Pregame #73: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils [Update]

Washington Capitals (41-21-10) at New Jersey Devils (33-33-4)
Location: Prudential Center
7:00 PM
TV:   CSN-DC HD (Game On!), NHL Network HD
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Meetings:
Oct  9,  2010  NJ@WSH   7-2 W
Nov 22, 2010 WSH@NJ   0-5 L
Dec 21, 2010 NJ@WSH  5-1 W
Games Remaining: None
Friendly Faces of Former Capitals:   Dainius Zubrus (2000-07), David Steckel (2006-11)
The Enemy: Our Bloguin Partner: Running With The Devils, In Lou We Trust
Note:  Stats have been updated to include New Jersey’s loss last night against the Ottawa Senators.

The Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals face the red-hot New Jersey Devils two days after seeing their 9-game winning streak end in Detroit.  Despite the injuries that have taken key players out of the lineup, the Capitals played an excellent game against the Wings and were a crossbar away from taking the game to overtime.  Look for the Capitals to rebound with a strong showing tonight as they look to start a new streak. 

The Devils have been raining fire and brimstone upon their opponents lately.   Under new coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils compiled a 23-3-2 record betwwen January 9 and March 15, rising from cellar dwellers to playoff contenders.  The Devils will be hungry for more wins as they try to claw their way into the Eastern Conference’s top 8. 

This game will mark the first time C David Steckel has faced the Caps since he was traded on February 28.  Steckel is still the NHL’s leading faceoff man (63%), but is scoreless in his first 8 games as a Devil.  Look for a clash of the titans in the faceoff circle as Steckel and Boyd Gordon (58.3%) go head-to-head. 

Injury Report:  Former Devil C Jason Arnott (undisclosed) is not on the trip and is listed as week-to-week.  Defensemen Mike Green (head) and Tom Poti (groin) are on long-term injured reserve. G Semyon Varlamov (knee) is out.  C Nicklas Backstrom (finger), RW Eric Fehr (upper body), and D John Erskine (illness) are day-to-day.
-The Devils are missing D Bryce Salvador (concussion), D Matthew Corrente (shoulder), LW Zach Parise (knee surgery), and D Matt Taormina (ankle).

Read On, You Devil Dogs!

What to watch for:

The Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carlson:   Caps defenseman John Carlson has been on a roll lately.  His goal on Wednesday against the Red Wings gave him 6 points in his last 10 games.  If his past success is any indication, he should extend his points streak against the Devils.  The New Jersey-raised rookie has has worked his magic against legendary Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur to the tune of 2 goals and 5 points in just 5 periods of play.  The Caps will likely need a contribution from Carlson on the power play, as special teams was the difference in Detroit.  Carlson, who seems to be juggling his defensive responsibilities well with a +4 rating in his last 8 games, may also be matched up against the Devils’ top line.  

Marty’s Back To the Future:  Martin Brodeur has righted the ship since the Caps last faced him in December.  With 15 wins in his last 19 games, he is keeping the Devils in the playoff chase.  Brodeur, who allowed 10 goals in 5 periods aganist the Caps this year, has shut the door lately, allowing more than 2 goals in regulation just once since January 9.  Marty’s age (38) doesn’t seem to be slowing him down right now, either.  To get a sense of just how old Brodeur is, he was drafted by the Devils in June 1990, 4 months before Marcus Johansson was born and less than 6 months after John Carlson’s birthday.  The Caps shouldn’t expect to fare any better against 37-year old Devils’ backup goalie, Johan Hedberg.  Hedberg shut the Caps out in November and has allowed more than 2 goals just once in his last 11 games (8-1-1, 2 shutouts).

Born-Again Devil:  With 16 goals and 30 points in his last 29 games, superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk has been carrying the Devils’ offense during their run to the playoffs.  Some of his highlights during this streak include:   a 12-game point streak, 8 multi-point games, 6 game-winning goals, 2 goals and an assist in overtime, and a key shootout goal.   This is a stark contrast to the 3 games Kovy has played against the Caps this year (no points, -1 rating), where his only highlight was a fight with Mike Green.  If the Devils are get their offense going, expect Kovalchuk to be a big part of the reason why.