‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and the cousins are as happy as a ‘coon in a cornfield with the dogs all tied.
“Please, cousin…do not compare me to a raccoon.”
Fine, you’re as merry as a schoolboy…happy?
“Ah, a fine and proper use of Dickens in this festive season.”
“D’you ever get tired of havin’ that broomstick lodged so furr up yer backside?”
Guys? It’s Christmas. And what is it you want for Christmas for the Caps?
“A new Ovie?”
“A vintage one would be nice.”
“More wing nights!”
“A healthy Mike Green…”
“An Alexander Semin Action Figure that actually..uh, acts?”
“More minutes for Mike Knuble.”
"A Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model power play with a compass telling which way to shoot the puck and this thing which records shots on goal built right into Wideman’s stick!"
Getting an early start on “A Christmas Story,” Cheerless?
“I ain’t stopped from last year.”
“He keeps replaying the scene when they open the crate and find that lamp.”
Well, if there is only one thing in the world could've dragged Cheerless away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window, it would be the chance to see the New Jersey Devils hosting the Washington Capitals in Newark.
“Yeah…hang onto that dream, cuz.”
Anyway, the Caps begin another one of these two-game absences from D.C., this one starting at Prudential Center in Newark, where the Devils await them. The Devils, like the Capitals, have been off since Tuesday. But unlike the Capitals, the Devils are on a bit of a run. They are 6-2-0 in their last eight games. In that stretch they scored 27 goals and have three games in which they scored at least five goals. They also allowed 24 goals in those eight games, three times allowing four goals (winning two of them). Quite uncharacteristic for a team that more or less brought the term “trap” to hockey (or at least refined the concept). As for the season, here is how the two teams stack up against one another:
(click pic for larger image)
2. Ilya Kovalchuk had been moderately successful as a Devil since the trade in 2010 that sent him from Atlanta to New Jersey. In 108 games as a Devil coming into this season he scored goals at a 31-per-82 game rate. He came out flat to start this season, though. He had two goals in his first four games, then had a total of two in his next 13 games. However, since getting the Devils’ lone goal in a 6-1 loss to Colorado on November 30th, he has six goals in his last 11 games. Kovalchuk missed both of the teams’ first two meetings of the season (a home-and-home on November 11-12), but he is 24-28-52, plus-4 in 48 career games against Washington. What he has not yet done, though, is record a point against the Caps as a Devil. He is without a point in his last five games against the Caps, four of them with New Jersey.
3. If New Jersey wins games, they do it in the middle period. They are a minus-6 in the first period, goals scored to goals allowed (their 21 first period goals is tied for 27th among all NHL teams), and they are a minus-17 in the third period (their 42 goals allowed is fourth-most). But the Devils are a plus-10 in the second period of games thus far.
4. The Devils are dead last in the NHL in scoring at home (total goals: 33). They are 26th in scoring average at home (2.36).
5. Where’s a “Steckel” when you need him? The Devils do not have any player having taken at least 100 draws who is at 50 percent or better (the Caps have three such players).
2. John Carlson is 2-6-8, plus-9 in six career games against the Devils. He has one point in his last four games after going 1-7-8 in his previous four. Maybe the Devils will bring out the offense of Carlson.
3. The Capitals have one shorthanded goal scored so far this season (Jason Chimera). The Devils have four…in their last seven games.
4. Dennis Wideman is tied for ninth among NHL defensemen in power play points (3-7-10).
5. The Caps have not suffered a loss in regulation in the game before Christmas in the new millennium. The last time they did was a 6-3 loss at Vancouver on December 22, 1999 (including the Caps’ James Black’s only two-goal game of his career). The Caps are 7-0-2-1 since then in the game before Christmas.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Martin Brodeur
We are getting to the end of one of the most storied careers in NHL history. And as it happens for legends more often than fans like, it does look as if it will end well. Martin Brodeur is currently 34th of 44 qualifying goaltenders in goals against average (3.08), and he is 42nd among that same group of 44 in save percentage (.885). He can occasionally muster the big night, but too often those nights come against weak opponents – a 35 save effort against Columbus in a 2-1 Gimmick win, a 29-save effort against a slumping Toronto team in a 3-2 overtime win on December 6th. Only seven times in sixteen 60-minute appearances has he allowed fewer than three goals. Eight times in those 16 appearances he finished the game with a save percentage under .900. He is arguably the greatest goaltender in the history of the sport, or at least on a very short list. It is not clear that he is now the best goaltender on his own team.
Washington: Dennis Wideman
Dennis Wideman has seven goals in 23 career games against New Jersey. That’s a 25-goal scoring pace. He is also 2-6-8 in his last eight games. But he is also even in those eight games and is a minus-6 on the road in 15 games so far. There is something of a risk and reward aspect to his game that could make him vulnerable against an opportunistic team such as New Jersey that looks to counterpunch off opponents’ mistakes.
1. Shoot the #@$% Puck! The Caps played the first two games largely on the Devils’ terms, or at least that of the Devils we have come to know. In the first game between the teams – a 3-1 win for the Caps – Washington managed a grand total of 30 shot attempts, only two Caps with as many as four (Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera, both of whom scored goals in that game). In the second game the following night, the Caps did better – 50 shot attempts (only 17 on goal) – but that is hardly steady offensive pressure. They lost in a Gimmick, 3-2. They ended up with a total of 37 shots on goal for the two games (five goals – a 13.5 percent shooting percentage – is rather respectable in that context). Say what you want about “scoring chances” (and it has merit), but if you are getting that few shots on the net, how many chances can the opponent be giving up?
2. Possession from the Drop. The Caps have to do a much better job of exploiting the Devils’ faceoff weaknesses to establish and maintain possession than they did in the first two games. Overall, the teams split 114 faceoffs right down the middle in the home-and-home (the Caps with a two-draw advantage in the first game, the Devils with the two-draw edge in the second).
3. Feel the Power. New Jersey started the year 38-for-38 in home penalty killing over ten games. In their last four games they are 14-for-16 (87.5 percent) – still good, but not the otherworldly numbers they put up early. The Caps power play on the road has been, to be charitable, brutal – 1-for-33 over their last nine road contests. The Caps have to perform better on the road if they are to secure a playoff spot. One way to assure that is to do better than 3.0 percent on the power play away from Verizon Center.
In the end, it’s easy, right? Do not let New Jersey make you play their game. The Devils, despite their six-goal and five-goal explosions last week against Dallas and the Rangers, are not that kind of team – they are 6-5-1 when the they and their opponent combine for seven or more goals in a game.
For the Caps it is still that elusive search for a winning streak. They have still not won more than two games in a row since their seven-game winning streak to start the season came to an end. At the moment they have won exactly one in a row. And you cannot get to three until you get to two.
Sounds like a score…
Capitals 3 – Devils 2