What was a 2-2 hockey game late in the second period suddenly took a wrong turn for Washington, and the Caps ended up on the short end of a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
A hit by Washington rookie right wing Tom Wilson on Flyers center Brayden Schenn altered the complexion of the game with 4:43 left in the second period. Wilson was assessed a five-minute major for charging, a five-minute major for fighting Philly defenseman Nicklas Grossman in the immediate aftermath of the play, and a game misconduct.
The result of all that was a five-minute, all-you-can-eat power play for the Flyers, and Philly cashed in twice to break open what had been a tight game that was anyone’s for the taking up to that point.
“Last game against them with their [power play] chances, they were getting some really good looks,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer of the Flyers’ power play. “We were trying as much as we could to limit their opportunities, but they have a really good unit out there and any time you give them five minutes, they're going to get one. Tonight they got two. As you can see by the score, it was obviously the difference in this game."
After a scoreless first, the two teams combined for half a dozen goals in the eventful second period. The Caps started the second period with more than a minute of residual power play time, and they took advantage of that situation just 40 seconds into the middle frame.
Backstrom centered a pass for Alex Ovechkin but the puck never quite reached its intended destination. It bounced off a Flyers defenseman in front, and Philly goaltender Steven Mason tried to cover it, but could not. Ovechkin backhanded it home for a 1-0 Washington lead.
As has so often been the case this season, the Caps quickly allowed a goal against shortly after taking the lead. Flyers winger Jakub Voracek took off down the right side on a 2-on-1 rush. As he reached the top of the right circle, the lefty shot fired a wrister that beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to the stick side to make it a 1-1 game just 58 seconds after Ovechkin’s goal.
The Caps regained the lead at 5:31 of the period when Brouwer beat the Flyers to a puck behind the Philly net and perfectly fed Eric Fehr in front. Fehr did the rest, firing a one-timer past Mason to make it a 2-1 game.
Philly pulled even again just past the midpoint of the second. Holtby stopped Grossman’s shot from center point, and he thwarted Steve Downie on the rebound as well. But Matt Read was right there to pounce on the third chance, and he potted it into an empty net to make it 2-2 at 11:54.
Schenn had the puck a few feet from the wall in the Philadelphia end of the ice when Wilson came off the bench and into the Flyers’ zone and hit Schenn hard, just as the Philly forward made a slight turn, putting himself in a precarious position.
The impact of the check sent Schenn into the boards and he crumpled, then struggled his way to the bench while Grossman took Wilson to task for the hit.
Washington was on the other end of a similar play this past Friday in Florida when Panthers’ defenseman Erik Gudbranson was given a match penalty for delivering a hit to Fehr’s head. Brouwer fought Gudbranson, which was a stand-up thing to do as a teammate, but he also was assessed an instigator penalty that cut the Caps’ five-minute power play to just three minutes.
Caps coach Adam Oates thought Grossman should have been treated similar by the officials on Tuesday night.
“It’s game-changing call which they call the way they think they see it,” says Oates. “I can’t do anything about it. I’m also mad [the Flyers] don’t get an instigator after that, because every single time we have one of our guys hit and a guy goes across it’s an automatic instigator, to neutralize the play.”
Philly took full advantage of its five-minute power play opportunity.
Less than two minutes after the man-advantage got underway, Flyers defenseman Mark Streit launched a blast from the right point that rattled around the pipes behind Holtby and went in for what would prove to be the game-winning goal at 17:04 of the second.
Washington was unable to minimize the damage. The Flyers scored again 72 seconds later, Voracek taking a feed from Kimmo Timonen at center point and carving toward the middle from his position near the right dot, then scoring with a shot through a screen to the short side to make it 4-2.
Two days ago in Washington, the Caps erased the Flyers’ three-goal third period lead in a 5-4 Caps win in the shootout. Attempting to rally once again, the Caps opened the offensive throttle early in the third. They had some chances, but Washington also gave up some prime scoring chances early in the final frame. Holtby had the answer for a few Philly bids early in the third, but hesitated just a bit as he went to pokecheck Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds and the Flyers winger roofed a shot into a mostly vacant cage to close out the scoring on the night.
“We knew we had to bear down,” says Simonnds of the Flyer’s five-minute power play opportunity. “You don’t get too many opportunities like that with a five-minute major where you score as many goals as you possibly can in five minutes.
“We just wanted to put pucks on the net, take away Holtby’s eyes. We did that, and we got some goals.”
Turning Point – Wilson’s hit was the obvious turning point of the game, and as is often the case in such situations, there were different views of what took place and what the calls on the ice were and should have been.
Here’s a sampling of some of those views.
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner: “My initial thought is that it might have been clean, and then I watched the replay, and you know it’s really hard to tell. You have to watch it a few more times to form an opinion, but you know I was just in a position like that recently, you try and protect yourself last second and you turn to shield your body and sometimes it can make it worse. But I can’t really say if that hit is clean or dirty yet.”
Oates: “I thought it was a clean hit, I really do. I watched it live, I saw it on the Jumbotron, I watched it again between periods. He had changed, he went across the ice, he slowed down, saw Schenn come out of the pile with the puck, took two quick strides, Schenn saw him at the last second and he hit him in the arm. He’s a big strong guy. He hit him hard, yeah. To me it’s a clean hit. I don’t think it’s a penalty at all.”
Ovechkin: "To be honest with you, I don't think it was a dirty play. He saw the hit coming, he turned, and Willy is a big boy. It's always dangerous out there, it's hockey. When you get hit, you have to be ready, especially at the boards. I don't think he was ready, I think he was going to turn, but Willy just finished his check.”
Voracek: “Obviously it was an ugly hit. He kind of turned into it, too, though. It’s hard to read that before the play was coming down, but he had a full speed. The league’s trying to take it out of the game, so you’ve got to make sure there’s a little respect between the players is there. It shouldn’t be in the game right now.”
Simmonds: “I think it was the right call. Clearly it was a boarding penalty. Schenn was quite a bit away from the boards. The way he went in, you never want to see that. I honestly don’t think [Schenn] could see [Wilson]. He was trying to make a play. He turned to the corner, and Wilson came in there, a big boy. [Wilson] has got a lot of body on him. He was so far from the boards that the impact was crazy.”
Holes In The Middle – When the Caps lined up to take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, they did so with a bit of a patchwork crew in the middle of the ice. Injured forwards Brooks Laich and Michael Latta (both out with lower body ailments) have both played center for the Caps this season, but both were on the sidelines for Tuesday’s game. And pivot Mikhail Grabovski was sidelined for a second straight game with flu-like symptoms.
As usual, Backstrom manned the middle of the team’s top line as he has done virtually since entering the league in 2007-08. Martin Erat, a winger by trade, skated the middle of the team’s second line between Fehr and Brouwer. Prior to this season, Erat had not played center since his junior hockey days, very early in the previous decade.
Jay Beagle was the pivot for Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and Beagle has played just 14 of the team’s first 34 games this season. He was a healthy scratch on opening night as he was for several weeks later in the season.
Casey Wellman, recalled from AHL Hershey earlier in the day, was the center on the Caps’ fourth line with Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson. Wellman played in his first NHL game since Jan. 19, 2012 on Tuesday night in Philly.
Of the four centers that Washington rolled out to start Tuesday’s game, only Backstrom was in the lineup in that position when the season started for the Capitals on Oct. 1 in Chicago.
With eight goals in 2013-14, Backstrom is also the only one of Washington’s four centers in Tuesday’s game who has scored at the NHL level this season.
Power Surge – Ovechkin’s goal gave the Caps at least one power play goal for the fourth straight game, their longest such streak this season and the team’s longest streak with at least one extra-man tally since a five-game streak from March 17-24 of this year.
Back In The Saddle – Holtby made his first start in exactly a week and started and went the distance for the first time since a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center on Dec. 7.
The last time Holtby went as much as a week between starts was early last season when he went nine days between a pair of starts on Jan. 22 and his next one on Feb. 1.
Playing in his first NHL game in nearly 23 months, Wellman acquitted himself well. He skated only 9:13 on the night, but was second on the Caps with three shots on net and he won four of his seven draws in the game.
Road Setback – Tuesday’s loss was Washington’s first regulation road loss in more than a month, since a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Nov. 10. The Capitals now stand at 6-6-3 in their 15 road games this season.
Four Score – Tuesday’s game marked the second straight game in which Philadelphia scored four straight goals against the Capitals. Washington was able to rally with three goals of its own in the latter half of the third period on Sunday in the front end of the home-and-home set between the two teams, but the Caps had no offensive response to Philly’s outburst on Tuesday.
Men Down – By game’s end the Caps were playing without two-thirds of their fourth line. In addition to Wilson (game misconduct), the Caps were playing without Volpatti, who did not return after a second-period fight with Philly’s Adam Hall.
Alzner was also missing for most of the second half of the third period, but he returned to take two late shifts at the end of regulation after being unavailable for nearly 10 minutes of the third period.
That’s 82 – Tuesday’s game was the 82nd for the Capitals under Oates’ tutelage, the equivalent of a full NHL season. The Caps are 45-31-6 since Oates took over, good enough for 96 points.
Among all coaches in Caps history, only Bruce Boudreau (106 points) had a better start through his first 82 games than Oates has.
Cooking At Home – The Flyers’ win on Tuesday was their seventh consecutive victory on home ice. Philadelphia has limited its opponent to two or fewer goals in all seven of those games, and the Flyers have outscored the opposition by a combined total of 27-11 during its home winning run.
By The Numbers – Caps defenseman John Carlson led Washington with 25:40 in ice time on the night … Ovechkin led the Capitals with four shots on goal and eight shot attempts … Alzner led the capitals with six blocked shots on the night … Twelve of Philadelphia’s 18 skaters notched at least a point in the game … Simmonds paced the Flyers with six shots on net.