March 2 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Philadelphia Flyers (31-24-6)
Washington Capitals (29-23-9)
Coming out of the Olympic break, the Washington Capitals are faced with five games in a span of eight nights, with four of those contests taking place on the road. A run of three games in three and a half days concludes on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center when Washington hosts the Philadelphia Flyers in the only home game it will play during those first five after the break.
Sunday’s game is also the front end of a vastly important home-and-home set between the two Metropolitan Division rivals. The fourth-place Capitals are just one point behind the third-place Flyers in the Metro standings going into Sunday’s game, and the two teams will tangle again in Philadelphia on Wednesday night in the final of five meetings between the two clubs this season.
With a win in regulation time over the Flyers on Sunday, the Caps can leapfrog over Philadelphia and into a playoff position in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
A win on Sunday would also extend Washington’s winning streak to five, which would mark its longest victorious run of the season. The Caps won four straight from Nov. 1-7, and their current four-game streak consists of two victories before the Olympic break and two more in their first two games immediately following the break.
The Caps hit the road on Wednesday for a two-game trip, and they returned home early Saturday evening with four points to show for their efforts. Washington earned a 5-4 win over the Panthers in South Florida on Thursday and it forged a 4-2 victory over the Bruins in Boston on Sunday afternoon.
“I think we were missing our swagger a little bit [earlier in the season]” says Caps right wing Joel Ward, whose career-high 18th goal proved to be the game-winner against the Bruins. “I think when our team plays with that little bit of cockiness and edge, we seem to be able to collect wins. I think we were just missing that at times. We went through a few lapses before the [Olympic] break that was killing us at different times during games. But we’re finding ways to win. The bottom line is winning games.”
All four victories in the team’s current streak have come in regulation, and Washington has not trailed at any point in the last three of those victories.
“It’s incredibly important,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of Washington’s need to keep its’ current winning streak going. “If we don’t we’re going to be in trouble. We know that. We’ve talked about it; we want to win every single game up until that California trip, and that’s the goal. We’re going to do our best, and it’s a good start. So far, so good.”
Including Sunday’s game against the Flyers, there are eight games between now and the California trip to which Alzner referred. Five of those games will be played on Verizon Center ice.
Alex Ovechkin netted two power-play goals in Saturday’s victory, pushing his league-leading total to 43 on the season. Ovechkin has 17 power-play goals, a total which also leads the league. He is now just five extra-man tallies shy of matching Washington’s single-season club standard (22) for power-play goals. Peter Bondra set the mark in 2000-01 and Ovechkin himself matched it in 2007-08.
With his two points in Saturday’s game against Boston, Ovechkin now has 800 for his NHL career. He joins Bondra (825) as just the second player ever to record as many as 800 points while wearing a Capitals sweater. Ovechkin has five points (three goals, two assists) in the two games since the Olympic break.
Braden Holtby made 36 saves on Saturday against the Bruins to earn his 19th win of the season and his sixth in his last seven starts. Holtby is 6-1 with two shutouts, a 2.42 GAA and a .919 save pct. in his last seven starts.
“We went into the break how we wanted to,” says Holtby of the Capitals. “That was a big thing for us and we came back really refreshed. It’s good, but again those are just numbers. They’re in the past. The biggest thing is just [Sunday’s] game now.”
Philadelphia suffered a 7-3 home ice setback at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night in its first game back from the Olympic break, but the Flyers then rebounded to take a 4-2 decision from the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon.
The Flyers won each of their last four games before the Olympic break, outscoring their opponents by a combined total of 12-4 in the process.
Philadelphia’s power play has been consistently torrid since the turn of the calendar. The Flyers have scored at least one power-play goal in 15 of the 21 games they’ve played in the 2014 portion of the 2013-14 season. Philly is 16-for-73 (21.9%) with the extra man in those last 21 games.
Steve Mason was in goal for the Flyers for Saturday’s win over the Blueshirts, and with backup netminder Ray Emery (lower body injury) ailing and not along for the trip to the District, either Mason will go for the second time in as many days or Philly will opt to give rookie Cal Heeter a start in a critical contest for both clubs. Heeter, a 25-year-old rookie who hails from St. Louis, has yet to see any game action at the NHL level during his pro career. A second-year pro who played his collegiate hockey at Ohio State, Heeter was 15-19-0-0 with a 2.48 GAA and a .916 save pct. for Adirondack of the AHL prior to his recall to Philadelphia.
Lifetime against Washington, Mason is 4-3-2 with two shutouts, a 2.59 GAA and a .917 save pct. Mason has played both ends of back-to-back games twice this season, going 2-0 with a 1.44 GAA and a .947 save pct. in the second half of those back-to-backs.