Dec. 17 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (18-12-3)
Philadelphia Flyers (14-15-4)
Two nights after the Caps authored a stunning third-period comeback from a three-goal deficit to take a 5-4 shootout decision from the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, the two teams will tangle again on Tuesday night. This time, the Caps and Flyers will go at it in South Philly in the back half of a home-and-home set.
Down 4-1 with less than nine minutes remaining in Sunday’s game, Washington appeared to be headed for defeat. But the Caps struck for three long distance goals in less than eight minutes to force overtime, and then they outlasted the Flyers in the skills competition to snare the extra point, effecting a three-point swing in the standings.
After a series of slick passes from Dmitry Orlov, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson high in the Philadelphia zone, Mike Green scored his second goal of the season from center point to make it a 4-2 game with 8:40 left.
With just under four minutes remaining, Philadelphia iced the puck. Washington’s forward unit of Jay Beagle, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward combined to outmuscle the Flyers on the ensuing offensive zone draw, and Fehr was able to push the puck back to Orlov at the left point. The Caps defenseman fired a slapper that beat Philly’s Steve Mason high to the glove side, making it a 4-2 game with 3:31 left.
The goal was Orlov’s first in the NHL since March 13, 2012 against the Islanders in New York.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin knotted the contest at 4-4 with 47.9 seconds left in regulation on a shot from above the circles. For Ovechkin, his game-tying tally in Sunday’s game marked the seventh time in which he has notched a game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation during a career that started in 2005-06. That’s more than any other player in the circuit over the same timespan.
Sunday’s game marked the second time in a span of six days and two home games that Ovechkin has turned the trick. He netted the game-tying strike in the final minute of Washington’s 6-5 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in the District. Ovechkin’s last-minute goal against the Bolts was his fourth of the game.
With five goals and seven points in three games last week, Ovechkin was named the NHL’s first star for the week ending Dec. 15. Somehow, the powers that be overlooked Backstrom for star of the week honors. The Caps’ supremely talented pivot had three straight multiple-point games last week, totaling two goals and nine points in the process.
Just past the midpoint of Sunday’s game, Philadelphia owned a 46-30 lead over Washington in shot attempts. The Caps had a decided 14-2 advantage in that department over the final 9:08 of regulation and led the Flyers 19-9 from that point until the end of overtime.
The Caps have had trouble getting the puck out of their own end at times this season, but it seemed like most of Washington’s difficulty in the early portion of Sunday’s game was related to the neutral zone, where the Flyers were effective at slowing the Caps down.
“They send two forwards hard, they stay with their center and their [defensemen] pinch,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “If we can get up the wall and get tips to the middle with speed, we can break them and have good chances. But their pinches were good and they were well timed, and their pressure was hard on [our defense]. It made it hard for us to make the nice plays we normally do, even just the easy chips into the zone.
“I just think they took their foot off the gas in the third and played a little too safe. With that system, you’ve got to go full bore. It works really good. It’s hard to beat and we’ve got to do a better job beating it.”
With Sunday’s shootout triumph, the Caps are now 6-1-1 in their last eight games.
Beginning with its 7-0 beating of the Flyers in Philly on Nov. 1 in its only previous trip to the City of Brotherly Love this season, Washington is 4-1-3 in its last eight road games.
The Caps have scored 20 goals in their last five games, and their average of 2.94 goals per game ranks seventh in the NHL and second among all Eastern Conference clubs. Washington has scored 11 goals in its previous two games against the Flyers this season, and the Caps had tallied 15 times in their last three games against Philly, dating back to the last meeting of 2012-13.
Prior to those three games, the Flyers had stifled the Caps’ attack, limiting Washington to a combined total of six goals in the previous five meetings between the two teams.
Rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer has started each of Washington’s last two games and three of its last four, and he has appeared in each of the Capitals’ last four contests. Although he permitted a pair of goals he wasn’t happy with in Sunday’s game against the Flyers, Grubauer also made some stellar stops that kept the Flyers from running away with the game.
Grubauer was summoned from AHL Hershey on Nov. 30 after Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth suffered a lower body injury during pregame warm-ups the night before. The Caps sent Neuvirth to Hershey on a conditioning stint over the weekend, and he made 33 saves in a 7-4 win over Binghamton on Saturday night.
Although Neuvirth seems ready to return to active duty and to the active roster, the Caps’ goaltending situation seems to have been made a bit muddier by Grubauer’s performance in the past week. Grubauer, Neuvirth and Braden Holtby will all be accompanying the team to Philadelphia for Tuesday’s tilt.
“We’ve just got to figure it out,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s goaltending picture. “I don’t really have an answer for you right now. Neuvy was hurt for a couple weeks and by being hurt missed a couple of chances to play. Grubi came up and played well enough to force some tough decisions. We’re in that boat and we have to figure it out.”
“It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the situation we’re in right now.”
Washington played without center Mikhail Grabovski (flu-like symptoms) in Sunday’s game, and it sounds like they may have to do so again on Tuesday.
“We’re going to have to wait and see in the morning how he feels,” says Oates of Grabovski’s possible availability in Philly. “There’s been a little flu bug going around. He texted that he’s feeling better and he’ll probably meet us in the morning.”
Rookie pivot Michael Latta came up from Hershey and played for Washington on Sunday in Grabovski’s absence, but Latta suffered an injury in the game. If he’s unable to go on Tuesday, the Caps will almost certainly need to make another recall from Hershey.
The Flyers figure to be smarting at least a bit from Sunday’s setback, but even with that loss Philadelphia is 10-5-3 in its last 18 games. Philly has been brilliant on home ice of late, winning six straight games at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers won only two of their first nine home games this season, but last Thursday’s 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Philly lifted them over .500 at home (8-7) for the first time this season.
Philadelphia has outscored the opposition by a combined total of 22-9 during the life of its six-game home winning streak, and it has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those half-dozen contests.
The Flyers will play three of their next four games at home starting with Washington’s visit on Tuesday. Immediately after the holidays, Philadelphia embarks upon its second six-game road trip in a matter of weeks. The Flyers will be gone from Dec. 28-Jan. 7, playing five games against Western Conference foes before finishing up with a visit to the Devils in New Jersey.
Philly just returned from a six-game trip during which it posted a 2-3-1 mark while playing on the road from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.