With no Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, or Jason Arnott in the lineup on Tuesday night, it was going to be a very tough chore for the Washington Capitals to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, who were also without Chris Pronger, in their own barn. Thanks to some pretty poor Philly goaltending though, the Capitals managed to jump to a 3-0 lead, totally gave it away with some listless play, then rallied late to tie it on a Marcus Johansson rocket, and won, 5-4, in the gimmick when all three Caps shooters beat Brian Boucher, who replaced an awful Sergei Bobrovsky early in period two. The Capitals left town pretty much “stealing” two points and with the Tampa Bay Lightning losing at home to the New York Islanders, 5-2, Washington now has a seven point lead in the Southeast Division with eight games remaining (the Bolts have a game in hand). Overall the Caps improve to 43-21-10 (96 points) and they are just a single point behind the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are the highlights and analysis of the fourth straight overtime game the Caps and Flyers have played this season (both teams won two):
- Any of you who listened to my segment with Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman over at Japers Rink Radio a few Saturday’s back know that I was not high at all on the Flyers because of their weak goaltending. Tonight’s performances by Bobrovsky (6 saves on 9 shots) and then Boucher (13 saves on 14 shots but 0 stops in the shootout) only solidified my opinion of that club. Philadelphia has some serious talent up front, but if their goalies continue to resemble the “Shooter Tutor” they are gonna be golfing come late April.
- On the flip side, Michal Neuvirth (29 saves on 33 shots) didn’t have his best game but he battled hard behind a Capitals team that seemed to lose their legs for large stretches of this contest. #30 also benefitted from a couple of Flyers shots off of the iron. In the end he managed to be the last goalie standing and he is making his pitch to be the number one goalie come playoff time for Washington.
- The best two forwards for Washington in this game were Mike “Fountain of Youth” Knuble (1 goal, 2 assists, +2) and Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist, +2). #22 is coming on strong in March like he historically has done and he did not look like a 38 year old player in this tilt. Knuble totally outworked Sean O’Donnell on the Caps second goal and on the game tying tally, he was really strong down low on the boards and found MJ90 wide open in the very high slot. Johansson just continues to amaze me. A 20 year old kid in his first year in North America should logically be hitting the wall right now but that is not the case with the young Swede. He is clearly a very smart young man as he continues to get better and better and his skating ability is out of this world. He is so smooth and fast. I like the way he’s gotten stronger below the circles and he is starting to fire the puck, and we saw tonight on the fourth goal how good his shot can be. Kudos to MJ90 because I am not sure where the Capitals are this last month or so if he hadn’t taken his game to the elite level while Nicklas Backstrom and Arnott have alternated being out of the lineup at center.
- Jason Chimera, (1 assist, +2) who played with Knuble and Johansson, had his best game in a long time. He was one of the few Capitals forwards who was physical. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist, -1) had a mixed bag of a game as did Brooks Laich (1 assist, -1) but I blame that on the completely uninspired play of Alexander Semin (0 points, -1). #28 was pretty much taken out of this game early by Philadelphia with some rough play and as a result, Semin rarely battled hard for the puck like he can when he is motivated. He took a careless double minor, only had three shots on goal, and his terrible shift late in period two led to the second Flyers goal, which gave them tons of momentum going into period three. Semin was awful except for the shootout, where fittingly, he was the one to score last and give Washington the victory. Sasha, plain and simple, you need to be better going forward (I would wager that Arnott tells #28 that next time he sees him).
- Flyers captain Mike Richards had 0 shots on goal in 20 plus minutes of action. In a stat that is directly related to the line on Richards, Caps first year defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson played 26:15 and 27:19, respectively, and were not on the ice for a goal against. That is some impressive work from what has become a shut down d-pair for Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.
- Despite being out played for much of this game, the Capitals should feel pretty good about some things tonight. They won without three of their best players, they are now 3-1 two-thirds of the way through a very tough six game road trip, and most importantly, when Philadelphia went up 4-3 late they did not quit, they came back strong and found a way to win. That to me was the biggest takeaway from this contest, that the Caps are a much more resilient squad than last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winning crew. Washington looked dead to rights in this contest when the Flyers made it 4-3, but Boudreau’s club didn’t feel sorry for themselves and grinded out two points.
Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle, 31-24, but Jay Beagle was 5-1…Caps d-man Dennis Wideman (1 goal, -1, in 24:20) was on the ice for every goal scored for both teams…Eric Fehr, who returned after missing two games due to an upper body injury, played only 9:26 and likely was injured again. He had just a single shift after the first 40 minutes…the Caps, who led 2-0 after period one, are now 17-1-5 when leading after the first 20 minutes this season…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, followed by a date with the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. Ovechkin, Arnott, and Green likely won’t play in any of those games.