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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Washington Capitals:
1. A favorable spot
The Devils couldn't ask for a better situation to take on last year's Stanley Cup champions. They are fully rested – their last, and only, game was played Saturday – while the Capitals are in a back-to-back situation.
Backups usually play the latter half of a B2B and that should be the case tonight as Pheonix Copley is expected to get the nod in goal.
Copley is coming off a horrible season in which he posted a .896 save percentage in 41 *AHL* games. Only six of 51 eligible goaltenders stopped pucks at a lesser clip. Copley was objectively one of the worst in a league below the NHL and tonight he'll be playing on the road behind a team without a full gas tank. The Devils need to take advantage.
2. Exploiting Washington's big line
John Hynes used Taylor Hall and co. for ~10 minutes vs Connor McDavid on opening night. If he wishes to go top line on top line again tonight, I think it could lead to some good things for the Devils.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are a terrifying offensive duo but they tend to give up a lot defensively.
Last season, at 5v5, they were on the ice for 30.64 scoring chances against/60 and 3.01 goals against/60. For perspective, the Capitals as a whole gave up ~28 chances/60 and 2.34 goals against/60. They're more exploitable with that duo on the ice and the Hall line is certainly capable of taking advantage of it.
3. The top pairing
The Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen duo fared extremely well vs Edmonton despite matching up primarily against Connor McDavid. Having Hall and co. playing a lot in front of them helped, of course, but they still deserve credit for giving up one high-danger chance in 14 minutes against the league's best player.
If with the help of the top line the Mueller - Vatanen pairing can hold their own vs the toughs, it'd give the team's two best defensive shot contributors (Will Butcher and Damon Severson) easier minutes to capitalize on their offensive skillsets.
The Devils are relying on Marcus Johansson to drive his own line and he did just that vs Edmonton. At 5v5, he finished 2nd to Taylor Hall in controlled entries, 2nd to Taylor Hall in shot contributions (8), and he led the team in Corsi For%. It won't take him long to find the scoresheet if he can continue to put together performances like that.
5. Discipline is key
The Capitals have been elite on the power play every year for as long as I can remember. It appears this season will be no different. Through just three games they have already piled up six power play markers. I don't think the Caps are that great at 5v5 – at least they haven't been thus far – and they're in a B2B so the Devils need to stay disciplined and make Washington work for it at full-strength. If they spoon feed Ovechkin and co. opportunities on the man advantage, they're going to pay.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - John Quenneville
Blake Coleman - Brian Boyle - J.S. Dea
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Washington Capitals (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Brett Connolly
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Chandler Stephenson
Dmitrij Jaskin - Nic Dowd- Devante Smith-Pelly
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and NBCSWA.
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