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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Washington Capitals:
1. An exploitable defense
Washington's success this season has more to do with their offensive abilities than strong defensive play. They're exploitable. On the year, the Capitals rank 28th in attempts against (59.9 per 60), 29th in chances against (29.12 per 60), and 30th in high-danger chances against (12.95 per 60) at 5v5. Though their numbers are better of late – Nick Jensen helps – they still give up more than they'd like.
New Jersey is not exactly overflowing with offensive talent right now but if they continue to work hard, they should be able to generate their share of chances. Finishing them? That's a different story.
2. Quality goaltending
With a handful of key weapons out, the Devils are unsurprisingly struggling to score goals right now. They've found twine two times or less in four of the last five games. They scored three in the lone exception. Chances are they score three or less tonight in Washington (they don't have many finishers even if the opportunities are there), which means they'll need a really strong goaltending performance from Mackenzie Blackwood to have any shot at victory.
3. Parading to the penalty box
The Capitals play an aggressive brand of hockey and have some really physical players on their team – Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik come to mind – so it's not exactly surprising they take a lot of penalties. On the year, only Tampa Bay and Colorado spend more time killing penalties per game than the 6:34 Washington does.
New Jersey is not far behind – barely at all, actually – averaging 6:30 shorthanded on a nightly basis, which is 4th most.
If the first 67 games each side has played serve as any indication, we could see plenty of special teams play in this one.
4. Blake Coleman
He has been one of the team's better offensive players this season. While he recently hit a rough patch, there's reason to believe he's coming out of it. Coleman has mustered up 24 shot attempts and 17 scoring chances over the last five games. He hasn't been rewarded with a goal, but that's bound to change sooner than later if the volume continues to be there. One would think that'll be the case with so many injuries up front right now. Ice time and opportunity will not be an issue.
5. Offense from the defense
The Devils don't have much real firepower up front. As such, they'll need some of their offensively gifted defenders – headlined by Damon Severson and Will Butcher – to jump into the play, provide an extra layer of offense, and create. It's obviously important to pick spots appropriately but I'd expect those two, in particular, to really get involved tonight.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Kenny Agostino - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Drew Stafford - Blake Coleman - Stefan Noesen
Nick Lappin - Michael McLeod - Joey Anderson
John Quenneville - Blake Pietila - Kurtis Gabriel
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Connor Carrick
Egor Yakovlev - Steven Santini
Washington (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky - Nic Dowd - Travis Boyd
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Nick Jensen
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+, NBCSWA, NHLN, and SN.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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