Usually when the Capitals and Flyers meet the game takes on a playoff type feel. The intensity is high, the skating is strong, and both teams physically pound each other. The home crowd also tends to get loud and involved in the game. On Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, that was not the case, for the most part. Philadelphia took advantage of Matt Hendricks overskating the puck at the Flyers blueline and then an overplay by goalie Michal Neuvirth to gain a 1-0 lead just 1:31 into the contest on Jeff Carter’s wraparound goal, then dominated the second period to increase their lead to 2-0, gave up two goals in 40 seconds on turnovers midway through the third period to let Washington back in the game, and then won it in overtime, 3-2, on an Andrej Meszaros blast. The loss drops the Caps overall record to 25-14-8 (58 points), one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who now lead the Southeast Division.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a mostly lethargic effort by Washington against the Eastern Conference leading and despised Flyers squad:
-The Caps were the better team for only about 20 minutes of the 61:07 of elapsed time. Washington played fairly well in the first 10 minutes, other than the Hendricks/Neuvirth gaffe, but failed to get an early lead or tie the game because they routinely overpassed the puck when in quality chance areas on the ice. After the first half of period one, the Caps took a 30 minute hiatus as the Flyers dominated the play and if not for Semyon Varlamov (20 saves on 22 shots), who came on in relief of an injured Neuvirth (7 saves on 8 shots) after the first period, this one would have been over after 40 minutes. But starting period three, the aggressive and tenacious Capitals squad that was expected to once again dominate the Eastern Conference, finally showed up forcing two key Flyers turnovers that allowed them to tie the game with 11:22 remaining. From there on out, though, the Capitals seemed content to try and take this tilt to overtime since they failed to generate much, if any, scoring opportunities after Alexander Ovechkin’s 16th goal knotted this one up.
– Just how bad were the Caps in those opening frames? After two periods the club only had 12 shots on goal. This low shot total was the result of a combination of overpassing the puck, getting shots blocked or firing them high, and not working hard. One indicator of a team’s work ethic is often evident in the faceoff statistics, especially with a usually good from the dot team like the Capitals, and in the middle stanza the Flyers won 13 of the 17 draws taken. The Caps looked disinterested for most of the first two periods and center Nicklas Backstrom noted after the game that his club needs to figure out how to be ready in each period.
“I thought it was a fast paced game and they came out harder than us. We played a better third period but it is not enough. We have to learn to how to be ready to play a 60 minute game and that is what we are not doing and that is a concern,” said the Swedish center who was taken with the 4th pick overall in the 2006 NHL Entry draft.
– Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau once again mixed up his line combinations at the start of the game in an effort to get a struggling offense going. Ovechkin started with rookie Marcus Johansson at center, and Brooks Laich on right wing. That line simply did not click and by the end of the second period Ovechkin was back with Backstrom as his center and Jason Chimera was inserted at right wing with that duo for the first time this season. The 8-19-25 line seemed to have instant chemistry and Chimera nearly scored near the end of the middle stanza after the Great #8 fed #25 the puck on the doorstep, only to be robbed by Sergei Bobrovsky (23 saves). I know that Boudreau is trying to get two lines going by splitting up his top two offensive players because it seems like a logical way to do that, but for some reason it just is not working. Both Backstrom and Ovechkin struggled when they were not playing together in this tilt but once they were reunited that line carried the play on the ice.
– As for Johansson (-2), this was not his best night. The young Swede did make a super play on the Caps first goal by using his speed to skate around the Flyers defense, then put a shot on Bobrovsky that he couldn’t handle, and Mike Knuble banged it home from the right post. However, MJ90 was on the ice for all three Philadelphia tallies. He was not at fault at all on the first one but on the second two I put the primary responsibility on Johansson. On the Flyers second tally he had a chance to take the puck away from Philadelphia on the left wing boards but he wasn’t strong enough to do so. As a result, the line of Jeff Carter, James Van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux was able to cycle the puck and it eventually came out to Giroux in the slot (Johansson’s man) and #28 fired a quality shot on Varly that #1 saved, but the rebound came right back to him and Giroux skated by Johannson to put the puck in the net past a sprawled Varlamov. But things would get worse for the young center, who once again struggled on faceoffs (3-6), in the overtime session. MJ90 was a part of the second group of forwards on the ice after Ovechkin and Backstrom started the OT. In the Caps zone he lost his man, Meszaros, because he drifted down low in the right wing circle allowing the former Ottawa Senator to receive a pass in the high slot and then blast one through traffic and by Varlamov to end the game. I think that Johansson is going to be a very good third line center in the future, but right now his inexperience and lack of size is a bad combination at times, and that is leading to his inconsistent play. The Caps are asking an awful lot of this rookie, primarily because they are so thin up the middle.
“There is a combination depending on how far back you want to go. Right at the goal, it’s 4 on 4, defensemen take the forwards and forwards take the defensemen. So Marcus got sucked in too deep so you had two guys going at whoever had the puck. That opens things up for Meszaros who is following up the play. You give him the puck and there is nobody to come and check him,” responded Boudreau when asked how the Flyers defenseman was so wide open on the winning tally.
– There was only one power play in this contest and it went to the Flyers in the first period after Dave Steckel was called for hooking. Philadelphia did not convert on the man advantage. Referees Dave Jackson and Dennis LaRue pretty much put away their whistles and let the guys play. About the only complaint I had was that they missed Ovechkin getting hit in the face by an errant Flyers high stick.
“I think [the referees] did a good job and if we could have been skating in the first and second period maybe we would have a [power play] too,” added Backstrom on the officiating.
– On the team’s style of play, Boudreau said that the Caps “opened it up a bit in the third period” because they were down two goals. He said a “lack of firepower” prevented him from doing that sooner and that his club “played defensive minded from the start but it was tough when they got down in the opening minutes.” Clearly the offensive drought that is exacerbated by Alexander Semin’s injury and a hole at second line center is preventing the team from playing more “run and gun” or aggressive hockey. Unfortunately, when the team starts thinking defense too much, their offensive opportunities drastically diminish, and the iterative process has resulted in much lower goal production for the Caps (Washington has scored four or more goals just once in the last 17 games).
– In summary, the Caps didn’t put out a great effort tonight and are pretty lucky to have gained a point in the standings. Boudreau, who seemed very displeased with his club after the game, told the media that he did not say anything to his team immediately following the game and that he would talk to them at practice on Wednesday. I imagine the words from the bench boss will not be pleasant and we will see how the squad responds on Thursday night when they take on the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.
Notes: Boudreau said that Neuvirth was day to day with his injury (lower body, likely a groin)…the Caps lost 31 of the 51 draws in this contest. Mathieu Perreault was 6-0 while Backstrom was a pitiful 5-14…Chimera had six shots on net and five of them came when he was put on the top unit…DJ King saw his first action in over a month and played just 4:24. He did fight Flyers tough guy Jody Shelley, and in my book, won a close bout…key players for both teams missed the contest. Chris Pronger on the blue line for the Flyers and right wing Semin for Washington…forward Andrew Gordon was reassigned to Hershey today.