March 22 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (37-30-6)
Philadelphia Flyers (42-23-8)
Washington’s season-long five-game road swing comes to a conclusion on Thursday night when the Capitals visit Philadelphia for the first time since Oct. 20. The Caps are 2-2 on the trip to date and can come home with a successful journey if they can scrape a point or two out of Thursday’s rubber match of the road trip in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Caps are coming in off a 5-3 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Monday, a convincing triumph in which they netted three goals in the first period, two of them on the power play.
A night after a poor first-period performance against the Blackhawks in Chicago led to a 5-2 setback, the Caps came out strong from the start and held on for a much-needed road win over the Red Wings.
Washington’s three-goal first period was its first of the season, and its multiple power-play goal performance (the Caps had three power play goals on the night) was its first on the road in more than a year, since March 15, 2011 in a game at Montreal.
“Definitely the start,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter, when queried as to which aspects of his team’s game from Monday in Detroit he’d like to see carried over to Thursday’s tilt in Philadelphia. “The power play clicked early and it gave us a big boost. Two power-play goals by [Alex Ovechkin] puts [the Red Wings] back on their heels, and it basically put them back on their heels until the third period when they made a push.”
“The thing that I noticed the most that we did,” he begins, “was I think our forwards did a great job of putting back pressure on their forwards coming back. That makes our job [as defensemen] a whole lot easier. I don’t think we had a whole lot of 3-on-2s in that game, and that turns into offense and that turns into transition. If we can keep doing that, that’s going to help us out a lot.”
Ovechkin has been heating up of late. He has scored five goals in the four previous games on this road trip, and is now tied for eighth in the NHL with 32 goals and tied for third in the league with 13 power play goals. With 20 goals on the road this season, Ovechkin
Ovechkin has matched his goal total from last season, and has matched his power play goal total from two seasons ago.
“I think my job is to score goals,” states Ovechkin. “If I’m not going to score goals, it’s going to be hard for my line and for different guys to show up. Because if I’m going to score goals, different lines are going to open up and play more open hockey and different guys can score goals.
“If you see how we play, we play right now a different way. Right now, it’s all about defense, not offense. Our strategy and our system is to play more defensive hockey. You’re not going to score anything. You have to think of how you’re going to score goals if you have a chance.”
Caps right wing Mike Knuble has also been heating up. He has three goals in the four games on the trip, and he’s happy with the way the Caps have played of late. The Capitals are 8-4-1 in their last 13 games.
“I think it’s been okay,” says Knuble of the current road swing. “We lost in Winnipeg; we won on the Island. So we’re doing all right, and it’s against some great competition in our league at this point in the season. To go to Chicago, go to Detroit and go to Winnipeg at this time of year is a tough haul. And we’re hanging in there and playing pretty good hockey.
“With [nine] games to go, we’re playing extremely important games. It’s all different from where we thought we’d be right now, but at least we’re playing them and we seem to be in control. Scoreboard watching a little bit is fun, but we’re still in control. If we win our games, we’ll be in.”
The Flyers are third in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings with 92 points on the season. Philadelphia is four points behind rival Pittsburgh for fourth place in the conference and a home ice advantage berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For the Flyers, however, there may not be as much emphasis on that home ice playoff berth. Philadelphia’s 23-12-3 mark on the road is the best in the NHL this season.
Philadelphia is coming off a 2-1 home ice loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. The Flyers outshot the Panthers by a whopping 36-13 in that game, but still ended up on the short end of the decision.
Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was a bit of a lightning rod early in the season. Playing in the first season of a nine-year contract he signed last summer, Bryzgalov struggled mightily through the season’s first half. Although he posted an 18-10-4 record before the NHL’s All-Star break, his peripherals included a 2.99 GAA and an .895 save pct.
Since the break, Bryzgalov has been one of the league’s hottest netminders. He is 12-4-3 with five shutouts, a 1.70 GAA and a .938 save pct.
In the month of March, Bryzgalov has been even better. He is 8-1-1 in 10 starts with four shutouts, a miniscule 1.27 GAA and a .955 save pct. Brygalov pitched a 1-0 shutout against the Capitals in Washington on March 4, stopping all 35 shots sent in his direction. That was the first of four shutouts in a span of five starts for the Russian netminder.
Philadelphia averages 3.14 goals per game this season, third best in the NHL. The Flyers have been happy to ride Bryzgalov’s stellar play of late. As a team, the Flyers have allowed 2.74 goals per game this season, ranking 13th among the 16 NHL clubs currently occupying what would be a playoff position in the league’s standings.