Feb. 1 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Philadelphia Flyers (2-5-0)
Washington Capitals (1-5-1)
Fresh from a two-game road trip to Canada, the Caps waste no time in getting back into action. They’ll host the Philadelphia Flyers for the only time this season on Friday night at Verizon Center.
For the last five seasons, meetings between the Capitals and the Flyers are generally meetings between two of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. But that is far from the case this time around. Both the Capitals and the Flyers are struggling mightily at this juncture of the abbreviated season.
Washington staggers home for a three-game homestand after losing both games of a trip that took them to Ottawa and Toronto. The Caps led both games going into the third period, but lost both in regulation.
Prior to the trip, the Caps had gone 94-0-9 when leading after two periods of play, dating back to Feb. 24, 2009.
The undisciplined Capitals took eight minor penalties in Thursday’s 3-2 loss at Toronto, all of them in the first two periods of play. Washington was never able to establish any flow or to get into a rhythm with its system, something it had done for long stretches in each of its three previous games of the season.
The Caps also wasted their fastest start of the season. Joel Ward staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs, but the Capitals’ consistent parade to the penalty box began less than a minute later. The Caps’ eight minors in the game came over a span of 31 minutes and 8 seconds of game time.
The Caps have been shorthanded 38 times in seven games, more than every team in the Eastern Conference, and more than every team in the NHL with the exception of Columbus.
Having expended so much energy on Thursday in Toronto, now the Caps must return home to play on short rest against a well-rested Philadelphia team. The Flyers’ last game was Tuesday night against the New York Rangers.
“Obviously it affects our momentum and the way we’re playing,” says Caps right wing Joey Crabb of the team’s lack of discipline. “But we should still have enough energy. Obviously it doesn’t help that our top lines or guys who aren’t killing [penalties] aren’t getting out there and aren’t getting a chance to get rolling.”
After Michal Neuvirth drew five straight starts (1-3-1), Braden Holtby will be back between the pipes for Washington in Friday’s game against the Flyers. Holtby started and lost the Caps’ first two games of the season.
Holtby won the first NHL start of his career over the Flyers at Verizon Center on Nov. 7, 2010. He has a 1-0-1 career record with a 1.43 GAA and a .943 save pct. in two career starts against Philadelphia.
Normally an offensively gifted team with goaltending issues, the Flyers have had an abrupt shift in that characterization this season. Philly has scored a grand total of just 14 goals in its seven games, and half of that total came in a 7-1 spanking of the Florida Panthers in Florida on Jan. 26. Philly has scored two or fewer goals in each of its other six games this season.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov – perhaps sensing that he and his lengthy contract might be in line to be an impending amnesty buyout victim – has performed well in his six starts thus far. Despite a 2-4 record, Bryzgalov has a 2.19 GAA and a .924 save pct. Those qualitative numbers represent a solid improvement over the 2.48 GAA and .909 numbers he posted in 2011-12, the first season of his nine-year, $51 million deal.
Caps fans should recognize the guy sporting the No. 9 in the white sweater for Philly on Friday night, it’s veteran right wing Mike Knuble. Knuble spent each of the last three seasons in Washington and recently signed with the Flyers as an unrestricted free agent. The 40-year-old Knuble is now in his second stint with Philadelphia; he skated in the City of Brotherly Love from 2005-09.
Knuble’s string of 20-goal seasons was halted at eight when he totaled six goals with Washington in 2011-12. A favorite among his teammates, fans and media members wherever he has played during his 16-year NHL career, Knuble’s teammates were happy to hear he had landed a new gig.
“I’m very excited,” said Caps center Brooks Laich. “He’s a consummate professional. At 39, 40 years old he is one of the most fit guys on the team. His passion was still there to play.
“I also believe that Mike understands if he can help a team he would play, but if he is going to hinder a team, he wouldn’t play. He’s got that level of respect for the game and for his teammates. I certainly think he can still help a team. When I saw that he signed, I was very excited for him. He’s a great guy.”
Knuble always had that burning desire to play, and he retained it over the summer and through the lockout. A little over 13 months ago, as he prepared to play in his 1,000th NHL game, Knuble gave some insight into his own personal philosophy on when to hang them up.
“I hate when people want to retire too early,” he told me in December of 2011. “You see tennis players and this and that doing it. Maybe they get burned out. Everybody gets burned out. People get burned out. I understand that. You feel like you can’t play at a high level or you’re injured. But it’s a job you never want to walk away from. You never want to walk away from playing in this league easily. You want to go out on your own terms. You want to make them burn your jersey to get you out of here. You just want to play.”
Knuble is expected to man the right side of the Flyers’ second line with Matt Read and Sean Couturier in Friday night’s game against Washington.