Coach's Corner - 3/18
"I think Marty’s doing a good job here," Lemaire said. "He’s playing at his best this year. He feels good. We ask him how he feels; he feels good, so that’s the reason why he’s in."
The Devils dropped a 3-1 decision Thursday night in Ottawa. They didn't lose ground in the playoff race, and still trail idle Buffalo by six points with 12 games remaining.
Still, a win versus the Capitals would be nice. The Devils are looking up at Carolina, Atlanta and Toronto in the race for the final spot.
"We do have to win this game," Lemaire said. "We want to stay in the race, and if we want to have a chance, just a chance, to be there, we have to win big games."
New Jersey outshot the Senators 34-25, but were stymyed by a hot goaltender. Curtis McElhinney made 33 saves and stole the game.
Led by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and the returning Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals pose a different sort of challenge. Michal Neuvirth starts for the visitors.
"Washington moves the puck so well, and they have so many guys that can score and make plays," Lemaire said. "They move everywhere in the zone. I know you can capitalize sometimes if you’re sharp and you can [make them] turn the puck over at that point, but in the zone, you’ll have to play good position and try to get these turnovers."
The chances were there for the Devils in Ottawa, but they fell to the Senators for the second time in nine days. They're 7-2-0 in their last nine, with both losses coming against the Sens.
"It’s strange because the two games we lost against them, it’s probably the two games we’ve had the most chances, and we lost them It’s disappointing because of that," Lemaire said. "You say, ‘Well we had the chances, we just didn’t score enough.’ Then you go with other teams that you only get eight chances, nine chances and then you end up winning the game. I feel we had over 15 chances [against Ottawa]. That’s nearly double, and you end up with a loss."
Devils-Capitals features two of the NHL's top Russian stars in Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
"Two great players," Lemaire said. "They’re players that can do a lot on their own. They’re great skaters, great shots – both of them. Good with the puck. Very similar.
"The difference? Ovechkin (29) has more goals than Kovy (26). That’s the difference."
With five goals in his last eight games, Kovalchuk has been one of the hottest scorers in the Devils' lineup. That has drawn more attention from opponent defenders.
"They put checkers against him," Lemaire said. "Everyone is more careful. It’s like us, playing Ovechkin, you can’t say, ‘Well, he’s like another player.’ He’s not. He’s different, so you have to pay more attention. Our defensemen have got to play him a little tighter. You give him room, he’s got all kinds of moves, finds a way to get shots."
Kovalchuk was held to one shot last night: a breakaway that McElhinney stopped with 6:26 to go in regulation.
"He had I think four attempts to shoot, which shots were blocked," said the coach. "The amount of shots that he’s been getting lately, it’s not enough for him. He has to find a way to get more shots, hit the net, get the puck at the net. He’s a guy that I would say when he gets six, seven shots on net, he’s at his best at that point."
As the season winds down to its final few weeks, the Devils will have less and less margin for error. Lemaire expected them to bring their best Friday night.
"If there’s a letdown tonight, there’s something wrong," he said. "There can’t be a letdown tonight."