December 5 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (17-5-6)
Philadelphia Flyers (13-11-1)
Carrying a four-game winning streak, the Caps hit the road for three straight and seven of their next eight. First stop is Philadelphia, where Washington will hook up with its former Patrick Division rival Flyers on Saturday night.
Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin will sit out the second contest of his two-game suspension on Saturday, which is too bad for the Caps. He has always feasted on Philly goaltending, putting up 18 goals and 30 points in 18 career games against the Flyers.
The Caps are 5-2 without Ovechkin in the lineup this season. Most recently, Washington spanked the Florida Panthers 6-2 on Thursday night. Alexander Semin, returning to the lineup after a seven-game absence because of injury, netted two goals and had two assists to pace the Caps’ attack against the Cats.
Washington’s injured list should shrink a bit more for Saturday’s game. Veteran defenseman Tom Poti is expected to take the ice in Philadelphia after missing the last two weeks (six games) with an upper body injury.
The Capitals’ current winning streak is their third of four or more games this season. They’ve picked up at least a point in each of their last five games on the road (3-0-2) and they have a strong 8-3-3 mark away from Verizon Center on the season.
The Caps are in the midst of playing 18 of 27 games, 13 of 17 and seven of eight on the road. Sustained road stretches such as that can sometimes prove to be intimidating to teams, especially to teams as young and as banged up as the Capitals are. But Washington has proved its mettle on the road over the last two seasons, winning 20 road games in each of those campaigns and going 41-31-10 overall on the road.
“We don’t have a problem playing on the road,” says Caps blueliner Brian Pothier. “We like getting out as a group and bonding, spending some time together, eating some good meals together and hanging out.”
Winning helps. Dating back to the middle of last season, Washington is 23-9-6 in its last 38 games away from Verizon Center.
“It all depends on how you look at it,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I don’t look at it as 13 of 17. Because you’d look at it and say, ‘Holy smokes, that’s a big number.’ You look at it as a week. What do we have? We have two road games and one home game. If you just take it like that – we take our goals one week at a time and one game at a time – then eventually the big numbers take care of themselves. You’ve just got to play good everywhere you have to play.”
Every team plays 41 at home and 41 on the road, but most teams like to get a lengthy trip or two out of the way early. After playing 26 of their first 46 on the road this season, Washington can look forward to home cooking for 21 of its final 36 games in 2009-10.
“I think it’s sort of a rallying cry for us, too,” says Pothier. “Internally we join together and it’s a great challenge for us. We have the whole month on the road, pretty much. This is an opportunity for us to gain a lot of ground in the standings. If we can fight through these road games, come January we’re sitting pretty because we have some nice home games, some nice stretches at home.”
Just over two years ago, Bruce Boudreau made his debut behind the Caps bench against another former Calder Cup-winning coach, John Stevens of the Flyers. Philadelphia gonged Stevens on Friday, and he will be replaced by former Carolina coach Peter Laviolette. Laviolette is also a former Calder Cup winner; he also coached the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006.
The underachieving Flyers are tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division and are standing 10th in the Eastern Conference. After making a big off-season move to obtain veteran defenseman Chris Pronger from Anaheim, the Flyers were the choice of some to emerge from the East for next spring’s Stanley Cup final.
Philly’s attack has sputtered; it has been blanked in successive games for the first time in more than six years and it is currently without a goal in its last 160:04. The Flyers still rank ninth in the NHL with an average of three goals per game, but Philly has been outscored by a combined 23-12 in its last seven games, going 1-6 in the process. The Flyers won six of seven to start November before giving it all back and losing six of their last seven.
“They’re going to play well against us,” says Pothier. “There is no question. They’re gritty and they’re also dynamic; they can score at will. Every team goes through slumps and usually a big game can get you out of those slumps. And the big game is against us this weekend.
“We know what they’re going to do. We know that they’re a gritty team. They’re going to crash the net. They’re going to run into our goalie a bunch. That’s how they score goals.”
Goaltender Ray Emery, signed as a free agent by the Flyers in the off-season after a year in KHL exile, started strong for Philly this season. He was 6-3-1 with a 2.46 GAA and a .915 save pct. in October. But Emery struggled in the season’s second month, posting a 5-4 mark with a 2.85 GAA and an .897 save pct.
After starting just one game in October, back-up Brian Boucher has gotten the nod five times since. He is 2-3 with a 1.79 GAA and a .938 save pct. since the beginning of November. It will be interesting to see how Laviolette – who had been employed as a television analyst by TSN – will handle the two goaltenders.
The Flyers are 0-for-14 on the power play in their last three games and they are 2-for-21 (9.5%) with the extra man in the last seven games.