|Metro-leading Capitals square off with second-place Devils|
The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division face off Thursday night at the Prudential Center when the first-place Washington Capitals come off their bye week to visit the second-place New Jersey Devils.
The Capitals (28-14-3) beat the Devils (22-12-8) in each of their first two meetings this season by identical 5-2 scores. After Thursday, the teams do not meet again until the regular-season finale for each on April 7 in Washington.
Winning games within the division is something the Capitals have done well this season, posting an 8-4-1 mark against Metro teams after knocking off the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 last Friday in their final game before the bye week.
Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists in that victory, giving him a league-leading 28 goals this season and leaving him two assists shy of 500 in his career. Ovechkin seeks to become the fourth current player to achieve the rare feat of 500 goals and 500 assists, joining Patrick Marleau and injured veterans Jaromir Jagr and Marian Hossa.
"It's amazing to watch him close up every day," Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said recently. "(Ovechkin) is simply an incredible player still."
That win last Friday -- achieved when Jay Beagle netted the winner with 1.3 seconds left in regulation -- was the most recent time the Capitals were on the ice together until Thursday after Wednesday's practice was cancelled due to poor weather conditions.
It will be interesting to see if the team is a bit rusty after firing on all cylinders before the break.
"We're winning games, and I think exceeding a lot of people's expectations this year," Capitals forward Brett Connolly told the Washington Post. "It's a lot of fun doing that. We're having a good time right now."
The Devils struggled within the division so far with a 4-5-1 record. However, they did beat a Metropolitan Division rival in their most recent game, handing the New York Islanders a 4-1 loss in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
That win snapped an overall six-game slide for the Devils and was their first since the calendar flipped to 2018. Defenseman Damon Severson scored twice in the victory and Taylor Hall extended his point streak to five games with his team-high 16th goal.
"We really wanted to get back on track and find a way to start winning hockey games again," Severson said. "A win is a win and the two points is what counts, so it feels good to be back on track."
New Jersey, which received a 25-save performance from Keith Kinkaid in goal Tuesday after No. 1 goalie Cory Schneider fell ill, played solid hockey in all three zones and consistently won puck battles all night long.
"We always want to take lessons from wins and a good lesson to take from (Tuesday) is that we managed the puck well, went to the dirty areas, won battles, and when we do those things we're a really tough team to ," Devils captain Andy Greene said.
Now the trick is to bottle that 60-minute effort and improve upon it against a Capitals team that won six of its last seven games before the break and is 14-3-2 since Nov. 30.
"It's a difficult thing to do. We have a tough division -- probably the toughest in the league -- so we just have to find a way to pull out wins, pull out points in these games," Severson said.