Caps (5-9-1, 11 points) vs. New Jersey (9-3-4, 22 points)
Game » 16
When » Thursday, Feb. 21
Where » Verizon Center
TV » Comcast SportsNet HD
Radio » WJFK-FM 106.7; WFED-AM 1500
For two years Capitals coach Adam Oates worked with the New Jersey Devils as an assistant coach, and he knows better than anyone the way that team expects to play night after night. But even Oates is taken aback by New Jersey’s performance this season.
The Devils enter Thursday’s game against Washington at Verizon Center with 22 standings points and in first place in the Atlantic Division, second in the Eastern Conference, despite the loss of star forward Zach Parise, who signed as a free agent over the summer with the Minnesota Wild. But New Jersey still has legendary goalie Martin Brodeur in net, and it plays an aggressive, in-your-face style that keeps other teams on their heels.
“I’m a little surprised. But I think the confidence that they got going through the playoff run is a big part of it as well,” said Oates, who helped coach the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals last season. “And the guys realize that nothing is better than the system. Nothing.”
Fifteen different players have scored goals for New Jersey this season. Parise and his 31 goals and 69 points might be gone, but there were enough solid offensive players left behind, including star winger Ilya Kovalchuk (five goals, 10 assists) and forward David Clarkson (10 goals, six assists), who had a breakthrough season in 2011-12, to make up the difference so far.
“Their system is almost bullet-proof and that’s why we’re trying to play that way,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It almost doesn’t matter who you have in the lineup, if everyone is doing things the same way and the right way then it just makes you that much better. Obviously they lose some top-end talent and a guy on the PP and the penalty kill, but they’re still playing the same way and they just find other guys to put the pucks in the net. That’s exactly why we’re trying to play that way. It’s a very good system that they’ve got nailed.”
The two teams met Jan. 25 in Newark. Washington fell behind 2-0 that night but rallied with two goals in the third period to tie it before losing 3-2 in overtime on a Kovalchuk goal. Expect Brodeur in net for New Jersey tonight, as always. Even at age 40 the future Hall-of-Famer is still productive with a 7-2-3 record, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
“Obviously they always seem to have good goaltending which is a very big part of winning. You have a good goaltender then you’re in it every single night,” Caps forward Wojtek Wolski said. “Their system is very similar to ours – it creates a lot of opportunities to score if you’re really focused on playing well in your defensive zone. I’m sure that you never want to lose a player like Parise – he’s such a powerful player – but I think that when you have a really good system you can kind of inter-change players.” Follow me on