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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Washington Capitals:
1. Braden Holtby
Much like Cory Schneider, Holtby has struggled immensely in the 2nd half of the season after a pretty solid start to the year.
Since the turn of the calendar, Holtby has posted a woeful .894 save percentage. That ties him with Carey Price(!) for last place(!!) among 37 goaltenders to play at least 1,000 minutes in the new year.
He has not been good and it's entirely possible he won't be starting Game 1 of the playoffs as a result. One would think another rough showing would be the icing on the cake.
2. Cory Schneider
We'll stick with the goaltending theme and go right to Cory Schneider.
He has allowed at least three goals in 11 consecutive starts. He has posted a .900 save percentage or worse in 11 consecutive starts. He has not won a game since December 27th vs Detroit.
The 2nd half of the season could not possibly have gone any worse for Schneider. As such, he has temporarily lost his starting job.
He almost certainly won't be starting Game 1 regardless of what happens tonight. In saying that, it'd be good for him to get the monkey off his back and give the Devils a quality start.
For one, that could lead to a win, which could still do the team some good. It could also give Schneider, and John Hynes, some confidence that he can get the job done if the Devils need him in the playoffs. This is a big game for him.
3. 5v5 play
The Washington Capitals have elite talent in their lineup, obviously, but they're pretty shallow up front. As such, it should be no surprise they are not a great team at 5v5.
Only six teams, none of which even came close to sniffing a playoff spot, have controlled a lesser percentage of the 5v5 chances than the Capitals.
If the Devils stay disciplined and keep things at full-strength, they should have a decent chance of coming out on top, although the lineup they're going with won't do them any favors.
4. Tonight matters
This is still a big game for a lot of Devils. It's the last chance for several players to make an impression and show they belong in the lineup and/or are deserving of more minutes.
A strong showing from Jesper Bratt could make it tough for John Hynes to sit him in Game 1. Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes are fighting to be the first guy in if a player were to suffer an injury. Damon Severson is trying to reclaim a spot in the lineup and in the top-4. Schneider, obviously, is trying to put together a solid game for the first time this calendar year.
With Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Sami Vatanen, among others, sitting it could be an ugly game. Effort should not be an issue, though. A lot of these guys still have plenty to play for.
5. The new 2nd line
I really liked the play of Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, and Patrick Maroon last time out. They seemed to have good chemistry and all three of them are big guys who can cycle effectively and handle themselves around the net. Wood and Michael Grabner have rotated quite a bit but another strong showing from these guys could ensure they stick together for Game 1.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jesper Bratt - Nico Hischier - Drew Stafford
Miles Wood - Pavel Zacha - Patrick Maroon
Brian Gibbons - Blake Coleman - Stefan Noesen
Michael Grabner - Brian Boyle - Jimmy Hayes
Andy Greene - Mirco Mueller
John Moore - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Washington (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - Brett Connolly
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Shane Gersich - Chandler Stephenson - Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Jakub Jerabek
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on MSG+, NBCSWA, and NHLN-US.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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