The Washington Capitals (0-0-1) take on the Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0) in each team’s second round-robin tournament game to determine Stanley Cup Playoff seeding on Thursday afternoon. The Flyers won the last three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, including the final two in D.C. by a combined score of 12-4, after the Capitals beat them 2-1 in a shootout in Philadelphia on November 13. Action from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NBCSN nationally beginning at 4 PM ET.
The Capitals look to bounce back after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in their round-robin opener on Monday, where they overcame a slow start, scored two late second period goals, and had a big third-period push. Unfortunately, they could not finish and dropped the game in a shootout. Fortunately, they currently rank third in the round-robin standings, so they did not lose their spot from the regular season but did not move up either. The Capitals can move into first in the standings with a win in regulation and a Lightning loss to the Boston Bruins (4 PM ET, NBCSN) on Wednesday.
Captain Alex Ovechkin co-led the NHL in goals (48) with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak and tallied 22 goals in his final 22 regular-season games. Defenseman John Carlson’s 60 assists ranked fourth in the NHL while his 75 points were tied for 12th with New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. The 30-year-old, who left the Capitals’ 3-2 exhibition win over the Hurricanes after crashing into the boards late in regulation, could return on Thursday after practicing with the team last weekend. Forward Jakub Vrana had a breakout year with 25 goals, third on the Capitals behind Ovechkin and forward T.J. Oshie (26). Forward Tom Wilson also scored 21 goals while center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored in Monday’s round-robin opener and has two goals in two games, including the exhibition game last week, got 19 in 63 games. Forward Richard Panik, who had seven goals, 19 points, and a +11 rating in his final 34 regular-season games, also struck for the Capitals against the Lightning.
The Capitals’ average of 3.42 goals-per-game ranked second in the NHL while their average of 3.07 was 18th. Their 19.4% power-play efficiency was also 18th, but their 15.6% scoring rate after December 7 was 28th. The Capitals’ penalty kill had a solid year as their 82.6% killing rate ranked sixth. The team’s average of 32 shots-per-game was 11th, while their average of 30.2 shots-against per game ranked ninth. Their 48.3% face-off-win percentage was only better than the New York Rangers (46.6%) among the 24 teams left.
The Capitals faced the Flyers in their final home game before the pause, falling 5-2 on March 4. After a strong start, the Flyers scored three times in a span of 9:59 during the second period. The Capitals would get within one, but the Flyers would respond with two third-period goals. After that game, the Capitals seemed to pick it up a little bit on a three-game road trip, going 1-1-1, but they saw an uptick in their play. That game was their last regulation loss. The Capitals seemed to have had a good start to the return-to-play format, winning their lone exhibition game and outplaying arguably the most talented team in the NHL in their first round-robin game.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who went 25-14-6 with a .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average in the regular season, will start against the Flyers on Thursday. In 21 career regular-season games against the orange and black, the 30-year-old has gone 13-7-8 with a .910 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts. While starting all four games against the Flyers this season for the Capitals, he allowed 16 goals on 112 shots (.857 save percentage). Holtby made 26 saves against the Lightning on Monday.
The Flyers entered the pause as the hottest team in the NHL, tying the league-leading Bruins for the best record from January 8 onward (19-6-1), a stretch that started with a 3-2 win against the Capitals at home. They led the league with an average of 3.62 goals-per-game during that span and tied the Columbus Blue Jackets for fourth with an average of 2.48 goals-against per game. The Flyers’ season-high nine-game winning streak ended right before the pause with a 2-0 loss to the Bruins on home ice, their final regular-season game.
Center Travis Konecny led the Flyers with 24 goals and 61 points during the regular season. His 37 assists were tied with center Sean Couturier for the second-most on the team behind forward Jakub Voracek (44). Forward Michael Raffl led the Flyers to a big victory over the Bruins with a goal and two points. Konecny, Couturier (59), Voracek (56), and forward Claude Giroux (53) all posted over 50 points for the team this season.
The Flyers’ average of 3.29 goals-per-game this season ranked seventh in the NHL this season while their average of 2.77 goals-against per game was tied with the Lightning for seventh. Their 20.8% power-play efficiency was 14th, and their 81.8% penalty-killing efficiency was 11th. The Flyers allowed the fewest shots-per-game this season (28.7) and had the best faceoff winning percentage (54.6%).
The Flyers appear to have picked up where they left off after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in their exhibition game before the resumption of play and a dominating performance over the Presidents’ Trophy winners to kick off their season restart. The team acquired forward Derek Grant, who posted a goal and five points in seven games with the Flyers after the trade, from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Kyle Criscuolo and a 2020 fourth-round pick and forward Nate Thompson, who recorded an assist and a +1 rating in seven games after getting dealt to Philadelphia, from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for 2021 fifth-round draft pick.
Goaltender Brian Elliott, who went 16-7-4 with a .903 save percentage, a 2.76 goals-against average, and two shutouts in the regular season, will start against the Capitals on Thursday. In three career games against the Capitals, the 21-year-old is 10-7-0 with a .895 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average. He stopped 50 of 54 shots the Capitals peppered him with in two games this season (.926 save percentage).
Corsi-for Percentage: Capitals — 51.6% (tied for seventh) Flyers — 51.02% (ninth)
Expected Goals-For Percentage: Capitals — 51.2% (13th) Flyers — 50.64% (15th)
Team Save Percentage: Capitals — .9125 (24th) Flyers — .9152 (22nd)
By Harrison Brown