Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals will meet with the Philadelphia Flyers for the first times when they clash on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night in the nation’s capital. The Flyers went 3-0-1 against the Capitals in the regular season in 2019-20, including two victories in Washington by a combined score of 12-4, and took the round-robin game between the two teams by a score of 3-1 in the Toronto bubble on August 6. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen beginning at 12 noon ET on Sunday and 6 PM ET on Tuesday night. NBC will carry Sunday’s contest while Tuesday’s game can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or on NBCSN nationally.
The Flyers hit the road for a two-game set after finishing up a four-game homestand in Philadelphia, where they went 2-1-1, but they are coming off of back-to-back losses against the Boston Bruins, including a 2-1 defeat on Friday night. The orange and black are just 2-1-1 away from Wells Fargo Center this season but won their past two road games. They have not played a game on the road since January 28 and have played eight of their first 12 games at home. They will play nine of their next 13 games on the road.
Before getting swept by the Bruins, the Flyers had won four straight games and have won seven of eight games against opponents not from Boston (who they are 0-2-2 against this season).
They enter Saturday’s action one point ahead of the Capitals for second place in the East Division and two points behind the Bruins for first. Both the Capitals and Bruins have a game in hand on the Flyers, who scored at least three goals in five straight before Friday’s loss and have done so nine times overall this season. The Flyers grabbed the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year after going 3-0-0 in the round-robin before losing to the New York Islanders in a seven-game second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Forward James Van Riemsdyk, the brother of Capitals defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk, leads the Flyers in points (16) and shares the team lead in goals (six) and assists (10). The 31-year-old has recorded three goals and 11 points during a six-game point-streak coming into Sunday’s game. Center Kevin Hayes, who saw a three-game goal-scoring streak (three goals) end on Friday, and forward Joel Farabee, who has four goals in his past three games, are tied with Van Riemsdyk on the Flyers’ goal-leader board. Captain Claude Giroux’s 10 assists are also tied with Van Riemsdyk for the team lead. The 33-year-old center has recorded six assists and seven points in the past six games.
The Flyers’ average of 3.25 goals-per-game so far this season ranks 13th in the NHL but their average of 3.00 goals-against per game is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for 18th. Their 23.7% power-play efficiency enters Saturday ranked 10th but their 72.1% penalty-killing rate is 27th. The Flyers rank dead last in terms of shots-per-game (23.8) and have given up the fourth-most shots-per-game (32.9). Their 50.8% faceoff-winning percentage is at the league average.
Over the offseason, the Flyers were quiet but their biggest move was replacing former Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (who retired) with free-agent Erik Gustafsson, who has posted six assists, a -1 rating, a 43.24% Corsi-for percentage, a 41.96% expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.66% scoring-chances for percentage in 10 games this season. They did not lose much else with just center Derek Grant, forward Tyler Pitlick, and forward Nate Thompson walking out the door.
Coach Vigneault’s injury updates:
• Oskar Lindblom and Carter Hart are good to go for #PHIvsWSH.
• Coots and Philippe Myers are considered day-to-day.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 6, 2021
Coach Vigneault on Sean Couturier’s availability: “There is no doubt he’s getting closer. Whether that be tomorrow, Tuesday or a short time after that, I’m not sure…I’ll have a better idea in the next couple of hours.” pic.twitter.com/PDSlHBrpHx
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 6, 2021
The Capitals wrap up a stretch where they play eight of nine games at Capital One Arena. After starting that stretch 3-0-1, the team has dropped back-to-back regulation games, most recently a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers in their lone road game of the stretch on Thursday. Overall, the Capitals are 4-1-1 at Capital One Arena this season. They will likely be without center Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID-19 protocol), goaltender Ilya Samsonov (COVID-19 protocol), defenseman Justin Schultz (upper-body injury), and forward Conor Sheary (lower-body injury). Center Lars Eller wore a regular jersey in practice on Saturday after missing four straight games with an upper-body injury while forwards T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana, who was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday evening, took maintenance days.
Before losing two straight, the Capitals started the season on a nine-game point streak (6-0-3). Thursday’s loss was only the second time that the Capitals have scored fewer than three goals this season and the fourth straight game in which they allowed at least three goals. They have allowed two or fewer goals only twice this season but they have scored two or fewer goals only twice. Despite trailing the Flyers in the standings, the Capitals (.682) hold a slightly higher points percentage than the orange and black (.667).
Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in goals (five), assists (nine), and points (14). The 33-year-old earned an assist against the Rangers after his five-game point-streak, where he recorded three goals and nine points, came to an end in the Capitals’ 5-3 loss to the Bruins on Monday. Other Capitals averaging at least a point-per-game include captain Alex Ovechkin (1.14), who has two goals and three points in three games since returning from the COVID-19 protocol list, and defenseman John Carlson (1.00), who saw his seven-game point-streak where he recorded three goals and nine points end in New York.
The Capitals’ average of 3.55 goals-per-game this season is tied with the Winnipeg Jets for fifth in the NHL this season but their average of 3.27 goals-against per game is tied with the Nashville Predators for the eighth-most. Their 34.6% power-play efficiency is good for fifth but their 79.5% penalty-killing ranks 19th. The Capitals’ averages of 27.5 shots-per-game and 32.7 shots-against per game are both the fifth-worst. Their 46.7% faceoff-winning percentage is tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth-worst.
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette will face his former team behind the bench for the first time in his tenure in Washington. Laviolette took over the Flyers a little less than halfway through the 2009-10 season and went 28-24-5 to guide them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and on to the Final. In parts of five seasons with the Flyers from 2009-2014, Laviolette went 145-98-29 (.586 points percentage) in the regular season and 23-22 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (.511). The Flyers fired Laviolette after starting the 2013-14 season 0-3-0 after having missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six seasons the previous year.
Flyers — Brian Elliott, 35 (3-1-0, .929 save percentage, 2.19 goals-against average, one shutout), and Carter Hart, 22 (4-2-2, .898 save percentage, 3.42 goals-against average). Hart, who was labeled as day-to-day with back spasms, is 1-1-1 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average in three career games against the Capitals. Elliott, who made 16 saves in last season’s 3-1 win over the Capitals in the round-robin, is 10-7-0 with an .895 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average in 19 regular-season games against Washington.
Capitals — Vitek Vanecek, 25 (5-2-2, .911 save percentage, 2.95 goals-against average this season), and Craig Anderson, 39. Anderson is 12-8-3 with a .914 save percentage, a 2.97 goals-against average, and one shutout in 25 career regular-season games against the Flyers. Vanecek has yet to play a game against Philadelphia in his NHL career.
By Harrison Brown