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Devils and Capitals meet for first time this season

by Mike Battaglino

DEVILS (14-15-7) at CAPITALS (19-13-3)


Last 10: New Jersey 4-4-2; Washington 7-2-1

Season series: This is the first of four games. The New Jersey Devils won two of three last season, with the Washington Capitals triumphant in the second of two straight at Verizon Center over three days in February.

Big story: The Devils took advantage of a rare homestand, getting five of six points after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday. New Jersey is within one point of the third-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are in second, six up on the Devils.

The Devils are 3-5-2 in the first game of back-to-backs but 5-1-3 in the second.

"I definitely can tell you if I had my choice I wouldn't want to play in them," coach Peter DeBoer said on MSG Network. "Regardless of our record, they're tough to play in, tough turnarounds. But we have a veteran group; I think because we play a good system game, it gives us an opportunity to get our legs under us the second night."

Team Scope:

Devils: New Jersey could put Ryane Clowe back in the lineup after the forward has missed 30 games with a concussion sustained Oct. 13. Clowe is with the team on this two-game road trip, and it was thought he might not play until Monday at the Chicago Blackhawks, if then. But forward Damien Brunner was injured against the Ducks, possibly opening a spot in the lineup Clowe could fill.

"Those are all hypotheticals; I want to see where [they are] at first, then we'll make those decisions," DeBoer said.

Captain Bryce Salvador is also on the trip; the defenseman is close to returning from a non-displaced stress fracture in his foot that has caused him to miss 27 games.

Cory Schneider started Friday and lost his fourth in a row this month. Martin Brodeur, who has won three of his past four, will play Saturday.

"The fact we can put in a fresh goalie the next night [of a back-to-back] I think helps," DeBoer said.

Capitals: Forward Alex Ovechkin can start his pursuit of his 500th career goal after getting No. 400 Friday in a 4-2 win at the Carolina Hurricanes. Center Nicklas Backstrom had the assist, part of his second four-assist game in 10 days.

Backstrom has an assist on 130 of the 302 goals Ovechkin has scored since they became teammates in 2007-08.

"He's a great player; I think he's one of the best centers in the League," Ovechkin told CSN Washington. "… You can see how he played tonight, controlled the puck, the power play played good, and of course it's a big job for him."

Goalie Philipp Grubauer is 4-0-1 since making his season debut Dec. 3. He made 39 saves Friday and has not played back-to-back games in the NHL, though coach Adam Oates did not rule that out. Braden Holtby was the backup Friday, and Michal Neuvirth was scratched.

"I'm confident in all three goalies," Ovechkin told Monumental Network. "... It doesn't matter what, we just have to help them too. Everybody is going to have chances at our net; that's why we have goalies, to stop the pucks. It gives us confidence and we build from them."

Who's hot: Devils forward Jaromir Jagr has eight points in a six-game streak. Forward Travis Zajac has five points in those games. … Ovechkin has seven goals in his past five games, 29 in 33 games this season. Backstrom has 14 points in his past five games.

Injury report: Brunner (lower body) was helped from the ice in the first period after a leg-on-leg collision along the boards with Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric. DeBoer did not have an update postgame. Devils defensemen Peter Harrold (foot) and Adam Larsson (lower body), and forward Ryan Carter (lower body) are out. ... Capitals forward Marcus Johansson (lower body) did not play in the third period Friday. Oates said he's "not quite sure for [Saturday] but hopefully." Defenseman Jack Hillen (tibia) and forwards Brook Laich (groin) and Michael Latta (lower body) are on injured reserve.

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