Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals face the Philadelphia Flyers for the third time this season and the first at home on Saturday night. The teams split the first two meetings in Philadelphia with the Capitals earning a 2-1 shootout win on November 13 before the Flyers took the most recent contest by a score of 3-2 on January 8. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Flyers begin a stretch where they play four of their next five and five of next seven away from Wells Fargo Center against the Capitals on Saturday night. They look to bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the New Jersey Devils. Since a three-game regulation road losing streak to open the new year, the Flyers have earned points in four straight road games, going 2-0-2. While it’s been no secret that the Flyers are dominant on home-ice as they’ve gone 18-5-4 there, they are only 11-13-3 away from South Philly.
Before Thursday’s clunker, the Flyers had collected points in five straight games (4-0-1) and in nine of their previous 11, going 7-2-2 in that span. They are currently tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild-card in the Eastern Conference, but the Hurricanes hold the advantage in goal differential (+26 to +8). The Flyers had scored at least three goals in eight straight games prior to Thursday’s loss but have also allowed more than three goals in three of their last four.
Center Sean Couturier leads the Flyers with 33 assists, 46 points, and a +17 rating in 54 games this season. The 27-year-old has been scoreless in his past two games and three of his last four, though he recorded a hat-trick of assists in the lone game of that stretch that he found the scoresheet. He has not scored a goal in his last eight games. Centers Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes, who signed a seven-year contract with the Flyers after being acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in June, are tied for the team-lead with 17 goals. Konecny has not scored a goal in his last five while Hayes has three goals in his last three and six points in his last six. Center Claude Giroux’s 59.2% faceoff-winning percentage is the second-best in the league (Vancouver Canucks’ J.T. Miller: 59.9%).
Defenseman Matt Niskanen has recorded seven goals, 24 points, and a +1 rating in 53 games in his first season with the Flyers after getting acquired from the Capitals in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas on June 14. He will return to Capital One Arena for the first time since the trade. In 329 career games with the Capitals, the 33-year-old recorded 29 goals, 158 points, and a +58 rating over five seasons. He also notched two goals, 22 points, and a +7 rating in 70 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Capitals, including a goal, nine points, and a +6 rating in 24 games during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
The Flyers’ average of 28.6 shots-against per game is the fewest in the NHL this season while their average of 31.8 shots-per-game is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins for 11th. They also lead the league with a 54% faceoff-winning percentage. Their average of 3.06 goals-per-game is a shade below the league average while their average of 2.91 goals-against per game is 11th. The Flyers’ 19.1% power-play efficiency is tied with the Arizona Coyotes for 18th while their 80.9% penalty-killing rate is tied with the Canucks and St. Louis Blues for 13th.
Goaltender Brian Elliott, who is 13-6-4 with a .900 save percentage, a 2.89 goals-against average, and two shutouts this season, will start in net against the Capitals on Saturday. In 17 career games against the Capitals, the 34-year-old is 8-7-0 with a .891 save percentage and a 3.23 goals-against average. He made 42 saves on 49 shots (.857 save percentage) in two games against the Capitals last season, getting pulled in one of them.
The Capitals continue a season-long four-game homestand on Saturday night against the Flyers. They split the first two games after defeating the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 4-2 on Tuesday night, which snapped a two-game regulation losing streak at home. They have gone 16-7-4 on home ice this season but have split the last six. The Capitals have scored at least three goals in each of their past three home games.
The Capitals have won six of their last eight games (6-2-0) and nine of their last 13 (9-4-0). Before holding the Kings to only two goals, the Capitals allowed at least three goals in each of their previous three games, four of their past fix, and 11 of their last 17. They have scored at least three goals in each of their last seven outings. The Capitals are now six points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division, though the Penguins have a game in hand.
Captain Alex Ovechkin has been the hottest player in the NHL over the last few weeks with 14 goals and 15 points in his last seven games, where he has three hat-tricks and five multi-goal games. He netted another hat-trick, the fastest of his career (4:24), in the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Kings on Tuesday when the 34-year-old became the first player in the NHL this season to hit the 40-goal plateau. Ovechkin sits two goals away from 700 in his career. Defenseman John Carlson, who ended a 17-game goal drought against the Kings, is tied with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for 10th in the NHL in scoring with 65 points this season and second with 51 assists (behind Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl: 54). The 30-year-old has five points in his last three games.
— Harrison Brown (@HarrisonB927077) February 7, 2020
The Capitals are currently tied with the Lightning for second in the NHL with an average of 3.59 goals-per-game, behind only the Colorado Avalanche (3.69). Their average of 2.93 goals-against per game is 12th and their 84.7% penalty-killing efficiency is second, behind only the San Jose Sharks (86.9%). The Capitals’ 20% power-play efficiency is twelfth. Their average of 32.1 shots-per-game is tied with the Penguins for ninth and their average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fourth-lowest.
Head coach Todd Reirden did not reveal his starting netminder against the Flyers but expect Braden Holtby, who is 20-10-4 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.08 goals-against average this season, to start after a strong outing against the Kings, where he stopped 29 shots. In 27 career games against the Flyers, the 30-year-old is 13-5-8 with a .919 save percentage, a 2.42 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He made 54 saves on 58 shots (.931 save percentage) in two games against them this season. Ilya Samsonov, who is 16-3-1 with a .923 save percentage, a 2.21 goals-against average, and a shutout this season, has never started against the Flyers.
- Holtby enters Saturday one shutout shy of passing Olie Kolzig (35) for the most shutouts in Capitals’ history
- Ovechkin would go from 600 to 700 goals in only 148 games, the fewest games to make that leap for any member of the 700-goal club; should he record two goals on Saturday, it would mark the second-fewest games Ovechkin has required to go from one 100-goal milestone to another in his career (100 to 200 goals, 129 games)
- Ovechkin has averaged 0.61 goals-per-game at this point in his career, ranking fifth in NHL history (minimum 300 games played), including an NHL-best 0.59 rate since his 30th birthday on Sept. 17, 2015; among players in the 700-goal club, only two scored at a rate of 0.50 goals per game or higher from the age of 30 onward (Esposito: 0.57; Dionne: 0.51)
- Carlson has 21 multi-point games, seven more than the next closest defenseman (Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi: 14)
- Over the last ten games and since Jan. 8, the Capitals have killed 29 of their 32 penalties (90.6%), ranking second in the NHL
- Defenseman Nick Jensen’s 2.44 power-play goals-against per 60 minutes of play ranks first in the NHL among players with at least 120 penalty-kill minutes this season, while forward Carl Hagelin’s 2.91 power-play goals-against per 60 ranks second among all players
- Hagelin has recorded a point in each of his last seven games (three goals, seven points), the first seven-game point streak of his career
- The Capitals hold a 15-10-2 record when they allow the game’s first goal, the second-best point percentage (.556) in the NHL (Bruins: 13-3-4, .650)
By Harrison Brown