November 7 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Philadelphia Flyers (9-4-1)
Washington Capitals (9-4-0)
The Capitals close out a three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon when the Philadelphia Flyers hit the District for the first time this season. Washington will be seeking its fourth straight win; it put together a four-game run earlier this season.
Both the Capitals and the Flyers sit atop their respective divisions. Philly is a single point ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference standings.
“It’s one of our biggest rivalries for sure,” says Washington right win Eric Fehr. “Both teams are pretty hot right now, so it’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty intense game.”
Washington’s run began last Saturday with a 7-2 win over the Flames in Calgary. The Caps followed up with home ice wins over Toronto and Boston, but squandered third-period leads in both of those games, doing so in very short order.
The Leafs scored three times on seven shots in a span of just 3:03 to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead before Washington rallied for a 5-4 shootout victory on Wednesday. The Caps limited the Bruins to just nine shots on goal in the game’s first 40 minutes in Friday’s 4- Washington win, but Boston erased the Caps’ 3-0 third period lead with three goals on three shots in the first half of the third period.
In the Toronto game, the Leafs began to show signs of coming back late in the second period. In the Boston game, there were no such signs. The Caps dominated the B’s for 40 minutes before Boston made good use of a pair of early power play chances in the third period.
The Bruins’ Shawn Thornton evened the game at 3-3 on an odd-man rush after three Caps lost their footing on the Verizon Center ice almost simultaneously.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who has started 12 of the Caps’ 13 games this season, was chased to the bench by that third Boston goal. Rookie Braden Holtby came on in relief and earned his first NHL win in his debut in the league after blueliner John Carlson supplied the game-winning tally.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said after Friday’s win over the Bruins that he believed Neuvirth “didn’t look very good” on the last two Boston goals. After Saturday’s practice, Boudreau reiterated his confidence in Neuvirth, who has been arguably the team’s MVP for the first month of the season.
“We wouldn’t have the record that we have right now if it wasn’t for him,” the Caps coach declares. “In the American League, it’s a little easier in that if you’re the No. 1 goalie, you’ll play Friday and Sunday and somebody [else] will play Saturday. But then you’ve got Monday off and Tuesday, [while] it might be a difficult skating practice, there’s no mental pressure of doing well.
“We play every second day through this week. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. And we’ve been using him exclusively. The first two periods [of Friday’s game], he was good. The second goal, he’d like to have back. The third goal, he knows he guessed wrong. But Michal doesn’t usually guess.”
Pulling your No. 1 netminder in favor of an untested rookie making his NHL debut midway through the third period of a tie game is an unorthodox move for an NHL head coach, but Boudreau also has faith in Holtby’s ability.
“I don’t know if it was the right thing to do,” says Boudreau. “I might’ve got lucky with the change. But it is what it is. [Neuvirth] knows that I have all the faith in him in the world and he’ll be playing a lot of games this year.”
In Friday’s 5-3 win over the Bruins, defensemen were involved in the scoring of all five Washington goals. Caps defensemen combined for three goals and five points in that game. Blueliner Mike Green, who has scored a goal in three straight games, has a four-game scoring streak in which he has totaled three goals and seven points.
“Having Mike in the lineup obviously exudes confidence in all of us,” says defenseman Tyler Sloan, who netted his first of the season against the B’s. “He brings such a great dynamic to the back end there.
“We’re really trying to key on getting up with the play and keeping our gaps tight. And when you’re doing that you’re following up the play and you’re standing up on the blueline and keeping pucks in. Even something as simple as chipping the puck deep and keeping it in creates another cycle and a shot on net and potentially a goal. That’s where you get an assist or chip in on a second assist or something. We’ve been focusing on that. Bruce really wants us to stay up with the play, and keep our gaps tight and not give time and space to their forwards.”
Washington has been outscored 13-5 in the game’s first period this season, but it has outscored its foes 38-19 after the start of the second frame in 2010-11.
Going into Saturday night’s heavy slate of NHL activity, the Capitals ranked 13th in the league in power play efficiency at 18.4%. Washington had slipped to 10th in the NHL in penalty killing at 86.2% and the Caps are 21st in the league in face-off pct. at 49%.
Currently one of the league’s hottest teams, the Flyers head into Sunday afternoon’s game with a six-game winning streak.
Philadelphia finishes off a busy week with its Sunday trip to D.C. The Flyers pounded the Islanders last Saturday, edged Carolina on Monday, vanquished the Rangers on Thursday and nipped the Isles on Saturday.
Flyers forward Daniel Briere earned a three-game suspension for a cross-check to the head of Islanders’ center Frans Nielsen in last Saturday’s 6-1 win over the Isles. Briere has served his penance and is expected to be back in the lineup on Sunday for Philly.
Philadelphia is notorious for shuttling from one goaltender to the next over the last several years, but they may have unearthed a diamond in the rough in Sergei Bobrovsky. The 22-year-old Russian was signed as an undrafted free agent on May 6. Five months later, he became the youngest goalie ever to start an opening night tilt for the Flyers.
“I’ve never seen him before,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of Bobrovsky. “It’s good when new guys come from Russia come here and show they can play here and show how good he is. He’s very good.”
Bobrovsky is 7-2 with a 2.23 GAA and a .921 save pct. this season. Bobrovsky made 20 saves in Saturday’s win over the Islanders, and he started (and won) both ends of a back-to-back last weekend.
Heading into Saturday night’s action around the league, Philadelphia ranked 11th in power play prowess at 19%. The Flyers stood seventh in the league in penalty killing at 87.7%. Philly’s 49.5% face-off win rate is 20th in the NHL.
Notes: The Caps are 5-1 in one-goal games and 6-3 when surrendering the game’s first goal … Washington has four shorthanded goals in its first 13 games this season, matching the club’s total from the entire 82-game season in 2009-10.