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Preview: Capitals vs. Devils

The Washington Capitals have one game left before the Sochi Games are in full swing, and they’re hoping to begin the Olympic break on a good note. The Caps play the visiting New Jersey Devils, who also have 61 points. The Devils’ last victory came in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers, while the Caps defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-2.

Metropolitan struggles continue

The win was much needed for Washington, whose challenges have yet to diminish. After a disappointing 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders, the Caps were able to generate offense and limited their defensive mistakes. A handful of inexperienced defensemen proved to be more of a help than a hindrance, especially when journeyman Julien Brouillette and prospect Patrick Wey each notched their first NHL points–a primary and secondary assist, respectively, on Tom Wilson’s second goal of the season.

Offense was no issue for the Capitals; however, the same can’t be same of the Devils. The team has failed to score more than three goals in its past seven games, even with a roster filled with offensive talents. Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Marek Zidlicky have been outstanding for the Devils, posting 49, 33, and 29 points respectively.

Battle of the goaltenders

Michal Neuvirth was set to make his fourth consecutive start, but an illness kept him out of action and landed Braden Holtby the starting job against the Jets. While Holtby ultimately helped the Caps to a win–and earned Third Star of the Game–he gave those watching plenty to be nervous about, with more than a few close calls and a soft goal or two. Chalk it up to a lack of confidence and/or playing time, but Holtby must be better against the Devils. If the game is as low-scoring as it’s projected to be, each goal allowed will matter more than ever.

On the flip side, Cory Schneider is expected to start for the Devils. Schneider’s .925 save percentage is certainly indicative of his talent between the pipes and should give the Caps something to worry about. Forget pretty goals–the focus here should be on scoring, which brings me to my next point…

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Clash of the special teams

The Caps have been gifted ten power-play opportunities in their past two games. Unfortunately, they haven’t converted on any of them. Although the Caps currently possess the NHL’s fifth-best power play, the Devils aren’t far behind, as theirs ranks eleventh in the league. It’s nice to see that the Caps managed four even-strength goals–and more importantly, a win–in their last contest, but they must find a way to score with the extra man.

While the power play has been struggling, the Capitals’ penalty kill has seen recent success. Neither the Islanders nor the Jets were able to convert while on the man advantage, which is a promising sign for a PK unit currently ranked eighteenth in the league. Be warned, though: the Devils have claimed the number-one spot in that department and are the league’s second-most disciplined team.

If the Caps have learned anything this season, it’s that the power play won’t bail them out forever. This continues to hold true and will be especially evident against New Jersey.

Looking ahead

The Capitals haven’t beaten a Metropolitan opponent since late December. With the playoff race tighter than ever, it’s imperative that they stay focused–yes, even with Sochi–and end their homestand with one last win.

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