New Jersey at Washington Preview: Capitals Look To Stay Hot As The Devils Come To Town On Friday Night

New York TimesPhoto: New York Times

The Washington Capitals host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night for the second and final time this season. After falling 6-0 in New Jersey’s home opener on October 11, the Capitals responded with a 6-3 victory at home on November 30. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.

Devils

The Devils open a six-game road trip and play the first of a set of back-to-back games against the Capitals on Friday night. After visiting Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers tomorrow night, they head out to Western Canada and make a pit stop in Colorado before they return home to host the Capitals on March 19. Their eight road wins are the fewest in the NHL.

After making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final last year and falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the opening round, the Devils’ 59 points this season is the third-fewest in the Eastern Conference only ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (58) and Ottawa Senators (52). They have lost four games in a row (0-3-1) and are 4-5-1 over their last 10 games.

Forward Taylor Hall, last year’s Hart Trophy winner as league MVP, was leading the Devils with 11 goals and 37 points in 33 games before he got injured. He last played on December 23. Forward Kyle Palmeri leads the Devils with 26 goals and 48 points in 63 games this season. He has put up at least 40 points in each of his four seasons in the Garden State. Center Nico Hischier leads the Devils with 27 assists while his 44 points in 62 games are second behind Palmeri.

The Devils have struggled to score this season as their average of 2.81 goals-per-game is ranked 22nd in the league. The fact that they have allowed an average of 3.30 goals-against per game, the sixth-most in the NHL, makes it even more difficult for them to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Their roster has changed quite a bit since the Capitals last saw them as goaltender Keith Kinkaid (Columbus Blue Jackets), former-Capitals forward Marcus Johansson (Boston Bruins), defenseman Ben Lovejoy (Dallas Stars), and forward Brian Boyle (Nashville Predators) all headed out the door before the NHL Trade Deadline. They mostly acquired draft picks in return for those player but were able to acquire former-Capitals defenseman Connor Carrick, who has two assists and a +2 rating in his first five games with the Devils and one goal, six points, and a -7 rating in 19 games overall this season, in the trade that sent Lovejoy to Dallas.

Goaltender Cory Schnieder, who is 4-9-3 with a save percentage of .894, a goals-against average of 3.21, and one shutout this season, will start for the Devils on Friday night. The 32-year old, who recorded his first win since December 27, 2017, making 15 saves in a relief appearance against the Minnesota Wild on February 15, is 3-9-2 with a save percentage of .905, a goals-against average of 2.68, and one shutout in 15 career games against the Capitals.

Capitals

The Capitals return home for a short two-game homestand after going 3-0-0 on their Metropolitan Division road-trip. They are in the midst of a stretch where they play seven of nine games on the road. The team is 19-9-5 on home-ice this season and have points in eight of their last nine home games (6-1-2) after dropping three in a row (0-1-2) at Capital One Arena.

A five-game winning streak has powered the Capitals into a tie with the New York Islanders for first place in the division, though the Islanders have the advantage over the Capitals at the moment. During their winning streak, they have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 24-13. In addition, the Capitals are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. The team’s average of 3.39 goals-per-game this season is the sixth-best in the NHL.

Captain Alex Ovechkin needs one more point to hit the 1200-point mark in his career. He leads the NHL with 46 goals and the Capitals with 77 points this season. After his eight-game point-streak, where he recorded seven goals and 11 points, ended in a 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers on Sunday, the 33-year old captain posted a goal and an assist in the Capitals’ 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 48 assists this season.

The Capitals’ 25-10-4 record against Eastern Conference opponents is the second-best in the NHL only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. All of their victories over their winning streak have been against Eastern Conference foes. The Capitals are in the midst of a stretch where they play seven straight games and 20 of their last 22 games are against Eastern teams. They are 13-5-2 against the Metropolitan Division this season.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 25-16-4 with a save percentage of .909, a goals-against average of 2.94, and two shutouts this season, will make his fifth consecutive start for the Capitals on Friday night. The 29-year old is 16-3-3 with a save percentage of .924, a goals-against average of 2.03, and four shutouts, which is tied for the most he has had against a single franchise (Boston Bruins), in his career against the Devils. He made 33 saves against New Jersey on November 30.

Shavings

-Since returning from their bye week on Feb. 1, the Capitals have posted a 12-4-1 record and are tied for fourth in the NHL in wins (12) and tied for fourth in points (25)

The Capitals have earned a point in 12 of their last 13 games against the Devils (10-1-2) and have scored five or more goals in six of their last nine games

-Forward Andre Burakovsky is currently on a two-game goal-streak and now has six points (three goals) in his last eight games

A Look Back In Time

In the final game of the regular season last year, the Capitals got two goals from Ovechkin, who recorded his 49th goal of 2017-18, one from center Nicklas Backstrom, one from defenseman Michal Kempny, and another from Burakovsky to send them into their Stanley Cup run last season with a 12-3-0 record in their final 15 games of the regular season. Holtby made 23 saves in the 5-3 victory.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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