Tonight the Caps have a chance to once again make the vast majority of us back into hopeful believers as opposed to cautious skeptics. Tonight they take on the New Jersey Devils for the second time this season, this is New Jersey's second visit to Verizon Center this season and last time the Capitals were rather rude hosts, handily beating the Devils 6 - 2 in Regulation on October 16th. Tonight the Devils come into DC rested and confident having beaten the Minnesota Wild in their last game by a score of 3-1 on Tuesday Night at "The Rock" in Newark on the back of some excellent goaltending by Corey Schneider. Both Washington and New Jersey are 5-5-1 in their last 10 games but the Caps are slightly hotter and are one standings point ahead of their Metropolitan Division Rival Devils with one game in hand having 17 points in 15 games played so far this season. As a team the Capitals also have a positive goal differential of five goals versus the Devils who are -7 in that department. Both teams play a puck possession game but at this point you have to give the talent differential to the Capitals and the Devils have a much older team in terms of average age. Overall this is a game the Capitals should win, assuming they play a full sixty minutes and they play their system very well and very, very hard. Additionally they should always keep their feet moving and stay out of the penalty box, if they do that they should draw a few penalties as they play the game at a much faster pace than the Devils usually do and if they execute in such a manner it will mean they are forcing the Devils to play the game at their pace and in their style instead of slowing their own game down to "Devil Speed." For tonight's songs to sound like they have a "Capitals Beat" this game needs to be played at 45 - 78 RPM for all 60 minutes. The Devils want to sing/play it at no greater than 33 1/3 speed. Further the Caps should expect the Devils to come into the game hungry, and push very hard in the first period to make sure they don't get embossed like they did in the October 16th game and to take the Verizon Crowd out of the game early.
I belive the Caps are as hungry if not hungrier for a two point night than New Jersey. So barring a lights out night by Corey Schneider or the Caps failing to play hard for some reason, I see this game being a 4 - 2 regulation win, with a final minute empty net goal by the Capitals. If somehow New Jersey plays very poorly and gives the Caps more than 4 power plays then it could be a win by the Caps by greater than a two goal margin.
If however the Caps are looking past New Jersey or fail to play their game well a full sixty minutes, or Corey Schneider has a totally "lights out" night the Devils could win this game so the Caps cannot fail to play hard and smart for all sixty minutes.
Assuming I am correct and the Caps finish the night with 19 points and 7 ROW in 16 games the Caps will be on a solid 0.594 pace ~20% into the season and on pace for 35 ROW this season which last season was on the right side of the bubble but still on the bubble last April, so the Caps still need every point and likely will continue to do so for the remainder of the season.
Four key players and key points for New Jersey tonight: Jaromir Jagr, Corey Schneider; Mike Cammalleri, and Marek Zidlicky. Also not to be overlooked is Patrik Elias. You might notice of these five payers only the goaltender Schneider is under 30 and the second youngest Cammalleri is a recent off season pick up at 32 and until recent injuries has not been skating more than 15 minutes a game. Schneider had a relatively inauspicious start to the season but in his last several games has put himself on track. For the season to date he has a SV% of 0.904 and a GAA of 2.87. At 42, Jagr still seems ageless and leads the Devils in scoring and has really been their on ice leader in may other ways so far this season. In this his 20th NHL season the future hall of famer has 3 goals and 9 assists so far this season and for some strange reason, pundits like Gord S don't seem to dwell on his current =/- (-2) like they do Ovechkin's nor have they harped on him as any sort of one dimensional player, etc even though he hasn't been nearly as productive or important to his teams since he departed Washington for the New York Rangers in the 2003 - 2004 season, go figure? In any case he is a key guy for the Caps to make sure they shut down and while he may have slowed a quarter to a half stride over his 20 NHL seasons fastest, his hockey sense is second to none and his on ice presence is still incredibly noteworthy and effective. Camalleri is currently in his 12th NHL season and is basically the Devils' "sniper"/finisher with 6 goals and 4 assists so far this season. Some of the other Devils' usual offensive threats like Adam Henrique are out with injuries so the lion's share of offensive load goes to Cammallleri and Jagr right now, aided by 38 year old defenseman Zidlicky who has 3 goals and 6 assists for the Devils and is fourth leading scorer right behind the injured Henrique. Centers Elias and Travis Zajac are important more from a faceoff, puck possession and distribution perspective in the Devils' current system.
Four key players and key points for your Washington Capitals tonight: Braden Holtby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, and Jay Beagle. Starting from the goal line out the key for Braden Holtby and the Caps in this game as all games this season is a system that limits the opposition to 30 or less SOG and a team defense anchored by a SV% of 0.92+ and that stat/final line of defense is Holtby or Peters. Holtby needs to get more comfortable with staying patiently in net and not doing things like happy feet, high risk move to keep his head in the game. Last game the Caps got away with a couple of "loose" moves and defensive plays by both Holtby and the blueline corps. In tonight's game they cannot do that against the "experienced" (long in the tooth) New Jersey squad. Any game involving the Capitals top four guys to watch means that either Alexander Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom will be on these lists. For a game against a team like the Devils, leadership on both the offensive forecheck and keeping pressure on the Devils with O-Zone presence and Corsi For to me means of the Backstrom/Ovechkin pair I'm thinking a flying, fast power forward/wing is slightly more key than a solid game by our first line center, only slightly though. I put Eric Fehr on this list as I still have concerns that Troy Brouwer will be somewhat hampered by the thumb injury he suffered last game so I'm looking for secondary scoring and a spark from a third line of Chimera-Fehr-Ward. Fehr has been buzzing more and as long as he plays a hard on the puck game, I believe he'll be rewarded against the slower pace the Devils will want to play. Of the second and third lines I look to Fehr to drive the pace and speed of the third line and I also think that as long as Burakovsky plays smart hockey like he did the last game against the Devils, he and Marcus Johannson should be able to execute smartly on the second line against the Devils. Final key I have listed is Jay Beagle, it looks like Tom Wilson will still be out of the lineup tonight and Beagle will get another chance to play on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. He did well and was rewarded last game in this role, tonight the key is for him to again play within himself, make smart decisions and again play his assigned role playing alongside two of the League's elite forwards. All of the above though ties to the Caps out playing and out "Fenwicking" the Devils so they score three or more goals and the team defense resulting in less than 30 SOG and a team SV% of 0.926+ - that is the top level recipe for success tonight, IMO.