Dec. 15 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (17-12-3)
Philadelphia Flyers (14-15-3)
The Capitals renew acquaintances with the Philadelphia Flyers in a Sunday matinee match at Verizon Center. The game starts off a home-and-home set between the two Metropolitan Division rivals; the two teams will go at it again on Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The clubs met once previously this season; that was a Nov. 1 game in Philly in which Washington administered a 7-0 spanking to the Flyers.
On Friday night in South Florida, the Caps turned in a mediocre performance in a one-game journey south to face the Florida Panthers. Washington spent most of the night chasing the Panthers and the puck, and the Caps are very fortunate to have scraped a point out of that game in a 3-2 shootout loss.
Washington is now 4-1-3 in its last eight road games, a stretch that began with the aforementioned win over the Flyers in Philly on Nov. 1. The Capitals are 8-4 in their last dozen home games over the same time span, but only three of those victories were achieved in regulation. The Caps have won four of their last eight home games via the shootout.
Overall, Washington is now 5-1-1 in its last seven games, and it holds second place in the Metropolitan Division heading into Saturday’s ledger of NHL activity.
Defenseman John Erskine, sidelined since Oct. 26 with a lower body injury, is on the verge of returning to the lineup and may be ready to go on Sunday against the Flyers.
“I’m ready to go,” declares Erskine. “It’s up to the coaches and I guess the trainers to put me in. I told them I’m ready and we’ll go from there.”
Returning Erskine to active duty would require some roster and lineup adjustments, and placing injured forward Brooks Laich on long-term injured reserve would solve the roster issue. Laich has been skating on his own before practice, but seems unlikely to be ready to play in the week ahead.
A left-handed defenseman, Erskine is most likely to replace either Dmitry Orlov or Nate Schmidt in the Washington lineup.
Schmidt has played in each of Washington’s last 28 games after being recalled from AHL Hershey in mid-October, when Erskine first sat out with his injury. Orlov was bounced back and forth between Hershey and Washington for most of the first tow months of the season before finally making his 2013-14 season’s debut on Nov. 30 against the Islanders in New York.
Orlov has now played in six straight games, and he likely played his best game since his rookie season of 2011-12 in Friday’s loss to the Panthers in Florida. Orlov logged 20:04 against the Cats on Friday, his highest single-game figure since he worked a single-game career high of 24:31 on March 8, 2012 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer has appeared in three straight games for Washington, starting two of the three. He earned his first NHL win last Sunday against the Rangers in New York, picked up a win in relief of starter Braden Holtby on Tuesday against Tampa Bay, and made 39 saves as the starter in Friday’s shootout loss to the Panthers.
Grubauer was recalled from Hershey when Michael Neuvirth stepped on a puck during warm-ups prior to a scheduled start against Montreal on Nov. 29. Neuvirth is nearly ready to return to the Washington lineup; he won a start for Hershey on Saturday night over Binghamton during a conditioning stint with the Bears.
During his stint with the Caps this season, Grubauer is 2-0-1 with a 1.52 GAA and a .957 save pct.
Although Holtby pitched a 30-save shutout against the Flyers in the first meeting between the two teams this season, it’s possible that we’ll see Grubauer between the pipes for Washington on Sunday afternoon against the Flyers. How the Caps will handle their trio of goaltenders beyond this weekend remains to be seen.
Washington will get a bellyful of Metropolitan Division foes this week. After playing the Flyers on Sunday and Tuesday, the Capitals visit the Hurricanes in Carolina on Friday and return home to host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at Verizon.
“You want to get as many points as you can,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “Especially wins, and it doesn’t matter how you get them. You just want to win. These two games are huge for us. Obviously if we can get two wins here in your own division against a Philly team, we can make some separation for ourselves. We definitely can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. But we need to take care of business [on Sunday] so that it sets us up for another possible win on Tuesday.”
Since starting the season with a woeful 1-7 record, the Flyers have reasserted themselves in the Metropolitan Division. Head coach Peter Laviolette was fired a mere three games into the season, and former Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube took over the coaching reins at that point.
The Flyers are 10-5-2 in their last 17 games, and heading into Saturday’s slate of NHL activity they are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division with Columbus and the New York Rangers.
Philadelphia just finished up a rugged six-game road trip that covered a dozen days, returning home with a respectable 2-3-1 mark for the journey. That trip matches Philly’s longest of the season; the Flyers will also be out on the road for six games from Dec. 28-Jan. 7.
Philadelphia is 6-8-1 on the road this season.
After suffering a lopsided 7-2 setback to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the finale of the trip on Wednesday night, the Flyers returned home to host the red-hot Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Philly earned a 2-1 win in that contest.
The Flyers are playing without center Vincent Lecavalier, their most significant off-season addition. Lecavalier has a fracture in his back and is on injured reserve.
Both Steve Mason and Ray Emery saw duty when the Caps and Flyers first met in Philadelphia on Nov. 1. Mason started and surrendered three goals; Emery allowed four before being ejected from the game in the third period.
Mason has shouldered the lion’s share of the goaltending chores for Philadelphia this season, and he has also been far more effective than Emery. Lifetime against the Capitals, Mason is 3-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA and a .922 save pct. He has whitewashed Washington twice during his career, both times as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.