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CAPITALS (8-2-4) at DEVILS (8-4-0)
Last 10 -- Capitals 6-1-3; Devils 8-2-0
Season series -- This is the second of four meetings this season between the clubs -- and all four will take place before Jan. 1. The Devils came back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Caps 3-2 in a shootout in Washington on Oct. 12. They play again at Prudential Center 10 days from now and close the season series in Washington on Dec. 26.
Big story -- The Devils might also get Patrik Elias back in the lineup for the first time all season tonight. New Jersey has recalled Matt Halischuk from Lowell (AHL). Tonight will be the first of who knows how many games the Capitals will have to play without superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's leading scorer with 14 goals and 23 points in 14 games. Ovechkin suffered an upper-body strain in Sunday's 5-4 overtime loss to Columbus and is listed as week-to-week.
Devils -- Even without stud defenseman Paul Martin and checking winger Jay Pandolfo, the Devils just quietly continue to roll along with superior defense and goaltending to go along with just enough offense. The feast-or-famine Devils have allowed only 14 goals in their eight wins and 16 goals in their four losses. They will get an infusion of offense soon when Elias rejoins the lineup. Elias practiced the last two days after having hip and groin surgeries during the offseason. He isn't sure if he's ready to go yet, but coach Jacques Lemaire might want to put him in."We want to make sure he's 100 percent, close to 100 percent and he's the one that will determine that," Lemaire told the Bergen Record. "Myself, the way he's playing right now, he can play. If it's only me, he's going to play. He's the one that makes the decision."
Capitals -- With Ovechkin out, Tomas Fleischmann will move into the top-six forwards. Fleischmann returned to the lineup three games ago after missing all of training camp and most of the first month of the season with deep vein thrombosis. He skated in Tuesday's practice on the left side of Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble. Brendan Morrison centered Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin. The Capitals still have three point-per-game forwards in the lineup (Backstrom, Semin, Laich), but they may have to rely on more of a dump-and-chase mentality without Ovi. That could be why Knuble was moved up to play with Backstrom and Semin dropped down to play with Morrison and Laich.
"A goal a game he scores, so we have to play better defense," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I think we've got enough character players in there that they will understand what we have to do without Alex. As great as he is, if he makes the total difference in our team then we're in trouble."
Who's hot -- For the Devils, Zach Parise has 10 points (5-5-10) and Jamie Langenbrunner has seven (1-6-7) over the last seven games. Martin Brodeur has allowed only eight goals on 136 shots over his last five games (4-1-0). For the Caps, defenseman Mike Green is on a nine-game point streak (2-9-11), Backstrom has points in his last four games (2-5-7) and Fleischmann is 2-1-3 over the last two.
Injury report -- Elias, Martin and Pandolfo headline the list of injured Devils, but defenseman Johnny Oduya is also day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He sat out Saturday's game at TampaBay and has not practiced or played since last Thursday. Ovechkin obviously headlines the Capitals' list of injured players, but it also includes defenseman John Erskine (hand), center Boyd Gordon (back) and winger Eric Fehr (ribs). Erskine could return tonight; Fehr and Gordon are out.
Stat pack -- Washington is only 1-3-0 in the four games Ovechkin has missed since 2005-06. The Caps were outscored 15-7 in those four games. … With 23 points in October, Ovechkin had a hand in nearly half of Washington's 47 goals. His 14 goals matched his career high for a month (March 2008). … Brodeur remains one shutout away from tying Terry Sawchuk for the NHL's all-time mark of 103. He got his 102nd shutout Oct. 17 in a 2-0 win over Carolina at The Rock. … The Devils are 1-4 at home this season.
Puck drop -- "Hockey is still a team sport and we have to get the job done anyway," Backstrom said of having to play without Ovechkin. "Everybody knows he's a great player and probably the best in the League, so it's going to be a challenge for us to play without him. We don't want that, but that's the way it is. Hopefully he can get back soon."