October 20 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Morning Skate Report at 1:00 p.m., Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage pre-game video at 3 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (5-0)
Philadelphia Flyers (4-0-1)
Two of the NHL’s top teams tangle in the City of Brotherly Love on Thursday when the Caps travel to Philly to face-off against the Flyers. Neither team has suffered a regulation loss in its first five games of the 2011-12 season.
When the Caps discuss the upcoming game against the Flyers, the words “test” and “challenge” are inevitably bandied about.
“They’re as good a team as there is in the league,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “They’ve got three lines that are scoring, six defense[men] that are playing great and two goalies that are stopping the puck, so it’s going to be quite a challenge for us.”
The Caps and Flyers hooked up four times last season, and all four games required overtime or a shootout to determine a winner.
“We haven’t seen them yet, but they’re 4-0-1,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “We haven’t watched a lot of [video]; I’m sure the coaches have. But we haven’t pre-scouted them yet. We’ll do that [Thursday]. But they’ve still got a lot of the same old guys. [Chris] Pronger is in the back and [Kimmo] Timonen and [Braydon] Coburn. [Claude] Giroux I think has taken his game to another level and [James] van Riemsdyk the same thing.
“They’re a good team and I’m sure it’s going to be a good test for us.
Washington pushed its season-opening mark to a perfect 5-0 with a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday at Verizon Center. In the process, the Caps became the first team in Washington’s franchise history to win each of its first five games of the season.
The Capitals allowed just two shots on goal in the first period, both of them from long distance. The game was easily the most complete and consistent effort the Caps have turned in thus far this season.
Washington has taken down three divisional foes and archrival Pittsburgh in its first five games, but the slate doesn’t get any easier ahead.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” says Boudreau, using one of those buzzwords again. “I’d rather be playing a minor league team, but it’s going to be a great challenge. You want to see where you’re at at different stages of the season. And early on, we’re going to see where we are. In the next two games, we’re playing teams that are [a combined] 8-0-1 this year. And next week we’re playing against the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy. So three out of the next four games are against the elite in the league. So we’ll know whether we have a lot more work to do or if we’re on the right track.”
The Caps have had a power play goal in each of their last three games despite having a total of just five power plays and less than eight minutes with the extra man in those five games.
Facing his former Florida teammates – or what is left of them – for the first time since signing with the Caps as a free agent on his 35th birthday, Washington netminder Tomas Vokoun made 20 saves to record the 45th shutout of his NHL career and his first as a Capital against the Cats in Tuesday’s game. Vokoun has stopped 97 of the last 100 shots he has faced.
Lifetime against the Flyers, Vokoun is 7-8-3 with a shutout, a 2.66 GAA and a .916 save pct.
“The personnel has changed a little bit but I think the game is still the same,” says Vokoun of the Flyers. “They’re a swift team. They still have lots of skill, a good goalie, a good overall team. Obviously we’re in a race for first place, so it’s a big game.”
Playing against the Flyers in the sixth game of the season is as big a deal as it would be in the 80th game.
“The Flyers are a rival so I think you’re always up for it,” says Laich. “We’ve had good games against them; last year I think every game went to overtime. They’re a good hockey team and they always play us tough. It’s a tough building to play in, but that also makes it a good challenge and makes it fun.”
Washington’s five power play goals in 17 chances (29.4%) have it ranked third in the league in power play prowess. The Caps are currently 19th in the NHL with a penalty kill success rate of 81.2%.
Merely a year removed from a run to the Stanley Cup final and coming off a 106-point season in 2010-11, the Flyers overhauled their roster this past summer. Within the span of just hours on the eve of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, they traded away a pair of top pivots in Mike Richards (to Los Angeles) and Jeff Carter (to Columbus).
Those moves were made to least in part to aid in the assimilation of the nine-year, $51 million contract bestowed upon goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov after he was picked up in a June deal with the Coyotes. In undertaking such a drastic remaking of their roster and locker room, Philadelphia was under a fair bit of scrutiny during the summer and at season’s outset.
When the Flyers took to the ice for the season opener in Boston, there were nine new faces in the lineup, accounting for basically half the roster. So far, so good. The lone blemish on the Flyers’ record to date is a 3-2 overtime loss on home ice against the Los Angeles Kings last Saturday.
Most recently, the Flyers blew out the Ottawa Senators by a 7-2 count at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday. That game marked the third consecutive contest in which the Flyers have managed multiple power play goals.
Philadelphia is 7-for-18 (38.9%) with the extra man in its last three games and is 8-for-30 (26.7%) on the season. Heading into Wednesday night’s NHL activity, the Flyers have the league’s fifth best power play.
On the other side of the coin, Philadelphia has also been nicked for multiple power play goals in two of its last three games. For the season, the Flyers are at 83.3% when shorthanded. That’s the 16th best mark in the league.
“It’s a fun place to play,” says Vokoun of visiting Philly. “It’s like our building, it’s loud and it’s sold out every game. It’s a good test for us, a hostile atmosphere against a good team.”
Notes: Caps captain Alex Ovechkin did not take the ice for the team’s Tuesday practice. Boudreau says Ovechkin was taking a maintenance day. “With him, he’s got some bumps and bruises right now,” says Boudreau of Ovechkin. ”So it was more of a maintenance day with two more games this week. We just told him to take [the day] off and get some stretching done.”