Timely Timeout – It’s not often that you see an NHL head coach burn his only timeout in the middle of the second period of a scoreless game without an icing call against his club. But give Flyers’ bench boss Peter Laviolette credit. He clearly has his finger on the pulse of his team, and he used that timeout wisely in Sunday’s 1-0 Philadelphia win over Washington.
It might have even been the difference in the game.
Caps winger Mike Knuble had just scooped up a loose puck at the Philly blueline and skated in alone on Flyers’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Knuble’s backhanded breakaway bid was rebuffed by Bryzglaov, and Laviolette definitely saw something he didn’t like. With Washington owning a 19-9 advantage in shots on goal at the 7:04 mark of the second frame, Laviolette called his players to the bench and was very animated in speaking to them.
“I thought the first period was a good period,” says Laviolette. “We came out just a little bit flat in the second period. It seemed like they owned a lot of the shots, a lot of the chances and we were watching a little bit too much. It was more just to get them back on track than anything else.”
Laviolette seemed to be challenging his players to raise their game to the level of the Caps’ game to that point, and his troops responded. Just 47 seconds later, Flyers forward Eric Wellwood redirected a point shot from Phily blueliner Pavel Kubina and the puck went through Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth for what would prove to be the game’s only goal.
“I thought they responded really well after that,” notes Laviolette, “not just the goal but the rest of the period. [They] got back in it, started generating some offense and some chances and got going. [They were] just a little bit sluggish for the first five to seven minutes, that’s all.”
Whitewashington – The Capitals went through their first 43 games of the 2011-12 season without being shutout at all. After tonight’s 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, the Caps have now been blanked five times in their last 22 games, and they’ve been whitewashed in consecutive contests on home ice, and at the worst possible time.
Washington lost ground to Florida in the Southeast Division race on Sunday, dropping five points behind the Cats with just 17 games to go. The Capitals wasted one of the two games in hand they had on eighth-place Winnipeg and are also in danger of losing their tenuous hold on ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Buffalo and Tampa Bay trail the Caps by a single point, and Washington is just two points ahead of 12th-place Toronto.
The reality of the standings is that the Capitals are now closer to 15th place in the Eastern Conference standings (nine points ahead of 15th-place Montreal) than they are to fifth place (10 points behind fifth-place Philadelphia.
“If you’re getting no chances, it makes a big difference,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of his team’s 120-minute lamplighting drought. “You get breakaways and 2-on-1s and slapshots from the slot. So you’ve just got to keep doing the same thing and hopefully they go in. You can’t be frustrated. You’ve just got to [say], ‘Goalie was hot.’ Just keep getting the pucks to the net. We fired a lot of rubber on him again tonight. We’ve just got to get more traffic, try to get more traffic in front because the goalie’s been sharp. [Bryzgalov] was good tonight.”
The last time the Caps were blanked in consecutive contests was March 6-9, 2007 when they dropped consecutive 3-0 decisions at Toronto and against Carolina, respectively.
The last time Washington was shutout in consecutive home games was on March 13-15, 2001 against Anaheim and Carolina, respectively. Those two whitewashes came in the first two games after the 2001 NHL trade deadline. The Capitals have now been shutout in consecutive home games seven times in their 37-season franchise history.
Tonight’s game was the first time there was a shutout in a regular season Caps-Flyers game since Brian Boucher and Roman Cechmanek combined on a 5-0 shutout for Philly over the Capitals in the City of Brotherly Love on Nov. 15, 2001. Boucher was the last Flyers goalie to shutout the Caps in the District, doing so on Oct. 30, 2001.
Absent Eight – In one of the team’s most important games of the year – and one in which even one goal would have made a difference – Caps captain and leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin was parked on the Washington bench for most of the remainder of the second period, the portion that came after the Philadelphia goal at 7:51 of the stanza.
Ovechkin and linemate Troy Brouwer – who is tied for second on the team with 17 goals – each had one shift totaling 42 seconds over the final 12;09 of the second. Marcus Johansson, who had been centering for the duo, got a few more shifts than that with other linemates.
“I definitely was matching lines,” says Hunter by way of an explanation. “It was one of those things that it wasn’t the right match. I didn’t want [Ovechkin] against Jagr’s line. I had the [Brooks Laich] line against them.”
An Ovechkin giveaway came just seconds before Wellwood’s goal.
“I tried to make a play in the offensive zone and I cost us a goal,” says Ovechkin. “It was my mistake.”
“[Ovechkin] turned the puck over,” states Hunter. “And that’s what cost the only goal of the game.”
Ovechkin finished the game with 16:49 in ice time and Brouwer with 15:45. Brouwer did serve a five-minute major in the first for fighting Philly’s Scott Hartnell.
Going into Sunday’s game, Ovechkin was averaging 19:40 per night this season and Brouwer 17:07.
Even with his limited ice time, Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal (seven) and hits (six) in Sunday’s game.
Depleted Defense – Before the game, the Flyers announced that the services of veteran blueliners Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros would both be lost indefinitely because of lower body injuries. With Flyers captain Chris Pronger already on the sidelines, that left the Flyers without a combined total of 2,646 career NHL games worth of experience.
Not to worry, though. The Flyers’ pre-deadline acquisitions of defensemen Nicklas Grossman (from Dallas) and Pavel Kubina (from Tampa Bay) still left Philly with five blueliners each of whom had a minimum of 339 games worth of experience. Only rookie Erik Gustafsson (19 games) fell below that threshold.
Down On The Farm – One night after a 3-0 shutout win over the Binghamton Senators at Giant Center, the AHL Hershey Bears were in action on Sunday in Chocolatetown, taking on the Springfield Falcons. The Bears came away with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Ryan Potulny (who sports sweater No. 22) scored his 22nd goal of the season at the 22-second mark of overtime to make a winner of goalie Dany Sabourin (23 saves). Matt Pope also scored for Hershey.
The 31-19-4-5 Bears are in third place in the AHL’s East Division, two points behind second place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and 10 points behind front-running Norfolk.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays were idle on Sunday after dropping 2-1 road decisions at Greenville and Gwinnett on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Stingrays pulled a point in Friday’s loss, taking the game to overtime before falling.
South Carolina is back in action on Tuesday when it hosts the Trenton Titans at North Charleston Coliseum.
The 32-23-4-1 Stingrays are currently in third place in the ECHL’s South Division standings.
By The Numbers –Mike Green led the Caps with 23:27 in ice time … The Caps teed up a total of 60 shots to 41 for the Flyers … Washington outhit Philadelphia 37-29 … Grossman led all skaters on both sides with six blocked shots.