The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers clash for the final meeting of the season on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers handed the Capitals their most lopsided loss of the season in their home opener on October 14, prevailing 8-2 before beating Washington 2-1 in overtime at Capital One Arena on January 21. 10 days later, the Capitals scored five unanswered goals en route to a 5-3 victory over the Flyers after trailing 2-0 in the first period in the most recent meeting back on January 31 at Capital One Arena. Puck drop from Wells Fargo Center on Sunday will be at 5 PM on NBC Sports Washington.
The Capitals are coming off of a home-and-home sweep of the New York Islanders, where they won 7-3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday before their 6-3 victory at Capital One Arena on Friday for their fourth straight win. The Capitals got goals from six different goal scorers. Friday’s win gave them a two-point advantage over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who next play the Islanders on Tuesday, for the top spot in the division with a game in hand. The Capitals look to make it five straight wins on Sunday evening.
Friday’s win came at a cost though as Washington’s second-leading point scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had two assists in the game, left action at the end of the second period due to an undisclosed upper-body injury and did not return. He will not play in Sunday’s game and is listed as “day-to-day”. Kuznetsov’s 21 goals and 71 points this season are second on the team behind Alex Ovechkin. If the Capitals were to lose him for an extended amount of time, it would be a huge blow for the Capitals.
The Capitals play their third consecutive game against a Metropolitan Division opponent on Sunday. Washington will play six of their last 11 games against Metro Division foes before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 11. The Capitals are 13-6-3 in 22 games against the Metropolitan Division, which is good for a .659 points percentage.
After going 19 games without a goal and only tallying two goals in his previous 35 games, T.J. Oshie is starting to find his game for the Capitals. Oshie has scored three goals in the past two games for the Capitals. After signing an 8-year contract worth $46 million ($5.75 million AAV) in the offseason, Oshie started out hot scoring 10 goals in his first 21 games but went through a dry spell after suffering a concussion in the beginning of December when he took a hit to the head from Sharks’ center Joe Thornton. He tallied a goal in his last game against the Flyers back on January 31.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz did not have his mind made up when asked who will get the start in Philadelphia on Sunday after the game on Friday. After going through a 1-5-1 skid, Holtby was sharp against the Islanders making 22 saves on 25 shots, including all 13 he faced at even strength. He sat the previous four games to regroup. He earned his 30th win of the season against the Islanders. Holtby has a save percentage of .906 and a save percentage of 3.03 this season. Lifetime against Philadelphia, Holtby is 9-4-8 with a save percentage of .915 and a goals-against average of 2.52.
What a roller coaster season it has been for the Flyers; after going through a 10-game losing streak in November (0-5-5), the Flyers caught fire in February and had a 14-game point streak (12-0-2). Since that streak, the Flyers have lost seven of their last eight games, going 1-6-1 in that span. They have dropped each of their last two games in regulation, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 at home on Monday and falling 5-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets at home as well.
On February 24, the Flyers leapfrogged the Capitals by a point in the standings but are now six points behind the Penguins for the second spot in the division due to their recent skid. In addition, they are barely hanging on to the third spot in the division and are tied with the Blue Jackets, who have won six straight games, with 81 points for that spot. Both teams have played 71 games but Philadelphia has a 33-32 advantage in regulation-overtime wins over the Blue Jackets. The New Jersey Devils, who occupy the final wild-card spot in the conference, are also a point behind Philadelphia with a game in hand.
The Flyers will play the Carolina Hurricanes, who ended the Flyers’ 14-game point streak with a 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center on March 1, at PNC Arena in Raleigh tonight at 7 PM before coming home to host the Capitals on Sunday.
The Flyers own three of the top 29 scorers in the NHL. After tallying 14 goals and 58 points in 82 games last season, captain Claude Giroux’s 47 assists this season ranks fourth in the league while 83 points rank fifth. Winger Jakub Voracek is 14th in the NHL with 75 points through 71 games and is one assist (59 assists) behind Winnipeg Jets’ winger Blake Wheeler for the league lead in assists. Center Sean Couturier, who ranks 29th in the NHL with 65 points, leads the Flyers with 29 goals and a +27 rating (which ranks seventh in the NHL). Though he hasn’t scored a goal since February 16, he has two goals and five points in three games against the Capitals this season. Both of his goals and three of those points came in the first meeting between the two teams back on October 14 in an 8-2 Flyers victory.
After starting goaltender Brian Elliott and backup Michael Neuvirth both went down due to injury, the Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings for a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick and a 2019 conditional third on February 19. He will likely start for Philadelphia on Sunday. In 10 games with the Flyers, Mrazek is 4-5-1 with a save percentage of .887 and a goals-against average of 3.15. On the season, he is 12-12-4 with a save percentage of .903 and a goals-against average of 2.97. During his career in Detroit, Mrazek was 2-3-2 with a save percentage of .921 and a goals-against average of 2.43 against Washington.
-Since January 1, the Capitals have the most successful power plays in the NHL (24 goals on 87 opportunities, 27.6%). During that time frame, 11 different Capitals have recorded a power-play point. John Carlson’s 14 points (two goals and 14 points) on the power play leads the Capitals, is tied for first among defensemen and eighth overall during that stretch. The Capitals scored three power-play goals on five opportunities against the Islanders on Friday.
–Jakub Vrana scored his 13th goal of the season against the Islanders on Friday, which ranks 12th among rookies while his 12 even strength goals are tied for ninth.
-The Capitals are 27-12-5 against the Eastern Conference this year and their 59 points are the third-most against the Eastern Conference this season (Boston: 64 points, Tampa Bay: 60 points). Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the NHL to have at least 30 goals against Eastern Conference opponents (34).
A Look Back in Time
The Flyers and Capitals met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016 with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals taking the first two games at home. After Michael Raffl gave Philadelphia their first lead of the series 57 seconds into Game 3, the Capitals struck for six unanswered goals en route to a 6-1 blowout win at Wells Fargo Center to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Marcus Johansson struck for the first of five Capitals’ power play goals 3:45 after Raffl scored. Ovechkin scored on a wrist shot in the second period for a 2-1 lead before the Capitals blew the doors off with a four-goal third period with each of those tallies coming on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Ovechkin, and Jay Beagle each scored in the third period to power the Capitals to victory. Braden Holtby made 31 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown
Will the Caps avoid a hideous First-Round exit to a lesser team with a hot goalie? Can the Caps overcome the NHL’s I-Love-Cindy-Crosby mafia during the upcoming playoffs? The Caps’ Swiss-cheese Defense of December has tightented up substantially. That’s good. Oshie has awakened from Concussionland. That’s good. Ovechkin is inspired this season. That’s good too. Hmmm — The Caps look pretty good going into the last three weeks of the season. Will the Hockey Gods forgive forty-two years of utter futility and deal the Caps a sizzling Filet Mignon instead of a cold McDonald’s Hamburger?
You have to start Holtby to build his confidence after a good game