Devils face Capitals for first place in East
Saturday, 12.26.2009 / 7:00 PMDEVILS (26-8-1) at CAPITALS (23-8-6)
New Jersey 9-1-0; Washington 7-3-0
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Devils are responsible for nearly one-fifth of the Capitals' defeats this season. New Jersey owns a 3-2 shootout win in its previous trip to Washington, in addition to 3-2 and 5-2 victories on home ice. Alex Ovechkin
had two assists in the Oct. 12 game and missed the previous two with an upper-body injury.
Washington could jump back into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference with a regulation victory, but New Jersey has had the number of the teams it is fighting for the top seed with -- the Devils are a combined 6-0-0 this season against the Capitals and Penguins.
Life can return to normal now that New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur
has broken pretty much every record there was to break -- his 4-0 shutout against Pittsburgh on Monday was the 104 th of his career, breaking a tie with Terry Sawchuk atop the all-time list. Not that chasing the record seemed to be any sort of distraction to Brodeur or the Devils, who have won nine of 10 to continue the best start in franchise history.
"It was a big game for us, so definitely to have a shutout on top of it is great," Brodeur said after facing 35 shots from the Penguins. "But they made me work for it. I had to make a couple of good saves -- got a little lucky, just a like a good goalie should be. It worked out well."
Unlike New Jersey, which is battling Pittsburgh tooth and nail for the Atlantic Division lead, Washington has no real challenger for supremacy in the Southeast. But the Capitals have remained focused, returning home from a four-game road trip Wednesday and picking up a 5-2 win over the Sabres. Nicklas Backstrom
scored twice. Backstrom and Ovechkin netted power-play goals in the third period, after the Caps received a 5-on-3 advantage, to put the game away.
"If we get one or two on the power play, we're usually going to win," defenseman Mike Green
said. "That was our chance to really take advantage of the game. Bruce (Boudreau) had a timeout there and made it clear what we had to do. We went out and executed it."
Leading scorer Zach Parise
had three assists in the Devils' win over the Penguins and has five in his last two games. Veteran forward Dean McAmmond has two goals and four assists during a four-game points streak. Defenseman Bryce Salvador
, who has 21 goals in 566 career games, has scored twice in his last three.
Ovechkin is coming off consecutive three-point game for the Capitals against the Sabres and Oilers. Always a dangerous playmaker, Backstrom has picked up his goal scoring with six in his last five games. Tomas Fleischmann has four goals and two assists in his last six games.
New Jersey recently got good news and bad news: Forward David Clarkson
(broken right fibula) is skating with the team and will likely return to the lineup at some point next week. However, defenseman Paul Martin (broken left arm) needed additional surgery and is out another four weeks. Forward Dainius Zubrus
(right kneecap surgery) hopes to start skating again soon.
Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov (groin) and forward Boyd Gordon (back) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Brian Pothier (ribs/flu-like symptoms) is out indefinitely.
Ovechkin has 24 goals in 29 games this season. He's on pace to score 61 times, which would trail only the 65 he scored in 2007-08 for single-season output. The pace would also give Ovechkin, who has missed eight games, 68 goals if he played the entire 82-game season.
"I told people this at the beginning of the year, we have a great group of guys in here with great chemistry," Clarkson said. "Marty's played unbelievable, and it's just fun to be in here. Even getting back into it, you think you're going to be a little bit on the outside of it because you haven't been here. But even when I was out, I talked to guys every day in this room. It makes you feel like you're still around and you get to laugh and stuff. It's just a great group of guys and that's why we're winning right now."