Look Back In Time
In the Capitals’ home opener in 2015, forward Jason Chimera opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal that deflected off of a Devils skater after he shot the puck from the far slot a little more than eight minutes in. Wilson fed defenseman Brooks Orpik in the slot from the left circle a few minutes later for his first goal as a Capital and to extend the lead to 2-0. After Adam Henrique cut the lead in half with a snipe blocker side all alone in the slot with a little more than five minutes left in the first, defenseman Eric Gelinas tied it with a bomb from the point to tie the game with 2:20 to go in the frame on the power-play. After a scoreless middle frame, Ovechkin roared into the Devils’ zone and dangled through his own legs to go glove side on Kinkaid to give the Capitals the lead back 6:33 into the third. Current-Devil forward Marcus Johansson made it 4-2 after Ovechkin set him up at the goal on the power-play after getting past a defender with 7:16 left in the game. Defenseman Matt Niskanen would add another power-play goal from the point on an empty-netter to secure the Capitals the win with 2:53 left in the game. The Devils would get within two with 1:27 left but the Capitals would go on to win 5-3. Holtby made 21 saves in the victory.
By Harrison Brown