Dec. 20 vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 24-6-5
New Jersey Devils 11-17-5
After a three-day gap between games, the Caps get back into action on Friday night in Newark when they face the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season. Friday's game starts off a stretch of three games in four nights heading into the NHL's annual three-day holiday break.
The Caps are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Monday, their second setback to the Jackets in a span of eight nights. Washington has yet to suffer consecutive regulation losses this season, a streak it obviously seeks to continue on Friday night against the Devils.
In Monday's loss in Columbus, Washington got off to a slow start and fell behind 1-0 midway through the first. From that first Columbus goal until the beginning of the third period, the Caps played well in limiting the Jackets to just four shots on net, but they failed to grab momentum or to cash in on three power play opportunities of their own.
Down 1-0 headed to the third, the Caps gave up a second goal just 32 seconds into the final period, a goal that followed two Washington icings and came four seconds after a draw in the Caps' zone. Columbus put the game away with a third goal midway through the final frame.
Aside from the game's first 10 minutes, the Caps did well in escaping the tenacious Columbus forecheck. All three goals against came on what Caps coach Todd Reirden characterized as a lack of detail that can creep into a team's game when the schedule conspires to keep it from conducting as many practices as it would like.
After taking Tuesday off, the Caps have conducted a pair of detailed practices since in preparation for not only Friday's game against the Devils, but for the three games they'll be playing in the next four nights, and for the next five games overall, a stretch that includes their first two games back after the NHL's holiday break.
Video: Todd Reirden speaks with the media on December 19.
"We've got to get ourselves to the house more offensively," says Reirden. "Obviously we got shutout for the first time the other day, and I thought their goalie played well. We had some good chances, but we've got to continue to force ourselves into that area. When we have trouble scoring a lot of times, it looks as though we've become more perimeter."
Although they were nicked for three goals in Monday's loss, the Caps have limited the opposition to two or fewer goals against in six of their last eight games. In doing so, they've crept back into the league's top 10 in goals against, heading into Thursday night's slate of NHL activity.
With an average of 2.80 goals against per contest, the Caps rank 10th in the league, but they also rank fifth in the Metro Division in that department, trailing the Islanders (2.50), Carolina (2.62), Pittsburgh (2.65) and Philadelphia (2.79).
"I think everybody just know exactly what you do in any given situation," says Caps center Lars Eller. "One guy knows what the other four are doing; the roles very clearly defined, and the Xs and Os are very clearly defined. The longer we play, the more on the backbone and on instinct that's going to be.
"And in the offensive zone, we've done a better job of not letting other teams have a lot of 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s, like maybe we had last year. There's been games - like Colorado [on Oct. 14] - where we gave up as many chances in one period as we have in like three or four games. Those have not been the usual. For most part, we've done a better job of limiting the rush chances."
Friday's game is the first of three meetings with New Jersey in the Capitals' next 13 games. In mid-January, the Devils will visit Capital One Arena twice in a span of just six nights, as they provide the opposition for both the opening and closing contests of a three-game homestand in the District.
New Jersey is coming off a 3-1 home ice win on Wednesday night over the Anaheim Ducks. The victory is the Devils' second in succession; they salvaged a four-game road trip last Saturday in Arizona, winning the finale 2-1 over the Coyotes before leaving the desert, and leaving left wing Taylor Hall there with the Yotes before heading back east.
The Devils made a huge midsummer splash a few years back when they obtained Hall from Edmonton in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. Hall won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP in 2017-18 when he rolled up 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, helping the Devils to their only playoff berth in the last eight seasons.
But injuries limited Hall to just 33 games last season, and with the 28-year-old former first overall pick set to become an unrestricted free agent next July and the Devils mired at the bottom of the Metro Division standings, New Jersey GM Ray Shero knew he had to get a deal done sooner rather than later. In exchange for Hall, Shero got futures: a first-round pick, a conditional pick that could become a first-rounder, and a trio of prospects.
In addition to shipping Hall to Arizona, the Devils recently made a change behind their bench, relieving John Hynes of his duties and replacing him with assistant coach Alain Nasreddine. The Devils' modest two-game winning run represents Nasreddine's first NHL victories behind the bench; he now owns a 2-4-1 record since taking over the reins.
Prior to winning their last two games, the Devils had a seven-game slide (0-6-1) in which they were outscored by a combined total of 27-10. New Jersey has yielded only one goal against in each of its last two contests.