Friday, December 22, 2006


Game: Devils @ Washington, 1 of 4

The New Jersey Devils go to the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Capitals.

Local TV: Fox Sports New York 2
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN Preview

The Devils have dropped 4 of their last 5, losing to Atlanta in a shootout on Tuesday. While they scored twice on the power play, the Devils allowed Marian Hossa to do that thing he does so well and score twice shorthanded. As Rich Chere pointed out in yesterday's Star Ledger, the Devils are among league leaders in shorthanded goals allowed and have lost all of the games they have given up a shorthanded goal. The Devils will need to be careful to avoid playing to the Washington Capitals' level and letting their forwards get shorthanded opportunities.

More importantly, as Colin Stephenson points out in today's Star Ledger, the Devils have to deal with Alexander Ovechkin.

He isn't just the team's leading scorer with 23 goals an 22 assists. He is not just a threat based on stats, but in how he plays the game. If he can hit you, he'll hit you as hard as he can. He doesn't take shifts off, he plays with passion nearly all the time. He's fast, he's intense, and the Devils will see him a lot as he is averaging 20:56 of ice time this season. The Stephenson article notes that Ovechkin is a right handed shot who plays on the left wing; if the lines stay the same as they have been in the last few games (and I think they will since it's not the line combinations where the Devils have been faltering, just in-game mistakes/brain-farts that prove themselve costly) Sergei Brylin will have a hell of a time trying to contain him. Even if Claude Julien throws the Caps a curve ball and switches Jay Pandolfo and Brylin on the wings, it's going to be a tough assignment for the ace defensive forward Pandolfo.

The Capitals are hot right now, with a current record of 15-11-7. Yes, they lost their last game to Tampa Bay 5-4, but they won 4 of their last 5 whilst the Devils lost 4 of their last 5. Despite a GAA over 3, Olaf Kolzig has maintained a 91.1% save percentage. While Ovechkin is far and away the leading scorer on the team, I wouldn't advise you or the Devils to sleep on Alexander Semin (14 G, 15 A), Danius Zubrus (13 G, 16 A), and Chris Clark (12 G, 14 A). They can - and have - put up points this season.

Where the Devils really need pound Washington is on offense. The Capitals' defense has Brian Pothier as their #1 d-man, averaging 26:17 a night this season. Brian Pothier! He had trouble cutting it with Ottawa on their third pairing. Combine him with a number of young players (the Capitals are loaded with talented youth, meaning some of them are still developing), and it's no surprise the Capitals are dead last in shots allowed per game. They average 35.3 shots allowed per game. That's a lot and the Devils need to be aggressive in putting rubber on Kolzig. We know the Devils can score - just ask the Rangers - tonight is a perfect opportunity to rebound from the Atlanta game and drop a hammer of goals on the Caps. Also, consider history. The Devils swept the season series last season against the Capitals and Washington has won 1 of their last 11 games against NJ. However, if Kolzig is hot though and Ovechkin's Carriage Full of Power is running about, this game becomes much harder for NJ. All the more reason for the Devils to break through right from the start - they may need to.

As far as lines go, I'm assuming Brodeur will start because...well, he's Martin Brodeur. I'm not positive as the Devils have a game tomorrow in - where else - Atlanta.





Oops UPDATE: I just read Off Wing Opinion and apparantly Brent Johnson will start for the Capitals tonight. The Devils, for whatever reason, sometimes has had major troubles playing against a team's backup goaltender for as long as I can remember. Johnson is 4-3-3 this season with a GAA of 3.10 and a save percentage of 90.8%. I still stand by my earlier thoughts that NJ needs to pound the Capitals with shots early and often to have a chance at winning this. Exploit their defense and all that. Still: GO DEVILS!


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