CAPITALS (12-3-4) at DEVILS (13-4-0)
Capitals 7-1-2; Devils 9-1-0
This is already the third of four meetings between the clubs this season and the Devils have won both, including 3-2 in a shootout at Verizon Center on Oct. 12 and 3-2 at home 10 days ago. That was the first game the Caps played without Alex Ovechkin
We could see the return of Ovechkin to the Capitals lineup. He's missed the last five games with an upper-body strain, but coach Bruce Boudreau said he's a "possibility" for Saturday's game. The Caps have won four straight in Ovi's absence, but they could use him considering the Devils are the hottest team in the NHL with seven straight wins, including three at home starting with that win Nov. 4 against the Caps. Washington still leads the East with 28 points.
Could it be that losing Ovechkin for two weeks was the best possible thing to happen to this team? Well, maybe not, but without Ovi the Caps have found a way to play a more complete team game. Their defense, as evidenced by their 3-1 victory over Minnesota on Friday night, has been good and their goaltending solid. Jose Theodore may start tonight after Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves in Friday's win. They have found offense in previously unsuspected places, including 20 goals from 10 different players in the five games since Ovechkin left the lineup. They may not have discovered their well-rounded game if Ovechkin never left the lineup.
Despite a blue line that does not include the injured Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin, the Devils' No. 1 defenseman and ice-time eater, New Jersey has allowed only nine goals during its seven-game winning streak. Martin Brodeur
is showing the folks at Hockey Canada why he is still really the only option they have to start in the Olympics (provided he's healthy). Defenseman Andy Greene
has subbed for Martin and looks great. He's played 26 minutes a game during the winning streak. Rookie wing Niclas Bergfors is coming on and Zach Parise
is quietly putting together another fantastic season with 21 points in 17 games.
During the Devils' current seven-game winning streak, Brodeur is 5-0 with a 1.38 GAA and .944 save percentage; Parise has three goals and five assists; and Greene, Bergfors, Travis Zajac
and David Clarkson
each have six points. Clarkson has goals in each of the last three games. For the Capitals, Tomas Fleischmann is on a seven-game points streak (6-3-9) while Brendan Morrison has a point in four straight games (2-3-5).
The Capitals will have to make a decision on Mike Knuble
, who left Friday's game in the first period. They will be without defenseman Milan Jurcina (lower-body injury). Ovechkin is the other questionable guy. The Devils have been playing without Martin (fractured left forearm), Oduya (lower body), Jay Pandolfo (right shoulder), Rob Niedermayer (upper body) and Dean McAmmond (ill).
The Devils penalty killers are 19-for-19 during the seven-game winning streak and the team has allowed two goals in a game only twice. Meanwhile, the Devils have scored seven power-play goals in their last five games. Greene has nine points (3-6-9) in 14 games, matching his point total (2-7-9) from last season when he played in 49 games. He is one point shy of his career high of 10 points, which he had in 59 games during the 2007-08 season. … The Caps were previously 1-3 without Ovechkin in the lineup from 2005-08, but they are 4-1 without him this season. Even without playing in the last five games, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 86 shots on goal. Parise is second with 75. Washington leads the NHL with 71 goals. The Devils are 22nd with 43. Meanwhile, the Devils have yielded only 35 goals while the Caps have given up 56.
"I'm probably five (percent)," Ovechkin said jokingly Friday morning about his status. "Seriously, I don't know, maybe 99. Maybe 100. Let's wait until tomorrow for what's going to happen tomorrow. Right now the team is playing well so hopefully they're going to play the same way when I come back."