Thanks in large part to their play on home ice, the Washington Capitals are near the top of the Metropolitan Division.
The only team that’s standing in their way is the New Jersey Devils, who will have ample opportunity coming up to recapture their early-season success on the road as they look to extend a slim lead.
In a matchup of two surging teams, Washington welcomes New Jersey to Capital One Arena on Saturday night.
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Washington (23-13-3), which trails the division-leading Devils by only one point, has won seven straight — and 14 of 16 — at home. Meanwhile, New Jersey (22-9-6) kicks off a four-game road trip trying to earn at least a point in its ninth straight game.
The Capitals are 7-0-1 in their last eight games versus the Devils after Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and three assists and T.J. Oshie recorded two goals in a 5-2 victory on Oct. 12 in Newark.
This game begins a stretch in which Washington plays just five times — four at home — through Jan. 11. That comes after the Capitals played on back-to-back nights going into and coming out of the league’s Christmas break.
Barry Trotz’s team was blanked in consecutive contests while dropping three in a row, and fell into a two-goal hole just over two minutes into Thursday’s game before rallying for a 4-3 shootout win over the Boston Bruins.
“In years past, we’ve kind of been a comeback team. The last couple of years, you get down two or three (goals), and you come back and win the game,” Capitals defenseman Tom Wilson told the team’s official website. “This year, we haven’t really done that too often.
“You believe in the group. Sometimes things don’t go your way early in the game and you stay the course, stay with it and grind it out. We’ve got to have a better start; we’ve got to fix that. And if we do get down (in a game), I think there’s that confidence that we can make it happen.”
The Caps’ confidence will be just fine so long as Braden Holtby and, of course, Alex Ovechkin, keep producing when facing the Devils.
With the win in October, Holtby is 13-3-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average versus New Jersey and his four shutouts are the most he’s had against one team. This month, the 28-year-old is 8-2-0 with a 2.74 GAA.
A seven-time 50-goal scorer, Ovechkin has 24 this season, tying him with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the league lead. Ovechkin also has 49 points (22 goals, 27 assists) heading into his 50th career matchup with the Devils.
Ovechkin will tie Peter Bondra for second on the Capitals’ career games-played list with 961, and is expected to pass Calle Johansson (983) later this season.
The Devils have dropped three of four away from home following a 9-2-2 start. They’re also coming off a 4-3 loss in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
Marcus Johansson, John Moore and Miles Wood scored for the New Jersey, which failed to sweep a six-game homestand, but picked up 11 points.
“We’re feeling pretty good about our game. … You’re not going to win every night, but it’s about how you play. I think we can carry this game into Washington in a big divisional game for us,” said forward Taylor Hall, who appeared to give the Devils a 4-3 lead late in the third period, but had his goal overturned on video review.
Hall leads New Jersey with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists), but has 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) on the road. The Devils are 6-0-0 away from home when Hall notches at least two points,
For Johansson, it will be his first game in Washington since being traded to New Jersey in July for a couple of draft picks. The left wing has just five goals and three assists in 19 games after missing nearly half the season with a concussion and lower-body injuries
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a little different for me, but it’s going to be a big game for us. Right now, we’re in a tight race with them so it’s going to be two big points,” said Johansson, a first-round pick of the Capitals in 2009 and who needs three points for 300 in his career.
Cory Schneider, who went 5-0-1 on the homestand, is 1-4-1 in his career in the nation’s capital with two losses coming by shutout. In three road games this month, Schneider is 2-0-1 and has allowed only four goals on 101 shots.
Backup Keith Kinkaid, who has not played since Dec. 9, gave up 10 goals while losing his last two starts.
New Jersey is 5-3-0 in the second games of those on back-to-back nights.
With 735 career wins, Trotz needs one more to move past Lindy Ruff into sole possession of fifth place all-time.