Capitals-Devils: The Battle for Second Place in the East

Allen PopelsCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2009

Following a week in which Washington faced the top team in the Eastern Conference in the Boston Bruins, and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, you would think their schedule would get a little bit easier.

That's not the case though, as the Caps will face the hottest team in the NHL tonight, taking on the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are winners of eight straight, and nine of their last 10 games, moving them into first place in the Atlantic Division and a battle for second place in the conference with Washington.

"I think it's going to be very similar to playing Detroit and Boston. Both teams know the importance of it and both teams know what the standings are," said Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau.

"They won eight in a row so this is a great test for us. They're probably playing better than any team in the NHL right now, except maybe Boston or San Jose."

Facing the Devils is always a tough predicament because of the defensive trap they employ.

"We have to play smarter. Sometimes you have to learn to fight another day," Boudreau said. "You don't try to force pucks, you don't try to make the impossible plays. If it's not there, just get it in deep and fight another day. New Jersey is known so much for their trap but the reason they're successful is that they work so hard."

The Capitals know all about hard work. Forward Eric Fehr has demonstrated that passion all season long and has finally started to see results. He was recently moved to the team's second line prior to the Red Wings game and tallied his fourth goal of the season against the Senators the next day.

"He works so hard, hopefully he gets rewarded for it. That's what I saw in Hershey when I coached him," recalled Boudreau. "We don't want it to tail off, we want him to be hungrier everyday."

"When Alex scores, he doesn't say, 'OK. I've scored a goal. Let's relax.' He gets hungrier and wants to score two. When (Wayne) Gretzky would get two points in a game, he'd end up with four or five, because while other people relaxed, he got hungrier. That's something we'd like Eric to do."

"I definitely hope it will continue, playing with the guys I was playing with [Sunday] you're going to get opportunities," said Fehr. "I got lucky with the puck in front and managed to put it in."

"It would be great just to get a little bit of chemistry going playing with Flash (Fleischmann) and (Nicklas) Backstrom," added Fehr. "They're both great play-makers and the more I play with them, the more I'll be able to read off them.

"If you look back at my stats from the other leagues, the first two years I've struggled out of the gate and after that I've felt a little more comfortable and I started to succeed. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come."

Tonight's contest is the final regular season matchup between these two teams.  Depending on how you look at it, both have a chance to claim a win in the series. The Caps are 1-0-2 against the Devils, while New Jersey is 2-1-0 against Washington.