With the first Capitals playoff game 48 hours away, there will be lots of excitement for both teams and possibly even some added inspiration for the Flyers after the passing of owner Ed Snider Monday. NoVa Caps is taking a look at some players on both teams to watch during the series.
Alex Ovechkin: While this name is familiar to Capitals fans, he’s nevertheless important. Finishing his season off in style with a hat trick, Ovechkin once again led the NHL in goals with 50 goals, and won his fourth consecutive Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. In the regular season series, Ovechkin had two goals in four games played. In 72 career playoff games, The Great Eight has 70 points (36 goals, 34 assists). The play of their captain will be essential to the Caps’ hopes of making a Stanley Cup run.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Arguably, the team’s Most Valuable Player this season, the soon-to-be 24-year old Kuznetsov established himself as one of the NHL’s best young stars with a breakout 20-goal, 77-point season in 82 games played. After a decent 37 points as a rookie last season, Kuznetsov finally gained the confidence he needed and took off. In his first postseason series last year against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what may have been the biggest goal of the Capitals’ season. He recorded seven points (five goals, two assists) in 14 games played in his first playoff action. During the regular season, he had five assists in four games against the Flyers. He also is a player to watch because he became the first player not named Alex Ovechkin to lead the team in scoring.
Andre Burakovsky: many believe the 21-year old Burakovsky could be the 2016 playoffs’ Evgeny Kuznetsov. The young Swede struggled at the beginning of the season, but gained confidence playing on a second-line with Kuznetsov and veteran Justin Williams; the end result was a respectable 17-goal, 38-point performance in 79 games played. In his last five games of the regular season, Burakovsky recorded a goal and an assist. In the regular season series against the Flyers, he has two goals and an assist in four games played. On Thursdays during the regular season, Burakovsky recorded two goals, five assist, and seven points in 13 games.
Braden Holtby: Who could forget the Caps’ superstar netminder? The co-owner of the most wins in a single season was given a rest in Sunday’s season finale, ensuring that he’ll be fresh and ready to go for what the team hopes will be a long playoff run. In the two games he played against Philadelphia in the regular season, Holtby went 2-0-0 with a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.21, and a save percentage of .926. Holtby, like Ovechkin, will be a key player to watch.
Justin Williams and Mike Richards: Both Williams and Richards have won Stanley Cups (five between the two of them to be exact) and have identical 7-0 records in Game 7’s. Hopefully for the Caps, the series won’t go to seven games, but these two will be key players to watch throughout the entire postseason. Both former Flyers, the two former Los Angeles teammates have been huge additions to the team this season. Williams had one goal and three assist in the four games played against the Flyers in the regular season, while Richards recorded no points and a plus-3 rating. Both know what it takes to win, and that is why both will be key players to watch.
Wayne Simmonds: One of Philadelphia’s toughest forwards, Simmonds has been a thorn in the Caps’ sides this season: in four games played, he put up three assists. In his career (regular season), he has 13 points in 24 games played versus Washington. Look for Simmonds to establish himself in games often and early
Shayne Gostisbehere: The man they affectionately call “Ghost” in Philly can certainly come from nowhere to put the offensive pressure on. Reminding me of a young Mike Green, Gostisbehere is considered a candidate for the Caldef Memorial Trophy, having recorded an impressive 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in just 64 games played. Dangerous from virtually everywhere, the Caps will have to contain his heavy shot and speed. In only three career games played against the Caps, Gostisbehere has recorded three assists. Look for the Flyers to use him in power play and offensive zone situations.
Claude Giroux: The Flyers’ somewhat underrated captain had himself another productive season, registering 22 goals and 67 points in 78 games played this season; four of those points (a goal and three assists) came against the Capitals over the four-game regular season series. Like Simmonds, Giroux has also been a threat to the Caps in his regular season career: in 29 regular season matchups, Giroux has 31 points. Look for the Caps to put out their top defensive-pairing and checking line against Giroux and the Flyers’ top-line.
Brayden Schenn: the talented centerman had the best statistical season of his short NHL career, recording 59 points (26 goals, 33 assists) in 80 games played. Schenn is a dangerous offensive weapon who recorded two goals in the regular season series versus the Caps. The Caps must contain his speed and take away his shooting and passing lanes effectively.
WSH: John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, T.J. Oshie, and Dmitry Orlov
PHI: Sean Couterier, Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, and Michael Del Zotto
By Michael Fleetwood