Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals will head to the City of Brotherly Love twice this week to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, Thursday, and next Sunday. The Flyers took the first meeting between the two weeks this season by a score of 7-4 at Capital One Arena on when Flyers captain Claude Giroux and defenseman Justin Braun tested positive for COVID-19. The Orange and Black have gone 5-0-1 against the Capitals in the past six games between the two and have outscored them 26-12 over that span. Action from Wells Fargo Center, which will host fans for the first time this season on Sunday, can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET for all three games in Philadelphia this week.
The Capitals will wrap up a five-game road trip on Sunday before heading home to host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. They will continue a stretch where they play eight of nine games away from home on Thursday after a quick trip between matchups against the Flyers. The Capitals started their road trip undefeated in the first three games before arguably their worst loss of the season on Friday, when they lost 5-1 to the Boston Bruins. The Capitals won their previous four road games and are 6-3-2 on the road this season.
The loss on Friday ended a four-game winning streak and a stretch where the Capitals went 7-1-1 in their previous nine games. They enter Sunday night’s matchup two points behind the New York Islanders for first place in the East Division but will have a game in hand as the Islanders were in action on Saturday afternoon, a 5-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres, and will host the Sabres again before the puck drops in Philadelphia.
Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in goals (10), assists (16), and points (26) but has alternated games with and without a point since a five-game point-streak ended. The 33-year-old recorded the 700th assist of his career on Friday. Forward Tom Wilson, whose seven goals are tied with captain Alex Ovechkin for second on the team, will have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety before the game for boarding Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo on Friday but head coach Peter Laviolette was optimistic that Wilson will be available for Sunday’s game.
The Capitals’ average of 3.22 goals-per-game ranks seventh in the NHL this season but their average of 3.17 goals-against per game entered Saturday tied with the Nashville Predators for the sixth-most. Their 26.7% power-play efficiency ranks fifth and 81.1% penalty kill is 12th. The Capitals’ average of 29 shots-per-game is 24th but their average of 29.3 shots-against per game is 11th. Their 50.4% faceoff-winning percentage since February 10, when they hired Michael Peca as a player development coach to assist with faceoffs, ranks 13th.
The Capitals’ 49.06% Corsi-for percentage at five-on-five is 18th and their 50.27% expected goals-for percentage and 50.19% scoring chances-for percentage both rank 16th. Their 10.25% shooting percentage at five-on-five only trails the Flyers’ 12.29%. The Capitals’ .9189 five-on-five save percentage is 21st but their 1.021 PDO is fifth (the Flyers’ 1.045 is first).
The Flyers begin a four-game homestand on Sunday after a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in Western Pennsylvania, where they lost two matches, including a 4-3 loss at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday afternoon. The Buffalo Sabres will come to town between the Capitals’ two trips to Philadelphia. The Flyers are 6-2-2 at Wells Fargo Center this season but have lost three of their last four home games (1-0-3).
The Flyers enter Sunday tied with the Penguins for the final Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the East Division with 27 points and two games in hand despite the fact that their .643 points percentage is tied for 10th in the NHL. They are 4-3-1 since a nine-day COVID-19 pause after a 8-3-2 start to the season but won three in a row before their three-game series against the Penguins.
Forward James Van Riemsdyk co-leads the Flyers in goals (10) with forward Joel Farabee and leads them in assists (16), and points (26) through 21 games but was held off of the scoresheet in his last two. The 31-year-old was on a five-game point-streak, where he recorded three goals and eight points, before the last two games. Farabee, 21, has played only 20 games this season and has recorded 19 points after posting eight goals and 21 points in 52 games during his rookie season. Farabee has recorded four goals and 10 points in his past eight games, including a three-assist game against the Capitals on February 7, but did not get on the scoresheet on Saturday.
The Flyers’ average of 3.33 goals-per-game ranks sixth in the NHL this season but their average of 3.05 goals-against per game is 20th. Their 18.9% power-play efficiency is 19th and their 71.8% penalty-killing rate is the fourth-worst. Only the Arizona Coyotes (26.3) average fewer shots-per-game than the Flyers (26.9), whose average of 31.5 shots-against per game is the sixth-highest. Their 53.3% faceoff-winning percentage ranks third.
The Flyers’ 46.61% Corsi-for percentage at five-on-five is better than only the Columbus Blue Jackets while their 47.13% expected goals-for percentage is the sixth-worst. The Flyers’ 47.87% scoring chances-for percentage is the seventh-worst. Their .922 five-on-five save percentage is the league’s average but their 1.045 PDO is at the top of the NHL.
Capitals – Vitek Vanecek (10-5-3, .906 save percentage, 2.82 goals-against average), 25, and Ilya Samsonov (2-0-1, .877 save percentage, 2.87 goals-against average), 24. Vanecek was pulled 36:36 into the Capitals’ 7-4 loss to the Flyers in Washington after allowing four goals on 14 shots (.714 save percentage). Samsonov faced one shot in his lone career appearance against the Flyers, a relief appearance in favor of Braden Holtby in a 7-2 loss on February 8, 2020, where he played 11:58.
Flyers – Carter Hart (6-4-3, .893 save percentage, 3.49 goals-against average, one shutout), 22, and Brian Elliott (6-2-0, .919 save percentage, 2.37 goals-against average, two shutouts), 35. Hart made 33 saves in the Flyers’ 7-4 win in Washington last month and is 2-1-1 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average in four career games against the Capitals. Elliott is 10-7-0 with an .895 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average in 19 regular-season games against the Capitals.
By Harrison Brown