When Scarecrow Plays With Fire – Knowing the Flyers were playing their first game under new head coach Peter Laviolette and had not scored a goal in more than 160 minutes going into Saturday night’s game against Washington, the Caps figured they had to meet the early Philly push.
The Caps met and far exceeded that push, giving the Flyers an 8-2 beating in front of a thinned out Saturday night home crowd. Saturday night’s eight-goal outburst was the most the Caps have ever scored against the Flyers in Philadelphia. The Caps had a 7-1 rout of the Flyers on Jan. 8, 1984, a game in which Washington’s Bengt Gustafsson scored five goals.
As it has done so frequently this season, Washington pounced early, taking a 1-0 lead just 57 seconds into the game when Tomas Fleischmann scored his ninth of the season. Philly evened it up midway through the play, but a slew of stupid penalties assessed to the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo changed the entire complexion of this one, just two and a half minutes after Philly had drawn even.
Carcillo cross-checked Caps right wing Matt Bradley while the latter was on the ice, then sucker-punched him after he got up. Carcillo got two for cross-checking, two for instigating, five for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
The Caps got a nine-minute power play. And the Flyers got schooled.
Washington scored three extra-man tallies on just five shots on goal in a span of 3:56. The 1-1 game became a 4-1 game, and then it became an 8-2 rout as the Capitals added three more at even strength (in a span of 4:09) in the middle frame and David Steckel’s power-play exclamation point in the third.
“Matt’s one of the most popular players on the team,” notes Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “So when somebody takes liberties with him like that, I think the guys rallied around and said, ‘Okay. We want to make them pay. We don’t want this to be for nothing.'”
Bradley richly earned the hardhat on this night in just 3:20 of work. Washington is now 6-1-1 in its last eight visits to Wachovia Center.
“I think it had more to do with Brads sticking up for us,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green, “and we really wanted to take it to him. That’s where that came from. When you really fight for your teammates, it’s our job to fight for him and make sure we do our job. He gave us a nine-minute power play and we are going to take advantage of it.”
For a team that figured to have a lot of jump and energy, the Flyers didn’t have much. The two goals they did score were largely a result of good work by their fourth-liners. Philly’s best players weren’t very visible on this night, for whatever reason.
Forwards Mike Richards and Danny Briere and defensemen Chris Pronger and Matt Carle all got tagged with a minus-2 on the night, but the Carcillo meltdown was clearly the turning point.
“When a team is struggling and they’ve gone through such an emotional 24 hours, the shoulders slump earlier,” says Boudreau. “I thought they were coming on pretty good. When they scored their [first] goal, we had quit playing. And then we got the nine-minute power play. It sort of takes their offense away, no matter how good they are at scoring goals on the penalty kill. I think they were dejected and emotionally spent, quite frankly, after the first period.”
Power Surge – The Caps are making opposing teams pay for their transgressions. Washington is now 7-for-18 (38.9%) with the extra man in its last two games.
On Saturday, the Capitals scored four power play goals for the first time since they netted four in a 10-2 hammering of the Bruins at Verizon Center on March 3, 2008. Washington was positively methodical with the extra man against Philly, needing just six shots on goal in which to score those four power play strikes.
Washington is now at 24.6% on the power play for the season, tops in the NHL.
“I think our power play when it’s clicking is very good,” says Boudreau. “The last couple games, it’s been going good.”
Top Spot – The Caps are averaging 3.62 goals per game, easily the most in the NHL. Atlanta is second at 3.27 goals per game. The .35 differential between Washington and Atlanta is the largest between any of the 30 teams in the league in average goals per game.
Picking Up The Slack – Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin finished serving his two-game suspension on Saturday. The Caps scored a combined 14 goals in the two games Ovechkin missed, and they are now 6-2 in his absence this season.
“The guys have stepped up because they know that when Alex plays he has done it so many times for them, so they are stepping up for him. I hope they continue to step up and don’t say on Monday, ‘Okay Alex, you’re back, you do it. It’s great to see that kind of team stuff where one guy can go down and another guy can come in and play the game.”
For the first time since he came into the league in 2005-06, Ovechkin is not atop the team’s scoring list this late in the season. Backstrom holds that distinction with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists). Ovechkin (18 goals, 12 assists) and Green (five goals, 25 assists) are tied for the second spot on the club with 30.
Ovechkin will be back on the ice (and in pursuit of Backstrom) Monday when the Caps face the Lightning in the middle match of the current three-game road trip.
Nick’s Night –Nicklas Backstrom had a five-point (one goal, four assists) night to match his single-game career best. He previously had five points (also a goal and four assists) on Nov. 15, 2008 in a shootout loss at New Jersey.
Gang Green – Green also matched his single-game career best with four points (two goals, two assists) in Saturday’s game. He previously had four points (one goal, three assists) in a 7-4 win over Ottawa on Feb. 1, 2009.
Team Canada should be paying attention, because few defensemen from any country have been playing better than the Caps’ No. 52 this season.
Flash Point – Fleischmann has 10 goals on the season now, and eight of them have come in the eight games in which Ovechkin has been on the sidelines.
Welcome Back – After a six-game absence, Caps defenseman Tom Poti returned to the lineup against the Flyers. The dean of all Washington blueliners from an experience standpoint, Poti skated 20:53 and picked up a pair of helpers in his first game back.
The two assists pushed Poti to 300 points (63 goals, 237 assists) for his NHL career.
Streaking –Eric Fehr notched a pair of assists on Saturday to extend his scoring streak to a career-high six straight games (four goals, five assists). Fehr now has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in as many games since returning to the lineup after a six-game, injury-related absence. He is plus-8 in his last 13 games and has had one minus game all season.
Streaking, II – The Caps’ win in Philly tonight was their fifth in a row. Washington becomes the only team in the league to have two winning streaks of as many as five games this season. The Caps have had sinning runs of six, five and four games this season, accounting for 15 of their 18 wins thus far in 2009-10. Washington’s five regulation losses are the fewest in the NHL.
Good In Goal – Caps goaltender Jose Theodore had a second straight solid outing between the pipes on Saturday. He stopped Richards with a two-pad stack early in the game and thwarted Philly’s Jeff Carter on a shorthanded 2-on-1 just after the Caps’ nine-minute power play started. Had Carter scored, the Flyers would have held a 2-1 lead at that juncture.
Theodore is now 7-3-4 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .902 save pct.
First Shot Strike – For the sixth time in 29 games this season, the Capitals scored on their first shot on goal of the evening.
Multiple Men – Fleischmann and Green each netted a pair of goals in Saturday’s drubbing, marking the 19th time in 29 games this season that the Capitals have gotten a two-goal effort from one of their players.
Eight different skaters have combined for those 19 two-goal games. Ovechkin has six, Alexander Semin has four, Backstrom, Fleischmann and Brooks Laich each have two and Mike Knuble, Fehr and Green each have one.
The Caps have yet to record their first hat trick of the 2009-10 season.
Double Digit Dudes – Fleischmann and Laich each scored their 10th goal of the season on Saturday night, joining Ovechkin (18) and Semin (11) to give the Caps four double-digit goal scorers on the season. Brendan Morrison (nine) and Backstrom (eight) are on the verge of joining them.
Plus Players – Three Washington defensemen rank among the league’s top 10 in plus/minus for blueliners. Jeff Schultz is tied for fourth at plus-12, Brian Pothier is tied for seventh at plus-11 and Green is tied for ninth at plus-10.
On The Board – Steckel’s third-period goal was his first in 30 regular season games, since he tallied at Tampa Bay on Apr. 9. The Caps’ face-off man extraordinaire netted the first power play goal of his NHL career on a perfect feed from Green.
“We wanted Stecks to get an opportunity to score,” says Boudreau. “We put him with guys who are the hottest. That was for our team. That wasn’t for anything negative against Philadelphia. We wanted Dave Steckel – who works so hard all the time — to get that monkey off his back and get that goal.”
“It was great,” says Steckel. “The guys were pulling for me. We were fortunate enough to have a power play and Bruce puts me out there. It’s just a huge relief right now.”
Road Killers – The Capitals have now earned at least a point in each of their last six road games (4-0-2) and are now 9-3-3 on the road this season. Dating back to last December, Washington is 24-9-6 in its last 39 road games.
Saturday’s win over Philadelphia begins a stretch in which Washington must play five games in five different cities in a span of eight nights. One of those games – a Friday contest vs. Carolina – comes on home ice.
Breathing Room – Washington is now 11-1 in games decided by more than one goal this season.
Atlantic Adversaries – The Caps are now 5-3-3 against Atlantic Division opponents this season. They are 13-2-3 against the rest of the NHL.
Unlikely Candidate – When the Flyers finally snapped their goal drought in the first period of Saturday’s game, it was not one of the team’s big names who got it done. Mika Pyorala netted his second of the season to end Philly’s streak of futility at 172:10. For Pyorala, it was just his second goal of the season.
Phail – After a 12-5-1 start, the Flyers have now lost seven of their last eight games. They’ve been outscored 31-14 during those eight games. Philly is 2-for-23 (8.7%) on the power play and is 27-for-38 (71%) on the penalty kill during the same span. Philadelphia now occupies the cellar of the Atlantic Division standings.
Peter Laviolette will have better days as Philadelphia’s bench boss. Maybe even all of them.
By The Numbers – For the second straight game, an opposing player was assessed more than 25 PIM. Florida’s Mike Duco picked up 27 PIM vs. Washington on Thursday … Half a dozen Caps skaters registered at least two points in Saturday’s game. Another half a dozen recorded at least one point … Fehr (17:20), Alexandre Giroux (15:33) and Mathieu Perreault (14:56) all recorded single-game career highs in ice time.
Welcome Back II – The Caps claimed forward Chris Bourque off waivers from Pittsburgh on Saturday, just over two months after the Pens claimed him from Washington. The Capitals assigned Bourque to AHL Hershey.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears started the weekend on the road Friday night, suffering a 3-1 setback at the hands of the River Rats in Albany. Hershey hosted Norfolk at the Giant Center on Saturday, coming from behind to earn a 5-4 win.
After the Bears fell into an early 2-0 hole, Chris Bourque notched his first of the season with help from Sean Collins and Keith Aucoin at 4:29 of the first. Hershey’s Jay Beagle evened the game at 2-2 with his third of the campaign about three minutes later. Andrew Gordon and goaltender Jason Bacashihua supplied the helpers on that one.
By the second minute of the second frame, the Admirals had regained that two-goal lead at 4-2. But the resilient Bears rebounded again.
Kyle Wilson scored his eighth of the season from Patrick McNeill and Collins at 7:24 of the second to pull the Bears within a goal. Aucoin’s ninth of the campaign – from Andrew Gordon and Bourque – came at 10:54 of the middle frame to draw the Bears even.
Bourque won it for Hershey with his second goal – and third point – of the night on a Bears power play midway through the third. John Carlson and Boyd Kane supplied the assists on the game-winner.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays opened up the weekend with a 3-1 road win over Gwinnett on Friday night. The Rays returned home to host Elmira on Saturday. South Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 4-3 victory.
Keith Johnson, Nikita Kashirsky, Keith Johnson and Rob Ricci scored to support Braden Holtby’s 27-save efforts in the South Carolina nets.
All-Star Roots – Both of the playing captains for this season’s AHL All-Star Game have roots in the Capitals’ system.
Forward Graham Mink will sport the captain’s “C” for the American team. He began his pro career with AHL Portland – then Washington’s top farm affiliate – in 2001-02. The Caps inked Mink as a free agent after his collegiate career in his native state at the University of Vermont. Mink was a member the 2006 and the 2009 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears teams. Mink played seven games over three NHL seasons with Washington. He currently skates for the AHL’s Rochester Americans, the Florida Panthers’ top farm club.
Defenseman Nolan Baumgartner will captain the Canadian squad. He was Washington’s first-round (10th overall) choice in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He got into one regular season contest and one playoff game as a teenager with the Caps in 1995-96 and spent parts of four seasons with the Portland Pirates before the Caps swapped him to Chicago in the summer of 2000. Baumgartner played in 18 games with the Caps over parts of four NHL seasons. Baumgartner is now with the Manitoba Moose, the Vancouver Canucks’ top AHL farm team.
The 2010 AHL All-Star Game will take place in Portland on Jan. 19.
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