Flyers-Capitals 5 things: All cards stacked heavily against Flyers

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: All cards stacked heavily against Flyers

Flyers (30-26-7) at Capitals (43-13-7)
7:30 p.m. on CSN, and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7

The Flyers take their two-game winning streak to the nation's capital where they face the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

Here are five things to know for the game.

1. Scene of the crime
The Flyers return to the arena where they were embarrassed before their NHL mandated bye week.

Back on Jan. 15, the Capitals bombarded the Flyers with four goals in five minutes of the third period to turn a competitive 1-0 game into a 5-0 laugher.

It sent the Flyers off into the break with a nasty taste in their mouths.

And they still have it.

"When a team beats you up like that, it doesn't matter who it is, it's in the back of your mind," Brandon Manning said Friday. "It even goes back to last year in the playoffs."

2. Added ammunition
As if the Capitals weren't loaded enough, they went out and acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues at the trade deadline.

The 2015 All-Star joins the league's stoutest defense and brings 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) to the table, tied for the fifth most among NHL blueliners.

So, yes, Washington just got better.

The Capitals are 23-4-2 since New Year's Eve, a stretch in which they've scored 117 markers and yielded 58, a goal differential of plus-59.

Oh, and they're also riding a franchise-record 14-game home winning streak.

3. Net gain?
Steve Mason said there were no contract talks with the Flyers leading up to the deadline. The team then went out and re-signed Michal Neuvirth to a multi-year extension.

Both were set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Neuvirth no longer is, while his goalie partner looks destined for the market.

Maybe this was the motivation Mason needed for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. A day after the deadline passed, the 28-year-old delivered 39 saves in a 2-1 shootout win over the Panthers.

Mason, who is 2-0-0 with 72 saves on 73 shots his last two games, will receive his third straight start on Saturday.

"I didn't really plan on negotiating until the summer," Mason said Friday. "And this summer, I'll be a free agent. I'm not sure I'm in their plans here.

"For me, my job is to get this team in the playoffs and that's my sole focus right now. If I can finish strong here, summertime will take care of itself."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Valtteri Filppula had a very positive and impactful Flyers debut. He worked well with Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn. Let's see if he can be a difference-maker against high-powered Washington.

Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is pointless over his past four games, tied for his longest skid of the season. You know that won't continue through Saturday on home ice, so expect a bang from the big Russian.

5. This and that
• Mason is 9-6-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 18 career games against the Capitals.

• Washington goalie Braden Holtby is 33-8-5 with a 1.91 goals-against average and eight shutouts -- both best in the NHL.

Travis Konecny will return to the lineup after missing nine games with an ankle and knee injury.

• Capitals forward T.J. Oshie will be back in the lineup after missing four games with an upper-body injury.

Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

AP Images

Flyers defenseman grades and lookahead part 1 — The young guns

2017-18 was a season of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the Flyers defense core will look like over the next few years. 

Shayne Gostisbehere
Regular season: A-
Playoffs: D     

Gostisbehere’s season took off when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the second half of the season. His defensive stickwork and positioning improved significantly and he even developed a physical side at times. Had a terrible six-game playoff against the Pens forcing Dave Hakstol to break up his top pair. Interestingly, his goal production dipped as the powerplay struggled. Ghost scored five goals in December, or the same number from January through April.  

2018-19 outlook
Enters the second year of his 6-year, $27-million dollar extension he signed last summer. A deal that looks very team friendly comparative to the other contracts of players his age. I expect Ghost to start next season on the top pair with Provorov after showing great improvements in the defensive side of his game. 

Robert Hagg
Regular season: B-
Playoffs: Incomplete

Surprisingly solid while playing in the Flyers' first 70 games of the season. A strong physical presence that still needed work positionally as he hit a wall midseason. Didn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch over the final month of the regular season, but the Flyers liked what they saw out of Travis Sanheim throughout March and refused to break up the Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas pairing. Only played the final two games of the playoffs.  

2018-19 outlook
A restricted free agent, Hagg should get a two- to three-year deal for next season and should start the season out of camp. Playing three seasons in the AHL was a significant part of Hagg’s development and he should comprise one of the Flyers' three defense pairings next season. 

Ivan Provorov
Regular season: A
Playoffs: C+  

When asked to assess his season, Provorov said there were three to five games during the regular season. where he didn’t play like himself. He experienced some puck-handling struggles during the second half, but nothing that impaired the team defensively. He suffers the occasional bad read or breakdown in his own end, but the Flyers are blessed that Provorov hasn’t been forced to miss any time over his first two seasons. A shoulder separation was a tough way to end the season (see story).

2018-19 outlook
Provorov is the workhorse on the blue line after displaying an immunity to the sophomore slump. Can he expand on his offensive numbers and potentially reach the 20-goal mark? If so, Provorov’s third NHL season could be the year he enters the Norris Trophy discussion.   

Travis Sanheim
Regular season: C
Playoffs: B-

Sanheim looked like a different player once he returned to the team from Lehigh Valley on March 10, with four points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games back. He started seeing the ice much better and making the smart, low-risk plays that the coaching staff was looking for out of a young player. Did not look out place throughout the first four games of the Flyers' first-round series. Unfortunately, his best game was part of a 5-1 loss in Game 4.    

2018-19 outlook 
With one more season remaining on his entry-level contract, Sanheim will be expected to make the season-opening roster straight out of training camp. He should be paired with a steady veteran while also seeing time on the second power-play unit.

In Friday's Part 2, we will look at Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

VOORHEES, N.J. — There were so many, Wayne Simmonds even lost track.

"I actually forgot about that one," he said with a laugh.

The Flyers' power forward was referring to the torn ligament in his thumb, the lone injury to declare victory with Simmonds this season.

And don't think he didn't have his battles.

As Simmonds sat down at his end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday, the list of injuries could have unrolled from his chair and out the door.

With some picking and prodding, one by one he ran them off.

In total?

A tear in his pelvic area, fractured ankle, pulled groin, busted mouth (twice) and the torn ligament in his thumb.

Simmonds missed only seven games in 2017-18, with the thumb finally dragging the unbreakable man off the ice.

Call him crazy, call him naïve, but don't question his dedication or toughness.

"I think for me, I don't know if it's the right thing, but I can't not play," Simmonds said. "It's just geared in my head to where if I'm not dead or I'm not deathly sick, I'm going to try and get out there and do whatever I can. Whether the coach is going to play me, or whatever minutes he wanted to play me, that was up to him. I'm definitely going to sacrifice my body for the team, that's for sure."

The trigger to the mess came well before his season-opening hat trick. Simmonds' pelvic tear was diagnosed in training camp, an injury he believes was suffered prior to report day.

"But I had no idea," Simmonds said. "You start doing all the skate testing and everything like that, and you find out pretty quickly."

The 29-year-old, coming off back-to-back 30-plus-goal seasons, was then faced with a dilemma. Surgery to repair the tear was an option, but that meant missing a month to a month and a half of action.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do," Simmonds said. "I thought I'd be able to play through it and do a decently good job. I didn't play up to my expectations this year. It was a very frustrating year. Things didn't go the way I wanted but if I can play, I'm going to play."

The decision boiled down to something pretty simple.

"They showed me the MRI and I was like, 'Can I play?'" Simmonds said. "Yeah, I can play."

The problem was the injury brought side effects.

"Having that, that leaves other things," Simmonds said. "Your body is overcompensating and other stuff starts breaking down. It wasn't good."

Because of it, Simmonds said he then pulled his groin in October before fracturing his ankle not long after following a power-play shot to the foot.

"It kind of just broke," Simmonds said. "It wasn't a weight-bearing bone, so you're still able to play with that."

However, he wasn't able to play from Feb. 20 to March 4. He also underwent serious dental work in February.

In all, it sounded like hell.

"When everything's piling on top of one another, it sucks," he said.

Simmonds finished the regular season with 24 goals, 22 assists and a minus-16 rating in 75 games. During the first-round playoff exit to the Penguins, he had two assists in six games.

He seldom looked like himself.

"That was the biggest thing. It didn't allow me to have the power I usually have," Simmonds said. "It was extremely frustrating. Obviously you want to be able to do something and you're able to do it usually, and then your brain is telling your body to do it and your body's not doing it."

Simmonds, who said surgery on his pelvis is likely, now faces an offseason in which he's eligible for an extension starting July 1 ahead of his 2018-19 contract year.

"I know this year wasn't ideal for me and they probably didn't see from me what was required for an extension," Simmonds said. "This is definitely where I want to be.

"This is where I want to be for the rest of my career."

Banged up or not.