Three days after they squandered a 4-2 third-period lead and suffered a 5-4 overtime setback to the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals turned in a dismal performance for the first 40 minutes of the back half of a home and home set between the two clubs.
Facing the Flyers again on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Caps came out sluggish and lethargic while Philly came out with jump and energy. By the 10-minute mark of the first, the Flyers owned a 2-0 lead. Washington got what it deserved as Philadelphia outlasted the Caps in the end, taking a 6-4 decision.
“I think we played really bad,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “The first two periods were embarrassing from our side. We didn’t have one pass that was right and then they were up 4-0. We got closer to them but we lost this game in the first two periods.”
Asked about his team’s slow start, Caps coach Adam Oates went back to Sunday’s tough home ice loss to the Flyers.
“You know what, probably a little carryover from the other night,” answers Oates.
“Real disappointing,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “I don’t know what to say on the start; just a couple of mistakes that we made obviously and they gained some momentum from it. We know they usually come out hard, we just didn’t match that intensity.”
Face-offs were again a problem for the Capitals, and a lost draw in the offensive zone immediately following the game’s first television timeout eventually resulted in the first Philadelphia goal.
The Flyers won the draw and moved the puck up the ice, lofting it into the neutral zone. Jack Hillen tried to make a play at the Caps line along the wall, but was checked by Flyers forward Sean Couturier. Philly captain Claude Giroux scooped up the puck and easily skirted his way around Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. Giroux went to the backhand and tucked it past Caps goalie Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Philadelphia lead at 6:48 of the first period.
Less than two minutes later, Troy Brouwer was sent off for slashing, and the Flyers doubled their lead on the ensuing power play. Karl Alzner’s clearing bid didn’t exit the zone, and after a couple of passes, Giroux found Jakub Voracek in the high slot. Voracek’s shot slid through a screen and past Holtby on the short side for a 2-0 Philly lead at 8:22.
Minutes later, a bit of a melee broke out involving all of the skaters on both sides. Tom Wilson found Brayden Schenn and John Erskine dropped the mitts with Vincent Lecavalier while the other players paired up and held onto one another. Erskine and Lecavalier earned game misconducts for their trouble.
Washington managed to escape the first without further damage, but it was outshot 13-3 and the Flyers had 20 shot attempts to just 11 for the Caps in the first.
The intermission was of no help.
Early in the second, Mike Green took the puck behind the Caps’ net. As he was trying to move it, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell blunted the authority of the pass with a little hack at Green’s hands or stick. The puck went right to Giroux, and he fired a one-timer past Holtby for his second goal of the game and a 3-0 Philly lead at 5:26 of the middle stanza.
The Flyers ran their lead to 4-0 at 11:52 of the second when Michael Raffl deflected Andrew MacDonald’s left point shot past Holtby, ending the Washington goaltender’s night. At that juncture of the game, the Capitals had as many shots on goal (four) as the Flyers had goals.
Philipp Grubauer, summoned from AHL Hershey earlier in the day after Michal Neuvirth was swapped to the Sabres, came on in relief.
Grubauer, who made his NHL debut in the same building in a relief role just over a year ago, helped Washington stop the bleeding. He made five saves in the second period and the Caps finally were able to solve Philly goaltender Steve Mason, with some aid from a Luke Schenn tripping call. With 17 seconds left on the Washington power play, Ward deflected Green’s shot from the right point while Marcus Johansson did a drive-by in front to provide a screen. That tally cut the Philly lead to 4-1 with 5:54 remaining in the second.
A combination of Philadelphia’s lack of discipline and Washington’s power play made things interesting in the third period. Tom Wilson drew an elbowing call on Steve Downie at 4:53, and this time the Caps struck with just 18 seconds remaining on the man advantage. Backstrom threaded a sublime saucer pass from the right wing half wall to Ovechkin in his “office” near the left dot. While newcomer Dustin Penner drew attention at the top of the paint, Ovechkin’s one-timer eluded Mason on the short side to make it a 4-2 game at 6:35.
Less than three minutes later, the Capitals pulled to within a goal. As Washington’s Jason Chimera and Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo cooled their heels in the penalty box for matching roughing minors, the Caps scored in the waning seconds of the 4-on-4 situation. Backstrom nudged the puck along to wall behind the Philly net to Hillen, who was down low at the right wing half wall. As three Philly defenders approached the Capitals’ defenseman, Brouwer alertly and smartly drifted to the weak side. Hillen spotted him and fed him perfectly for a one-timer that made it a 4-3 game with 10:35 remaining in regulation.
But before the Caps could notch the equalizer, Philadelphia regained its two-goal cushion. Washington turned the puck over near the red line, and the Flyers quickly moved into transition. After a couple quick passes, Voracek took the puck and skated into the slot amid three Caps defenders. He fired and scored to make it a 5-3 game at 11:51.
Once again, the Capitals’ power play came through to make it a one-goal game. With Mark Streit in the penalty box for the Flyers, Washington won an offensive zone draw, and after Karl Alzner slid the puck to Green, the latter floated a shot toward the net. Brooks Laich skated past the front of the cage and deftly deflected the puck past Mason to make it a 5-4 game with exactly six minutes left.
Backstrom had a chance to even the game in the penultimate minute of regulation, but he shanked a shot try from a spot close to the right dot. He had an expanse of net at which to shoot, too.
That would represent Washington’s last and best chance to pull at least a point from a game it had no business winning. The Caps pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker, but Downie’s empty-netter at 19:08 removed all drama and sealed a 6-4 Philly triumph.
“They’re a good team,” says Giroux of the Capitals. “I think they didn’t play the way they wanted to the first two periods, and we were playing well. That third period they kind of came aggressive, and we sat back a little bit.
“We’ve got to make sure we tie them up. We got the win, but at the end of the day we’ve got to make sure that when we’ve got a lead like that, we’ve got to be able to keep it.”
Fifty For Nicky – Backstrom’s assist was his 50th of the season. He has reached 50 assists for the fourth time in his NHL career and the first since 2009-10. Backstrom achieved the 50-assist plateau in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Only two other centers in franchise history have had four s easons with 50 assists: Michal Pivonka and Adam Oates.
Deadline Day – After making a pair of deals on Tuesday, the Caps made another on Wednesday afternoon just ahead of the NHL’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Washington sent Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla (obtained from Phoenix less than 24 hours earlier) to Buffalo for goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a third-round choice in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The deal was made official about four hours before puck drop for Wednesday’s game with the Flyers, and the Caps had to hustle to get Grubauer from Hershey to Philly to serve as Holtby’s backup.
“I got a chance to see [Neuvirth] right before he took off before he was going to the rink,” says Ward. “I became pretty good friends with Neuvy; great guy.
“Obviously it’s tough to see a guy go down like that and to get traded. You never want to see – especially a friend as well – switch teams, but again that’s just the nature of the beast and it’s business and we’ve got to move on and carry on and deal with the cards we have been dealt.”
Debuts – Two Capitals made their Washington debuts in Wednesday night’s game.
Penner, obtained from Anaheim for a fourth-round draft choice on Tuesday, sported No. 17 and skated on a line with Johansson and Brouwer. He logged 16:50 on the night, including 2:51 worth of power play time. Penner had one shot on net (he attempted three) and was credited with two hits.
“It’s always an adjustment,” says Penner of joining a new team, especially in midseason. “You’re seeing different colors. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, you’re getting used to things, your surroundings – even if you try and block out the fact that you’re seeing different faces from a daily basis.”
Seeing his first NHL action since April 10, 2011 when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Stoa wore No. 29 and skated the port side of a line with Jay Beagle and Wilson. Stoa punched in for 6:08 and was a minus-1 on the night. He was credited with one hit.
Back In The Saddle Again – Hillen played in just his third game of the season and his first since Oct. 3 when he suffered a fracture of the right tibial plateau in Washington’s home opener against the Calgary Flames.
With Erskine having been ejected from the proceedings relatively early, Hillen was one of four Washington defensemen to pull more than 21 minutes of duty. He skated 21:10 in the game, recording two shots on net and three blocked shots along with his assist on Brouwer’s goal.
Powerful Stuff – Alzner’s secondary assist on Laich’s power-play goal was just the second power-play point of the Washington defenseman’s NHL career.
Alzner’s previous power-play point came on Dec. 31, 2011 in a 4-2 Washington win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
200 Club – Brouwer’s goal was his 17th of the season and it was also the 200th point of his NHL career. It came in his 430th game in the league.
Turn Off The Spotlight – Washington has struggled mightily under the spotlight of a national television audience this season. With Wednesday’s loss, the Capitals are now 2-8 in such games in 2013-14, and they’ve been outscored by a combined total of 45-29 in those 10 games.
By The Numbers – Green led Washington with 24 minutes of ice time. With two assists on the night, Green notched his second straight multiple-point game … Laich led Washington with six shots on net and Ovechkin paced the Caps with 11 shot attempts … Ovechkin and Laich each had six hits to lead the Capitals … Alzner’s four blocked shots were tops among Washington skaters … Sixteen of Philadelphia’s 18 skaters finished the night with a plus rating; the other two were even … Giroux won 19 of the 25 face-offs (76%) he took in the game.