December 13 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Philadelphia Flyers (18-7-3)
Washington Capitals (15-12-1)
Washington closes out a two-game homestand on Tuesday night at Verizon Center when it hosts the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time this season.
It has been nearly two months since the Capitals and Flyers last met. When the two teams tangled in Philly on Oct. 20, neither had suffered a regulation loss. The game was tight for 40 minutes, but the Caps scored three times in the third on their way to a 5-2 win that put them at 6-0 on the season and left the Flyers at 4-1-1.
The fortunes of the two teams have gone in different directions since.
It has been two weeks since the Capitals made a coaching change, installing Dale Hunter as the team’s bench boss in place of Bruce Boudreau. The Caps lost the first two games under Hunter, but have now won three of their last four. That’s the Capitals’ best stretch since they opened the season with seven straight victories.
Overall, Washington is 3-3 under Hunter, with all three losses coming by a single goal. After Friday night’s 4-2 win over Toronto, the Caps practiced on Saturday, had Sunday off and had a practice on Monday. It’s the first time since Hunter took over that Washington has had more than one day between games.
Washington struggled to get scoring chances in its first two games after the coaching change, but they’ve now tallied three or more goals in four straight games for the first time
“The last couple of games I feel we’ve been real good,” Caps winger Troy Brouwer stated after Saturday’s practice. “We know where to be all over the ice. We have confidence in the new systems now. When you’re losing the first couple of games, and not getting too many chances, it’s tough to try and stick with it. But the guys did. Dale kept reinforcing what we needed to do. Over the last couple of games, we’ve been really systematically sound and very disciplined in our systems. That’s why we’ve been able to win and that’s why we’ve been able to create penalties and score goals.”
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has seemed more energized the last few games, too. Although his overall offensive production is still not up to the standards he established for himself in his first six NHL seasons, Ovechkin is once again resembling the dynamic offensive force that terrorized NHL defenses and goaltenders for half a decade.
“I feel comfortable all the time,” says Ovechkin. “Of course, we changed the system. But most of the time we change defensive and offensive zone systems. In the offensive zone, you create and you have to create scoring chances in the moment. You can’t be like a robot.
“We changed our system in the defensive zone, and when we have an opportunity to take a rush, we make it. Sometimes we put pucks deep in the zone and try to win battles and go to the net and find the puck over there. And sometimes we just make fancy moves and it works.”
Ovechkin has fired a combined total of 15 shots on goal in his last two games, the most he has managed in any two consecutive contests this season. This season marks the second time in Ovechkin’s career that Washington has changed coaches in mid-season. Ovechkin was about two months into his third season in the league when Washington replaced Glen Hanlon with Boudreau.
The Caps were an ordinary 3-3-1 in Boudreau’s first seven games behind the bench, but they took of thereafter and vaulted from the nether regions of the conference standings in late November to an improbable division title on the final weekend of the 2007-08 season.
Ovechkin finished that campaign with 65 goals, a single-season franchise record.
“I think when Glen was here and Bruce came in, I don’t think we had the kind of experience like we have right now,” says Ovechkin. “It’s a pretty different situation with the coach changing that time and this time. We are all grown up people and we all understand why George and our bosses made that kind of decision. It was kind of a wake-up call for the players and for everybody. It was hard, but right now it’s done and I think everybody is pretty happy with what’s going on here and excited about this team and this organization again.”
After going 3-for-54 with the extra man over the span of a month, the Caps erupted for four power play goals in Friday’s win over the Leafs. That outburst lifted the Capitals into 11th in the NHL with an 18.1% power play efficiency rate on the season. Washington is 24th in the league with a penalty kill success rate of 80.4%.
The Flyers own the top spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings and they bring a five-game winning streak with them to the District. The streak is the Flyers’ longest in a year; Philly won five straight from Dec. 9-18, 2010. The Flyers have just three regulation setbacks in their last 18 games (13-3-2).
Philadelphia is the league’s top road team this season with a record of 10-3-1. The Flyers were actually better on the road (25-11-5) than they were at home (22-12-7) last season. Philly will play seven of its next eight contests on the road; the Flyers are 7-1-1 in their last nine away tilts.
Philly averages 3.61 goals per game, easily the most in the NHL. Flyers’ center Claude Giroux is the league’s leading scorer this season with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists). But Giroux won’t be making the trip with his teammates to the District for Tuesday’s game. He suffered a head injury in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Giroux is averaging 21:28 per game in ice time this season, seventh among all NHL forwards and tops among Philly forwards. The Flyers are also without top ice time defenseman Chris Pronger, who is sidelined with a knee ailment and concussion symptoms. He is averaging 22:29 per game in ice time but has suited up for just 13 of the Flyers’ 28 games.
Philadelphia boasts a dozen players with double-digit point totals and four players with 10 or more goals on the season.
The Flyers feature the league’s third best power play with a 20.4% success rate. Philadelphia is 17th in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 82.2%.