Jan. 16 vs. New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
New Jersey Devils 17-22-7
Washington Capitals 31-11-5
The Caps finish up a three-game homestand on Thursday night against New Jersey, hosting the Devils' second visit in less than a week and their final one of the season. The Devils stunned the Caps 5-1 here on Saturday night, and Washington followed up with a much better overall effort on Monday when it blanked Carolina, 2-0.
Tuesday was an off day for the Capitals, but it was not a quiet news day by any means. We learned early in the day that the team and Nicklas Backstrom came to terms on a five-year contract extension carrying an annual salary cap hit of $9.2 million, a deal that runs through the conclusion of the 2024-25 season. Backstrom becomes the fourth player the Caps have signed through the '24-25 campaign, joining John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. Carlson is signed through the 2025-26 season.
When the Caps reconvened for practice on Wednesday, there was still an organizational afterglow from the great news from the day before.
"That's amazing, and well-deserved, well-earned," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Great job by himself and Brian, getting the deal done. To me, it's a huge feather in our cap and for our organization to be able to keep a player like Nick Backstrom. He defines what it means to be a Capital, both on the ice and off the ice, in how he behaves, what he does in the community to make things better.
Video: Caps 365 | January 15
"But nothing can come close to what he does in the locker room and on the ice. He is a tremendous player and a tremendous leader for us, and he is going to continue to be a mentor for some really good young players we have coming. I know [2019 first-round pick] Connor McMichael in particular spoke highly of how Nick had worked with him, and how first-class everyone treated him in his beginning phases of becoming a Washington Capital, and I think that's really important to have those type of people in house, to do that and mentor the next phase of players. It's something I've talked a lot with [general manager] Brian [MacLellan] about."
His teammates were thrilled by the news, too.
"Nicky is a staple to this organization and to D.C.," says Oshie. "He is one of the favorite sons, so it's great that they locked him up for five more years. He's definitely a guy I would never want to play against and one of the best teammates you could ever ask for."
With the Devils back in the District for the rubber game of the homestand, and with only that contest and a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Isles in New York between them and a weeklong break, the Capitals are directing their attentions toward getting the most out of these next two games before their midseason oasis.
"It's a period of time where you want to dial it in and just focus," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson, "and focus on just executing your game plan for a couple more games. Obviously, you've got the break in sight, and just putting in the work before then to end on a good note."
Video: Locker Room | January 15
Both the Devils and the Islanders have defeated the Caps in the last three weeks, so turning the tables on a pair of Metro foes as they head into the break would definitely make for a more enjoyable week ahead.
"You definitely want to respond in games like this," says Wilson. "It's never a good feeling when someone comes in and beats you in front of your home crowd, especially like that. So we know we've got to be better, that wasn't acceptable from our standpoint last game, and just continue to build our game. It doesn't matter the opponent, we want to be playing and we want to be feeling good about our game."
Ilya Samsonov earned his first career shutout on Monday against Carolina, making 23 saves. He will get the starting assignment against the Devils on Thursday, marking the first time the rookie will have started consecutive contests in the NHL.
Less than 24 hours after the Devils were here last Saturday, they fired general manager Ray Shero, who had been on the job for four-plus seasons, resulting in one playoff appearance. Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald is New Jersey's interim GM, and longtime Devils legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur has moved over from the business side of the operation to lend a hand as well.
After drubbing the Caps last weekend, the Devils went home and halted the Tampa Bay Lightning's 10-game winning streak with a 3-1 victory. Louis Domingue started both games for the Devils, stopping 59 of 61 shots against two of the league's most potent attacks to earn victories on both ends of a set of back-to-backs.
Video: Reirden | January 15
Thursday's game is the second of a three-game road trip for the Devils leading up to their own bye week. New Jersey started the trip with a 7-4 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, a game in which Cory Schneider came on in relief of Domingue after the latter allowed five goals on 19 shots in a little over 30 minutes of work.
The Devils finish their road trip on Saturday night in Columbus.