March 5 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Philadelphia Flyers (32-24-6)
Washington Capitals (29-23-10)
Three days after suffering one of their most excruciating regular season losses in recent memory, the Washington Capitals are back in action. Not only that, they’re back in action against the team against which they suffered that difficult defeat.
The Caps and the Philadelphia Flyers finish off their second set of home-and-home games this season on Wednesday night in Philly, and they close out their five-game season series with one another in the process. Washington and Philadelphia have split the first four games between the two teams this season; each posting a record of 2-1-1.
Both teams figure to have new looks for Wednesday’s game. The Caps made two trades on Tuesday, acquiring veteran left wing Dustin Penner from Anaheim for a fourth-round draft choice in 2015 and sending left wing Martin Erat and AHL forward John Mitchell to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for center Chris Brown, defenseman Rostislav Klesla and a fourth-round choice in the 2015 NHL draft.
Penner is expected to join the Capitals in Philadelphia for the morning skate prior to Wednesday’s game. Brown and Klesla – who were with Phoenix’s AHL Portland affiliate prior to the trade – are slated to report to Hershey, at least for the time being.
Most recently, the Flyers handed the Caps a 5-4 overtime loss at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Washington took a 4-2 lead into the third period of that game and still owned that two-goal advantage midway through the game’s final frame.
Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov incurred a five-minute major for charging Philly forward Brayden Schenn midway through the third period of Sunday’s game, and the Flyers pulled to within a goal on a Jakub Voracek extra-man tally. (The NHL subsequently suspended Orlov for two games; he will not play on Washington’s two-game trip to Philadelphia and Boston.) Claude Giroux tipped home Voracek’s shot with 1:05 left in regulation to tie the game at 4-4 and Vincent Lecavalier scored at 2:45 of the extra session to stun the Caps, 5-4.
Instead of Washington gaining two points on the Flyers, Philadelphia gained a point on the Capitals. Going into Wednesday’s game between the two teams, there are only three points separating five teams from second through sixth places in the Metropolitan Division standings. Sixth place New Jersey has 19 games remaining; the other four teams have 20. Philadelphia heads the pack in second place with 70 points. Washington has 68.
After a day off on Monday, the Caps practiced on Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Now they’ll have a chance at revenge on Wednesday against the Flyers in Philly.
“It gives us a chance to redeem ourselves,” says Caps forward Eric Fehr. “But that’s one of the toughest losses we’ve had this year, especially knowing what we have to do in the second half, knowing our schedule and having that one 4-2 with 10 minutes left. That’s tough.”
Throughout the 2013-14 season, the Capitals have displayed a penchant for allowing goals within two minutes after scoring one of their own, and they’ve shown a tendency to fritter away two-goal leads. The Caps know that if they’re going to earn a seventh straight postseason berth, they’ll have to play much better and tighter with the game on the line. Washington faces a tough schedule the rest of the way.
“We’re going to have to get better at it,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, of playing with a two-goal lead. “It’s a positive that we’re getting those two-goal leads, it’s just that we have to work at how to play with them. It’s one of those things that we have always something to work on. One positive is I think we play a lot better against good teams. I don’t think near as we’re worried about it, the fact that we play a lot of good teams.”
The Caps are 7-2-2 in their last 11 games and they’re 2-0-1 since the end of the Olympic break. But they squandered a pair of two-goal leads in a 5-4 win at florida on Thursday and then watched a 3-0 lead dwindle to 3-2 before taking a 4-2 decision over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Caps’ two-goal lead evaporated altogether as they were too passive at both ends of the ice. In the 25 minutes after Orlov’s second goal of the game gave them a 4-2 lead late in the second, the Caps had only 11 shot attempts to a whopping 43 for Philadelphia.
“It’s really simple,” says Holtby. “When you get a lead, you have to play unselfishly. If you’re up by two goals, you don’t need any more goals. I think that’s something that we’re not doing very well right now. You get a lead, you play unselfish, you get the puck deep, you kill minutes and you don’t worry about getting goals. You still play, you still pressure, but you’re going to get dirty goals. You don’t look for fancy stuff that you don’t need. It’s one thing that we didn’t do the last few games, and we’re going to have to get better at it.”
Caps defenseman Jack Hillen was activated from long-term injured reserve on Tuesday and is expected to be in the Washington lineup for the first time since Oct. 3, the second game of the season. Hillen suffered a fractured tibial plateau in his right leg and has missed the Caps’ last 60 games as a result. After two rehab outings with the AHL Hershey Bears last week, Hillen is ready for NHL duty again.
“I’m excited,” says Hillen. “I played two games [in Hershey] and that really helped me. I’m trying to get used to the speed a little bit and I’m anxious. I wish it was a 7 o’clock game and not an 8 o’clock game [on Wednesday] and I wish we were playing today because I’m anxious. I’m comfortable and ready to go.”
For Washington, Wednesday’s game begins a difficult and grueling patch of scheduling in which the Caps will play five games in the next seven nights. The Capitals play the Bruins in Boston on Thursday, and then come back to the District for a quick two-game homestand against Phoenix on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Monday. The Caps and Penguins hook up again in Pittsburgh next Tuesday before the Caps finally get a well deserved two-day breather.
Many of the Caps were hoping Washington would make some noise at the deadline.
“I hope we’re going to be buyers,” said right wing Troy Brouwer after Tuesday’s practice, “because we’ve got a good team in here. We’ve had some stumbles, we’ve had some struggles, but we’ve got a good team in here. We don’t want to approach the last 15 games of the season as if we’re not going to make the playoffs. We know we’re going to make the playoffs in here, we know we’re going to make a push for a Stanley Cup here.
“Whether it’s no new players or whether it’s one new player or whatever George decides is the best for the team, we’re going to go forward knowing and having the confidence in here that we’re going to make the playoffs with whomever is in this room.”
Philadelphia also made a move on Tuesday, bolstering its blueline just ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline. The Flyers dealt away a pair of draft choices to the New York Islanders for workhorse defenseman Andrew MacDonald. With the Islanders this season, MacDonald was averaging 25:25 in ice time over 63 games played, the eighth heaviest nightly workload of any defenseman in the league.
It was easy for the Flyers to fit MacDonald under the cap; the 27-year-old rearguard carries a cap hit of just $550,000 for this season, the final campaign in a four-year contract he signed with the Islanders on Feb. 25, 2010.
The Flyers have won seven of their last 10 games and are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games. Philly’s power play has been a key to that success; the Flyers have scored at least one extra-man goal in 16 of their last 22 games.
Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason won his 25th game of the season against the Capitals on Sunday. He has now recorded more wins this season than in any other campaign since he notched a career high of 30 in his Calder Trophy-winning season of 2008-09.