The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Fresh off their 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals head to the Prudential Center in Newark to take on the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. This will be the Capitals’ first visit to “The Rock” this season, and they will be looking to improve their record against New York City area teams from the 3-1-0 mark they have against the Rangers and Islanders on their ice so far this season.
The Caps got back to business in an important way in the win against the Isles on Thursday, holding an opponent to fewer than three goals after three straight games of allowing three or more, the first time they did so this season.
The stinginess might be returning just in time for Washington. They will be facing a team that is 5-1-1 in their last seven games, outscoring their opponents by a 20-12 margin. Over those games the Devils are 6-for-20 on the power play (30.0 percent) and 19-for-24 on the penalty kill (79.2 percent).
Holding their opponents to 12 goals in seven games is largely the product of the performance of Cory Schneider in goal. He appeared in six of the seven games, posting a record of 5-1-0 with a 1.98 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. Schneider, like his counterpart Braden Holtby for the Caps, ranks highly among the league’s netminders. Among 36 goalies with at least 1,200 minutes played, Schneider ranks as follows:
- Games Played: 43 (T-2nd)
- Minutes: 2,569 (2nd)
- Wins: 23 (T-6th)
- Shots Faced: 1,224 (4th)
- Saves: 1,137 (4th)
- Goals-Against Average: 2.03 (3rd)
- Save Percentage: .929 (6th)
Schneider has found New Jersey to his liking. Since moving their from Vancouver for the 2013-2014 season, his .925 save percentage is second among 31 goalies appearing in at least 100 games (Carey Price is first: .931). His goals against average of 2.11 tops that group. What he has not done is beat the Caps with any regularity. In eight career appearances against Washington, Schneider is 3-4-1, 2.22, .918, with one shutout. He has had particularly bad luck against the Caps in a Devils’ sweater. In six appearances he is 3-3-0, 1.93, .933, but he has held the Caps to one or no goals in four of those six appearances.
In their 5-1-1 run, 16 different skaters recorded points for the Devils. And it is a bit of an odd list, one with names the might be unfamiliar to Caps fans who have followed this rivalry over the years. Take Joseph Blandisi. A sixth-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012, he was ultimately not offered a contract by the Avalanche and was re-entered into the 2014 draft. He was not selected, but he signed a three-year entry level deal with the Devils in January 2015 and later that year had the honor of finishing second to Connor McDavid in voting for the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player. He worked his way up to the Devils this past December, and after a slow start has come on of late. His five assists over the last seven games ties for most in that span with Travis Zajac, and he is 2-5-7 overall in those games. This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.
Then there is David Schlemko. An eight year veteran who spent his first seven seasons knocking around the Western Conference (six seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, then three teams – the Coyotes, Dallas Stars, and Calgary Flames – last season), the defenseman had not produced much in the way of offensive numbers. In 231 games coming into this season he was 9-41-50. However, in 44 games with the Devils he has a career high in goals (six) and points (15). Over the Devils’ last seven games he is 2-4-6. In three career games against Washington, Schlemko has one assist.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. New Jersey is the only team in the league this season not to have lost a game in regulation when scoring first. The odd part of that is they rank only eighth in winning percentage in those games (17-0-4/.810).
2. Only one team has more losses in regulation when allowing the first goal than the Devils. Their 20 losses in 35 such games is one less than the Columbus Blue Jackets in 30 such games.
3. New Jersey has had only 76 power play opportunities on home ice, the fifth fewest in the league.
4. Only the Arizona Coyotes (10) have allowed more shorthanded goals against than the Devils (7).
5. New Jersey is probably going to struggle making the playoff-eight in the Eastern Conference if they do not improve their possession numbers, particularly on the road. The Devils rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for overall in road games (45.1 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. This will be the 200th regular season meeting between these two clubs. In 199 previous meetings the Caps hold a 99-74-13-13 edge.
2. It has been almost 18 years since the Caps won as many as five games in a row in this rivalry. They did it in December 1987 – March 1988. They can do it again on Saturday afternoon.
3. Both of these teams came into the NHL in the 1974-1975 season, the Devils doing so as the Kansas City Scouts before becoming the Colorado Rockies, then moving to New Jersey in 1982. Strangely enough, the Capitals have more franchise regular season wins than the Devils (1,451 to 1,372). The Caps also have more 50-win seasons (3-1). The Devils lead the Caps in Stanley Cups, 3-0.
4. The Caps have scored more power play goals on the road this season (38) than any other team in the league, despite having the ninth fewest number of chances (152).
5. The Capitals have shown a glimmier of lifting themselves out of the possession funk they have been in for a couple of months, at least at home. In their last seven home games they have an aggregate overall Corsi-for of 53.4 percent, an improvement over the 48.0 percent they had in the preceding eight home contests (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Lee Stempniak
New Jersey has been the fountain of youth for right winger Lee Stempniak. In 52 games with the Devils this season he has 15 goals (third on the club), as many as he had last season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, and more than he has had in any other season since he had 19 for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-2011. His 38 points this season is eclipsed only by his 52-point campaign with the St. Louis Blues in 2007-2008. He is the leading goal scorer and point producer for the Devils in their recent 5-1-1 run (5-3-8). In 16 career games against the Capitals, Stempniak is 4-6-10, plus-1.
Washington: Jason Chimera
It would surprise no one to know that since the 2004-2005 lockout, Alex Ovechkin leads all current Capitals (and non-current ones, too) in goals scored against the New Jersey Devils (18 in 38 games). It might surprise some folks that Jason Chimera is second on that list (nine goals in 21 games). This game might set up nicely for Chimera, and not just for the opponent he will be facing. Of his 13 goals scored this season, ten have been on the road, including six of his last seven tallies. Oh, and the Caps are 12-0-1 in games in which he recorded a goal so far this season. Career-wise, Chimera is 9-2-1, plus-6, in 26 games against New Jersey.
In the end…
The Capitals prevented a Metropolitan Division rival from inching closer when they dispatched the Islanders on Thursday night. They have the chance to do so once more on Saturday afternoon against a team that is tied with the Isles in points (although the Islanders have three games in hand against the Devils). However, if not exactly a “trap” game, this contest does pose a challenge as the first in a set of back-to-back games, the second of which will be played against a Flyers team that beat the Caps ten days ago. If the Caps look past this team just the slightest, they could be in for a Devil of a time.
Capitals 2 – Devils 1