The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals kick off a set of weekend back-to-back games when they visit the New Jersey Devils on Friday night to wrap up a three-game road trip. The Caps come into the contest with eight wins in their last ten games and have not lost a game in regulation to a team not from the state of Ohio (the Columbus Blue Jackets) in more than a month, when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the New York Rangers on November 20th. The Devils come into this game having won two straight games, both in regulation, the first time they won consecutive games in regulation since Games 7 and 8 in mid-October and only for the fourth time overall all season.
Then and Now…
This will be the 215th meeting in the all-time series between the Caps and the Devils. Washington has a 111-75-15 (13 ties) record against New Jersey overall, including its Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies in carnations, and a 46-46-7 (seven ties) record on the road. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 29-16-11 overall against the Devils and 13-10-4 on the road. The Capitals were 3-1-0 against New Jersey in last season’s series and are 16-1-2 in the last 19 games played between the teams.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
Taylor Hall is gone. He took his six goals and 25 points this season to Arizona to try and help the Coyotes reach the playoffs. His departure leaves the Devils with one player in double digits in goals and one player with at least 20 points this season. That would be Kyle Palmieri (13-8-21). Now in his fifth season with the Devils after spending his first five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, Palmieri has been as consistent as a player can possibly be. In those five seasons with the Devils he has averaged 0.36 goals per game, never averaging less than 0.33 nor more than 0.39 in any season. He had averaged 0.68 points per game over his five seasons, never less than 0.64 nor more than 0.71 in any season. He will not wow anyone, but you can pencil him into the lineup and count on 20-25 goals and 50 points or so.
This season, Palmieri is on a pace to post his first 30-goal season (32), although his 20-assist pace would keep him hovering about that 50-point threshold. The problem, though, and one that might be exacerbated with the departure of Hall, is that Palmieri’s scoring has not been nearly enough. He has goals in 11 games, and the Devils are 5-4-2 in those contests. He has points in 17 games, and the Devils are 8-5-4 in those games. But in the 16 games in which he does not have a point, New Jersey is 3-12-1. There just isn’t enough depth past Palmieri to make up for his absence on the score sheet, and he is not a sufficiently prolific scorer to make a difference between the Devils being a competitor and being a lottery team. In 18 career games against the Caps, Palmieri is 5-3-8, minus-1.
From 2009-2010 through last season, he was eighth among all defensemen in goals scored (98), 11th in assists (310), 12th in points (408), fifth in power play goals (45), fifth in power play points (178). He finished sixth in voting for the Calder Trophy as a rookie, three times he was a Norris Trophy finalist as top defenseman (winning once), twice he was named to the first team of the NHL All-Star squad, and once named to the second team. And then, P.K. Subban, after six seasons a Montreal Canadien and three a Nashville Predator, became a New Jersey Devil. Traded to New Jersey by Nashville with Adam Helewka for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 second-round draft pick, Subban was going to provide the punch from the blue line to complement the young fire power the Devils were assembling – Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier – along with Taylor Hall that would make the Devils playoff contenders.
And then, reality hit. Subban was 2-3-5 in his first 12 games with his new club. Not jump off the page numbers, but not bad. The Devils were not responding as a group, though, going 3-5-4 in those 12 games. It got worse. Over the next 21 games, leading up to Friday’s matchup with the Caps, the Devils went 8-12-1, they fell out of touch with playoff contenders, and Hall was traded to the Arizona Coyotes. Did we mention that Subban does not have a point in those 21 straight games? And is a minus-11? And is getting more attention about his marketing activities and with whom he is keeping company than his production on the ice? It is hard to believe that Subban, who is only a season and change removed from being a second-team NHL All-Star and Norris finalist, has lost his game, but he certainly seems lost on the ice for the moment in New Jersey. And if the Devils have any thoughts of moving him as part of a more general sell-off, ridding themselves of a $9.0 million cap hit that runs through the 2012-2022 season will be a difficult chore. In 25 career games against the Caps, Subban is 1-7-8, minus-3.
Martin Brodeur, the all-time leader in games played (1,266), wins (691), and shutouts (125) among goalies in NHL history, retired after the 2014-2015 season. Since then, eight different goalies have dressed for at least one game for the Devils, and the latest contestant to become the heir to Brodeur’s crease is MacKenzie Blackwood. Taken in the second round of the 2015 Entry Draft (42nd overall), Blackwood was the second goalie taken in that draft, after the Caps took Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick in the first round. Blackwood served a typical apprenticeship after being drafted, two more years of Canadian junior hockey and two seasons in the AHL, before sticking with the Devils last season as a rookie backup to Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, neither of whom are with the team at the moment (Kinkaid is with Montreal, Schneider is with Binghamton in the AHL).
Blackwood has had the typical fits and starts of a young goaltender, losing a couple, winning a couple, showing glimpses of what he could be and falling into stretches where he struggles. He has not won more than two consecutive decisions this season, although he has seemed to find himself of late. Despite a 2-1-1 record in his last five appearances (one no-decision), he stopped 137 of 142 shots over that stretch (.965 save percentage) and allowed more than one goal only once, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars on December 10th. Blackwood has faced the Caps twice in his career, losing both games with a 3.02 goals against average and .895 save percentage.
1. The Devils went to the Stanley Cup final in 2012, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. Among the 30 teams playing in all the seasons since, only two teams have fewer wins than the Devils (238) – Arizona (235) and Buffalo (205).
2. Since that Cup final, the Devils have been no stranger to extra time decisions, at least being on the wrong end of them. The 88 extra time losses they have over the last eight seasons is most in the league through Wednesday’s games.
3. Never considered an offensive powerhouse, the Devils have scored 1,386 goals over the last eight seasons since their trip to the Cup final, fewer than any of the teams playing all of those seasons except Buffalo (1,347). This season, they are tied with Detroit for fewest goals scored (79 through Wednesday’s games).
4. The Devils have been particularly bad in finishing games. Their minus-20 goal differential in the third periods of games (21 goals for, 41 goals against) is exceeded only by Detroit (minus-24).
5. New Jersey cannot hold late leads at home. They are the only team in the league with a winning percentage under .500 when leading after two periods on home ice (.444/4-3-2).
1. Washington has six losses in regulation this season. Five of them were by three or more goals, three of those on home ice.
2. In the four games to date following a loss by three or more goals, the Caps are 3-0-1.
3. Washington is the only team in the league with a winning percentage over .500 when trailing on the road after two periods (.600). Not that they have trailed much, only five times in 19 road games, winning three times.
4. The Caps have seven empty net goals on the road this season, most in the league (Carolina has five).
5. Washington could do a better job of protecting the puck on the road. Their 185 giveaways are most in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Travis Zajac
Players come (P.K. Subban), and players go (Taylor Hall), but Travis Zajac is the player who has been through just about everything with the Devils. When he takes the ice on Friday night against the Capitals, he will tie Scott Stevens for third place on the all-time franchise list for games played (956). The 14-year veteran (all with New Jersey) is fifth on the all-time franchise list for goals scored (190), seventh in assists (327), fourth in points (517), fifth in power play goals (52), and tied for fourth in shorthanded goals (11). Only six forwards active in the league have logged more shorthanded minutes than Zajac (1,757).
Now, Zajac is the second oldest player on the club at age 34 (defenseman Andy Greene is 37), and his production is lagging behind previous years. With four goals in 33 games he is on a pace to finish with ten, which would be his lowest total for any season in which he played more than 50 games. His ten points to date put him on a pace to finish with 25, which would match his low for a season in which he played more than 50 gamees (25 points in 74 games in 2014-2015). He, like a number of teammates, seems to have worn down a bit in his production as the season wears on. After going 1-3-4, plus-1, in his first seven games, Zajac is 3-3-6, minus-4, in his last 26 games and has only one point (a goal) in his last nine games. He is 7-20-27, plus-1, in 46 career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Nick Jensen
Nick Jensen is on a long stretch of bad luck in the offensive end of the ice. Dating back to last season he has played in 55 games for the Caps, and he is still looking for his first goal as a Capital. That’s 55 games, 58 shots on goal, and no red lights lit. Had those 55 games been played in a single season, he would be only the seventh Capital defenseman in team history to play in at least 55 games in a season without scoring a goal (Rod Langway, Joe Reekie, and Brooks Orpik all did it more than once; Peter Anderson, Rick Berry, and Randy Holt were the others). It is not as if he has been incapable of getting shots to the net; he has shots on goal in 20 of 35 games played this season, including a high of five shots on goal against Anaheim last month.
In the context of this game, it gets worse for Jensen, or he is long past due, depending on how one wants to look at it. Jensen has one goal scored in 127 career games played on the road (February 19, 2017, against Pittsburgh). Only two active defensemen have played more road games with as many or fewer goals – Vancouver’s Troy Stecher (one goal in 128 career road games) and Detroit’s Patrick Nemeth (one goal in 141 career road games). Jensen is 1-1-2, plus-2, in nine career games against New Jersey.
In the end…
The Caps score more than a goal per game more than the Devils, and they allow more than half a goal per game less than New Jersey. The Caps’ power play is almost ten percentage points better than the Devils. They have six goals scorers in double digits to one for New Jersey. They have seven players with at least 20 points to one for the Devils. Even accounting for venue, the Caps being on the road, this game should not be close. Then again, that’s why they play the games.
Capitals 5 – Devils 2