The New Jersey Devils have won four of their last five games and come to Washington on Thursday night to take on a Capitals team that has taken seven of its last eight.
Washington, as of Wednesday morning, was unsure of the status of Alex Ovechkin. He did not practice Tuesday due to a lower-body injury. Still, coach Peter Laviolette appeared hopeful Ovechkin would suit up.
“I think it’s more just maintenance than anything,” Laviolette said on Tuesday.
Washington is coming off a four-day break, having last played on Saturday when the New York Rangers ended the Caps’ seven-game winning streak with a 3-1 victory. John Carlson scored early in the third period after New York held a 1-0 lead for a long stretch, and that goal tied the game, but the Rangers got two late goals to escape with the victory.
The Caps were happy to welcome back winger Tom Wilson, who had missed the previous seven games after an NHL-imposed suspension. Wilson played well and Washington certainly needs his help on offense and in a physical way.
“Maybe a little bit of rust in the first, but then I got my legs under me,” Wilson said. “The team has been playing really well; I think we’re starting to play the right way. I just wanted to jump in and try to provide some legs and help the team out.”
Also, in that game, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Richard Panik both reached the milestone of 500 games in the NHL.
Washington’s offense will get a lift from the return of Wilson, but Nic Dowd has been hot of late on face-offs. He won 14 of 20 in Saturday’s loss and keeps improving while helping the team find more offense.
The Caps will enter Thursday’s game on a 14-3-1 run and trying to start a new winning streak. Their defense has improved in the last several games, and that’s a big reason Washington is playing better.
New Jersey is coming off of a 4-3 road victory against Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Yegor Sharangovich and Travis Zajac both finished with a goal and assist in the win.
Michael McLeod and Kyle Palmieri both scored goals while Ty Smith added two assists, and Janne Kuokkanen did the same. The STK line of Kuokkanen, Zajac and Sharangovich has racked up 23 points since being put together earlier this month.
All of that made coach Lindy Ruff a happy man while watching his team continue playing well. The Devils had a break from Feb. 1-15 due to COVID-19 protocols but are working to round back into form.
“We did a lot of good things,” Ruff said. “All four lines played well, defense played well, our puck movement was really good leaving our zone. I thought until the third period when we got a little bit on our heels, it might have been our best game all the way around.”
The Devils have a player on the verge of his own milestone. One more goal will give Zajac 200 over his 15 seasons with New Jersey.
If Zajac can do that, he’ll become only the fourth Devil to reach that mark.
–Field Level Media