Game 13 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals - 11/4/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for your TV; 660 AM WFAN for your radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-4-0) vs. the Washington Capitals (8-2-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils out-shot, out-controlled, and out-played the Tampa Bay Lightning in all aspects except on the scoreboard. David Clarkson got the teams' deserved win through the shootout on Saturday afternoon.

The Last Capitals Game: The Capitals faithful witnessed one of the worst things possible that could happen to their team: losing Alexander Ovechkin to injury.  The game against the Columbus Blue Jackets went back and forth until the Jackets got the overtime winner.  J.P. recapped the game at Japers' Rink.

The Last Devils-Capitals Game: The Devils conceded two in the first period at the Verizon Center to the Capitals and their free-wheeling offensive ways.  Yet, the team stuck it out (esp. on the penalty kill), didn't give up on the game, and got two goals in the third to erase the deficit.  The Devils eventually prevailed in the shootout to sweep their 3 game road trip.   J.P. recapped the game from the Caps' perspective here.

The Goal: Play like it's on the road.  The Devils have been fantastic on the road this season with a road record of 7-0-0; yet, they have been terrible at home with a 1-4-0 record.  This is the big non-Elias-related story with the Devils today, as Tom Gulitti asked the players and the coach about their home failures as well as pointing out some disappointing home stats.  To sum it all up, the Devils just have to be better in all aspects of the game.  With respect to the Capitals, the time is now as Alex Ovechkin is "week-to-week" according to the official team site. No AO, coming off an overtime loss to Columbus in their own house, and a defense giving up over 30 shots per game on average? The time is now to get back to their winning ways at home and if they have to be hypnotized that they're on the road to do it, then I say, bring on the hypnosis.

Read on for a guess at lines, an opinion why I don't think Patrik Elias should play, and some answers to some questions I asked to CapsChick of Japers' Rink for some insight.

First and foremost, the big news from practice today is Jacques Lemaire stating that he thinks Elias looks ready to play against the Capitals.  From Tom Gulitti:

"We want to make sure he’s 100 percent, close to 100 percent and he’s the one that will determine that," Lemaire said. "Myself, the way he’s playing right now, he can play. If it’s only me, he’s going to play. He’s the one that makes the decision."

...

"Practice was not quite as hard as yesterday, but he looked fine," Lemaire said.

Good enough to play?

"He’s got skills," Lemaire said. "You see him control the puck and what he does with the puck."

Now you may read that and say, "Yippie! Elias is coming back and possibly with a vengeance.  Hey, D.C., what did the Elias do to the goal light, 'It's ON!'"  Well, not so fast, sweetheart.  Elias doesn't agree with Lemaire's belief and stated that his leg felt sore.  In fact, he told the media (Gulitti) that it would be a big surprise for him to come back so quickly:

"There’s no sense rushing," he said. "The guys are doing well. They’re playing fine. I’d like to get out there as soon as possible. It’s not even an issue. It’s just that you don’t want to get out there and be out the for five minutes and then take a week off."

...

"My leg didn’t feel that great today," he said. "Rusty, I’m not concerned about that because that’s going to take a while."

Elias admitted that playing in a game after just two practices would be surprisingly fast.

"It would be," he said. "After five months of not doing anything, that would be pretty fast. Oh well. Like I said, physically and everything, I can go out there and play. I can’t go out there and play 20 minutes right from the get go, but I can go out there if I felt 100 percent"

I agree with Elias 100%.  While the team's offense could certainly use a dose of Vitamin E, it's not as if the team has fallen flat on its face without him. The Elias-less Devils had beaten Washington earlier this season without him, after all.  The biggest mistake one could make with respect to Elias' recovery is to throw him into regular minutes right away and have him risk a setback.  These statements by Lemaire should only be seen as progress; that Elias is working his way back to form.

That said, my guess at the Devils' lines for tonight's game will be without Elias.  They will also be without Johnny Oduya as Lemaire confirmed he will not play against the Capitals.  Therefore, expect Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, Colin White, and Bryce Salvador to take on heavy workloads again.  I personally expect Lemaire to roll the same lines he did against Tampa Bay and Boston despite what he did in practice on Tuesday morning.

Zach Parise - Dainius Zubrus - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Nicklas Bergfors - Travis Zajac - Ilkka Pikkarainen
  Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - David Clarkson
  Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

 Colin White - Mike Mottau
Cory Murphy - Bryce Salvador
  Mark Fraser - Andy Greene

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Now, it's onto learning more about the opposition.  I was fortunate to have CapsChick of Japers' Rink answer some questions about the Capitals going into tonight's game by way of J.P.

Question #1. Let's get this out of the way: Do you think the Capitals will change their overall gameplan now that Alex Ovechkin (14 G, 9 A, 85 SOG) is "week-to-week" or will the Capitals still play like they did back in October?

CC: It's a pretty fair assumption that something has to change. Ovechkin doesn't just score goals - he puts up huge minutes, he hits, and he creates space in a way that few people on the team (or the league) can match. You can't downplay his importance when you're talking about the offense.

That being said, this team has a number of other guys (Semin, Backstrom, Green, Laich, etc.) who can be explosive offensive weapons, and they can still bring it even without Ovechkin. The team will need to adopt a more simplistic style with a stronger commitment to defense from the forwards on back, but don't expect them to completely abandon the aggressive, fast-paced attack they've become known for.

Question #2. Let's focus on another Capital who has been hurting on the ice - what is up with Tom Poti and why is he averaging 22:09 a game?

CC: Tom Poti has become one of those frustrating, enigmatic guys on the Caps' roster who can make a great defensive play one minute and then have a complete meltdown the next, which is a rather surprising development given that he was rock solid for most of last season and he is, of course, a seasoned veteran. His high ice time comes down to the simple fact that he's the most veteran of a young group of blueliners and is an active part of both the power play and penalty kill.

That, or he has incriminating pictures of Boudreau stashed somewhere.

Question #3. Let's talk goalies. Jose Theodore has been the statistically better goaltender on the team and, last Capitals game excepted, has played very well.  Do you think he'll continue rolling along and establish himself as the team's #1 goalie? Or is Seymon Varlamov still in the picture?

CC: There doesn't seem to be a question of Theodore establishing himself as anything - until further notice, he is the #1 goalie, no question. Theodore has had a few bad moments, including some bad luck in his last outing, but he has still been one of the more consistent (and better) players for the Caps this season.

Meanwhile Varlamov has had flashes of brilliance separated by more than a few mental lapses, and he has yet to make any sort of claim on the #1 spot. It's important to remember that he's also just 21, has barely cracked double digits in NHL games played and is still polishing his game - he's still in the picture, but for now it's as the backup.

Question #4. Let's go a little more in-depth with the defense.  The Capitals are averaging 31.5 shots against per game this season, the 24th lowest average in the league. Given that the Devils are coming off a game where they tore up Tampa Bay's defense (averaging 31.4 shots against per game before Saturday) with 40 shots on net, what do you think the Washington blueline has to do to shore itself up for New Jersey's attack?   If they can't, then would the best defense be a good offense for Washington?

CC: The shots-against average is admittedly higher than we'd like to see, but it's nothing to be too panicked about - particularly facing a Devils "attack" that is still right around the middle of the pack despite that 38-shot performance against Tampa. The Caps play a high risk, high reward system that will result in more shots for and against than, say, a team that traps, and for the most part, they've done a good job of keeping the quality of shots against down even as the quantity has gone up.

The Devils do have some potent offense and the Caps will of course need to be ready for it. In that respect, it's not so much about the performance of the blueliners as it is the performance of the whole team. Offense is always a good defense but their best games are when they play with that aforementioned commitment to team defense while still presenting an aggressive attack. If the Caps focus on making simple outlet passes and clogging up shooting lanes, backchecking and so on, they can more than match whatever offense the Devils throw at them - even without Ovechkin. 

Question #5. Let's have a prediction for tonight's game. Who wins and what will be the final score?

CC: Completely unbiased and unhomerish prediction - Caps will snap their two-game losing streak and take this one. They'll be looking to prove that they can win without Ovechkin while also rallying around him, and since it's a road game they'll likely keep it simple in order to do so. Could be close, though; we'll go 3-2, Caps.

Big thanks to CapsChick of Japers' Rink for the responses.  I think she'll be right as the Capitals won't have a super-star shot/hit/goal/point machine that allows them to do so much at forward. They'll simplify their game and perhaps dial back their defenders a bit.   Of course, as it is not uncommon, I disagree with her prediction and think the Devils will take this one by any means necessary.

In any case, the goal is to get points at home and the time to improve the home record is now.  Steve will have the GameThread up later.  I've been a bit sick recently, so who knows how much my participation will be impacted by this.  I swear, my body just doesn't get the memo that the Devils are playing a game tonight. But alas, it is what it is.   Thanks for reading, leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments, and Go Devils!

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