Metro Matinee – The Caps are spending Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia where they will take on the Flyers for the final time during the 2017-18 regular season. Sunday’s game ends a stretch of three straight games against Metropolitan Division opponents for the Capitals, who are coming into Sunday’s contest on the heels of a home-and-home sweep of the New York Islanders on Thursday and Friday.
Washington will be aiming to do something it has yet to do in the 2017-18 season: win three straight road games. The Caps have victories over San Jose and the Islanders in their previous two road contests, and they’re seeking an elusive third straight road triumph today in Philly.
The Flyers ended February on a roll, winning six straight games to end the month. But they started March with five straight losses (0-4-1) and are now 2-6-1 this month after taking a 4-2 win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Saturday night.
Stability In The Middle – At the outset of the 2017-18 season, the Caps were dealing with some significant turnover on their blueline. Washington lost Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency last summer, and it lost Nate Schmidt to Vegas in the expansion draft. But the Caps were able to return the same two goaltenders and the same four centers they’d deployed throughout last season.
Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle are those four centers, and the four of them combined to miss a grand total of just two games out of a total of 328 man-games last season. Thus far in 2017-18, the Caps have again missed just two man-games in the middle of the ice, one each from Backstrom and Eller.
Backstrom and Eller each missed games way back in October; Eller against Toronto on Oct. 17 and Backstrom at Vancouver on Oct. 26. Washington has dressed the same four centers for each of its last 61 games, but that will change this afternoon.
Kuznetsov suffered an upper body injury late in the second period of the Caps’ win over the Islanders in Washington on Friday, and he will not play on Sunday in Philadelphia. Kuznetsov’s absence from the lineup today will put the skids on his streak of 292 consecutive games played; he last missed a game as a healthy scratch against the Hurricanes in Carolina on Dec. 4, 2014, early in his first full season in the NHL.
Kuznetsov is listed as day-to-day, and it will be interesting to see how the Caps deal with his absence, since they have not had to do so at any point in the last three seasons. Rookie forwards Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson have the capability of playing in the middle and could move into the top six, or the Caps might opt to slide Eller and Beagle up a line and use one of the freshmen to center the fourth line.
Power Surge – Washington hosted the Flyers in the first game back from the All-Star break for both teams back on Jan. 31 at Capital One Arena. After spotting the Flyers an early 2-0 lead, the Caps roared back and earned a 5-3 victory, getting power-play goals from T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky in that contest. The Capitals were 2-for-3 with the extra man that night.
Since the All-Star break, the Caps’ power play outfit is rolling along at a 30.9% clip (17-for-55), tops in the NHL over that span. Eight different Capitals have combined to score those 17 power-play goals over the past month and a half, with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom leading the way at four apiece during that stretch.
Backstrom has scored a power-play goal in each of Washington’s last two games, marking the first time he has scored power-play goals in consecutive contests since Dec. 7-9, 2011.
Osihe netted the 50
th power-play goal of his NHL career on Friday against the Islanders. Oshie scored 23 power-play goals in 443 career games with the St. Louis Blues, and he now has 27 extra-man tallies in just 213 games with the Capitals. Oshie ranks second on the team with nine power-play goals this season, but his power-play tally on Friday was just his second in his last 44 games. Oshie scored seven power-play goals in his first 21 games this season.
In The Nets – Trotz was cagey in terms of announcing his starting netminder for Sunday’s game; he merely said that the Caps would have a goaltender and did not reveal his identity. He did say that whichever goalie does not start today in Philly will be in net on Tuesday when the Caps host the Dallas Stars in Washungton.
Braden Holtby stopped 22 of 25 shots he faced on Friday against the Islanders, earning his 30
th victory of the season. Lifetime against the Flyers, Holtby is 9-4-8 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.52 GAA and a .915 save pct.
Grubauer has permitted two or fewer goals against in 12 of his last 16 starts, and he owns a three-game winning streak. Since late November, Grubauer is 11-3-2 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.68 GAA and a .944 save pct. Lifetime against Philly, Grubauer is 2-2-0 with a shutout, a 3.29 GAA and an .886 save pct.
Philadelphia went with Alex Lyon on Saturday night against the Hurricanes in Raleigh, and it’s possible that the Flyers will come back with Lyon, who is 1-1 with a 1.94 GAA and a .929 save pct. this month.
The Flyers also have veteran and former Red Wing Petr Mrazek, whom they obtained from Detroit shortly before the trade deadline. In 10 games since the trade, Mrazek is 4-5-1 with a shutout, a 3.15 GAA and an .887 save pct. Since the calendar flipped to March, Mrazek is just 1-5-1 with a 4.04 GAA and an .863 save pct.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Mrazek is 2-3-2 with a shutout, a 2.43 GAA and a .921 save pct. in seven career appearances.
All Lined Up – Without benefit of a morning skate, and with no practice on Saturday and Kunzetsov back in Washington, we don’t know how the Caps will line up on Sunday. So here is a guess as to how the Capitals and the Flyers might look when they take the ice late on Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia:
8-Ovechkin, 72-Boyd, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 19-Oshie, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 39-Chiasson
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
92-Kuznetsov (upper body)
28-Giroux, 14-Couturier, 12-Raffl
54-Lindblom, 19-Patrick, 93-Voracek
11-Konecny, 51-Filppula, 17-Simmonds
40-Weal, 21-Laughton, 24-Read
8-Hagg (lower body)
29-Oduya (lower body)
30-Neuvirth (lower body)
37-Elliott (core muscle surgery)