Pregame #36: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils

Washington Capitals (19-12-4) vs. New Jersey Devils (9-21-2)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:30PM
TV: Versus, TSN2
Radio: XM, 1500AM, 820AM
Friendly Faces of Former Capitals:  Dainius Zubrus (2000-07)
The Enemy:
Running With The Devils
In Lou We Trust

After a collective sigh of relief, the Washington Capitals return home victorious from Canada’s Capital City to face off against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center on Tuesday night.  One of the stars of the Capitals streak-breaking victory will not be with the team at faceoff.  Newly promoted first-line right winger Eric Fehr, who had a goal and an assist in Ottawa, will be traveling home due to a death in the family.  Even so, the Capitals should be able to take advantage of a struggling Devils squad that is facing mounting age, injury, and salary concerns.  The Devils are due for a major reconstruction, and that may even include the Caps bringing back Alex Ovechkin‘s old linemate Dainius Zubrus, for one last hurrah. 

Injury Report: The Caps will be without defensemen Jeff Schultz (broken thumb, January) and Tyler Sloan (groin).  Center Boyd Gordon (lower body) and enforcer D.J. King are also on injured reserve.  TSN is listing Alex Semin as questionable with a lower body flu, which doesn’t even make sense. 

The New Jersey Devils are missing a considerable chunk of their roster with long-term injuries. Bryce Salvador (concussion), D Anssi Salmela (knee surgery), D Mark Fraser (knee surgery), C Jacob Josefson (hand surgery), LW Zach Parise (knee surgery), and D Matt Taormina (ankle). 

Don’t let your hands be idle!  Read on!

What to watch for:

Going to the net:  The Capitals were able to win a hockey game because scored three goals against the Ottawa Senators.  None of the goals was scored from farther than three feet away.  Let this be a lesson to all hockey players, great and small, the closer you are to the goal, the more likely you are to score goals.  If the Capitals can continue to make life difficult for their opponents in the crease, they are likely to have success against the geriatric netminding duo of Martin Brodeur (38) and Johan Hedberg (37).

Clear the Crease:  The Capitals have been allowing an alarming number of goals in the past several games with upright opponents in their paint.  This is in no small part to the injuries and instability of the defense corps and some miscommunication.  That’s to be expected.  That does not excuse the times players are left alone in front of the crease.  The responsibility of a defenseman is to play the man, not the puck.  He should box players out of the crease to allow his goalie a clear view of the shots, and as soon as the puck is within 10 feet of the crease, every opposing player near the goal should be on his butt.  This is not new, this has been taught to these defenseman since they were 5, whether by a coach or by Don Cherry on a TV broadcast.  How these players suddenly forget their jobs is beyond me, but it has to stop.

Playing Laich a Captain: Brooks Laich put forth a valiant effort in the Capitals’ last penalty kill of the night on Sunday, clearing the puck three times to protect a one-goal lead.· It’s all in a day’s work for Laich, who has been saying and doing the right things since he arrived in D.C.· Even though he’s a center, he’ll play anywhere, including defense, because he’s happy to be in the NHL.· He never misses practices and he had played 257 consecutive games before March 2010 before missing 4 games because he took a puck to the face after crashing the net in practice

Brooks_Laich2

During the losing streak, Laich was putting up a brave face for the press, sticking up for his coach and pushing his teammates without naming names or sounding selfish.· To put it in perspective, Laich leads the Capitals in +/- at a +10 and is 4th in goals (8), assists (13), and points (21 behind only Alex Semin, Alex Ovechkin, and Nick Backstrom.· He easily leads Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time (86:31 on the season, #2 at 2:28 per game), he plays 3:18 per night on the powerplay, and his total ice time is 18:24 per night, 3rd behind only Ovie and Backstrom.· He is 6th among team forwards in hits (39), 3rd in blocked shots (20), has a 13-15 takeaway-giveaway ratio, and is a 53% faceoff man.  He’s the guy who does all the little things right. ·As long as Boudreau is coach in DC, it is unlikely Brooks Liach will ever wear the “C”, but you’ll never hear him complain about it.  He’s just not that kind of guy.  Perhaps he should be wearing an “A” at least, as he’s only taken 7 penalties all season, (including one for running the goalie, my personal favorite).  None of his penalties were for arguing with the officials and none were in the offensive zone with 2:45 left to play in a 1-goal game, something that can’t be said for all of the Caps’ alternate captains.

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