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Against red-hot Flyers, Capitals need to prove they can put teams away for good

Against red-hot Flyers, Capitals need to prove they can put teams away for good

PHILADELPHIA – Fast starts have been no problem for the Capitals against the Philadelphia Flyers in two games this season. 

Tom Wilson scored in the first five minutes of a Jan. 8 win and in the first six minutes of a March 6 victory just last week. Washington went up 5-0 in that game, which quickly became a laugher. 

Things aren’t always what they seem, however. The Capitals got sloppy in that win at Wells Fargo Center last week. The home crowd was booing the Flyers off the ice – until a goal with 12 seconds left in the second period. And then another 10 seconds into the third period by Claude Giroux. The score was an uncomfortable 5-3 with over 12 minutes to play and the crowd was back in it before Washington settled down and held on for the win.  

On Thursday back in Philadelphia, the Capitals will try to get off to another fast start and keep it going this time when the team have their third meeting of the season (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That was an issue when a 2-0 lead got away from Washington on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh with three goals coming in a span of 1:48. That happened earlier in the year, too, in an overtime loss to San Jose when the game-tying goal came just before the buzzer and a blown 5-1 lead against the Anaheim Ducks in December. 

Any team can handle losses they should have won. It’s harder to take when it is in control of those games and has done the right things to build a lead. The Capitals didn’t pay for their sloppiness against the Flyers last week. They did against Pittsburgh. It’s time to stop letting points get away with the Metropolitan Division so tight. 

Washington (41-22-7, 89 points) had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday. The New York Islanders (40-22-7, 87 points) are still nipping at their heels. The Penguins (38-23-9, 85 points) cut the deficit to four points. They are in third. The Carolina Hurricanes (38-24-7, 83 points) are right in the mix for a playoff spot and play the Capitals twice later in the month. The Columbus Blue Jackets (39-28-3, 81 points) aren’t out of it, either. 

As for the Flyers (34-27-8, 76 points), they were left for dead months ago. That loss to Washington on January 8 put them at a record of 15-22-0-6 for 36 points. Philadelphia was briefly 31st in the NHL and 15 points out of a playoff spot. Since then, it has gone 19-5-0-2 for 40 points in 26 games. From Jan. 9 to March 13, the Flyers were tied for third in the league in points, tied for second in wins, tied for fifth in goals (93) and seventh in goals against (71). 

They are not a team to be trifled with or not taken seriously. Plus rookie phenom Carter Hart, who helped fuel that resurgence, returns from an ankle injury tonight to start in goal. Philadelphia is five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand and 13 games to go. This is its last shot. The Capitals can expect a fiery, desperate team that thought it was out of it, but still has some hope. The home crowd will play into that. Washington will need a fast start – or at least weather one from the Flyers, who will treat this as a playoff game.   

Holtby in again

No surprise, Braden Holtby starts again for Washington. This is his ninth in the past 11 games. In the previous eight Holtby has a .922 save percentage. He and Hart share a sports psychologist in John Stephenson. Holtby personally thanked Stephenson during his post-Stanley Cup interview with Scott Oake of the CBC after the Caps won the Cup in Vegas on June 7.

Changes

Minor tweaks to the lineup after the seven-game losing streak. Chandler Stephenson replaces Nic Dowd at center. Stephenson likes that he’s back at his natural position. It’s a little more comfortable than playing on the wing. But he just wants to be back in the lineup. Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he needed to get Stephenson into a game. He hasn’t played since a Feb. 23 loss to Buffalo. Otherwise the lineup remains the same. Stephenson centers Travis Boyd and Andre Burakovsky.    

Capitals (41-22-7, 89) at Flyers (34-27-8, 76 points)
March 14
7 p.m. ET, NBCSWA, NHL.TV

 
Capitals
Forwards

8-Alex Ovechkin -- 92-Evgeny Kuznetsov -- 43-Tom Wilson
13-Jakub Vrana -- 19-Nicklas Backstrom -- 77-T.J. Oshie
62-Carl Hagelin -- 20-Lars Eller -- 10-Brett Connolly
65-Andre Burakovsky -- 18-Chandler Stephenson -- 72-Travis Boyd
6-Michal Kempny -- 74- John Carlson

Defensemen
9-Dmitry Orlov -- 2-Matt Niskanen
44-Brooks Orpik -- 3-Nick Jensen 

Goalies
70-Braden Holtby
1-Pheonix Copley

Scratched: Nic Dowd, Dmitrij Jaskin, Christian Djoos
Injuries: None

 
Flyers
Forwards
23-Oskar Lindblom -- 14-Sean Couturier -- 28-Claude Giroux
25-James van Riemsdyk -- 19-Nolan Patrick -- 11-Travis Konecny
12-Michael Raffl -- 21-Scott Laughton -- 38-Ryan Hartman
44-Phil Varone -- 10-Corban Knight -- 27-Justin Bailey

Defense
9-Ivan Provorov -- 6-Travis Sanheim
8-Robert Hägg -- 3-Radko Gudas
53-Shayne Gostisbehere -- 61-Phil Myers

Goalies
79-Carter Hart
37-Brian Elliott

Suspensions: Jake Voracek (suspension) 
Injuries: Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury)

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T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

300 games. 108 goals. 108 assists.

Just so you're tracking, those are T.J. Oshie's stats through 300 games as a member of the Washington Capitals.

In an outstanding 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers, Oshie scored two power play goals. It was the second time in his career that Oshie recorded two such goals.

Another shot on goal — he had four in the game — would have put him at a nice-and-even 620 during his tenure with the Capitals, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

The statistical-evenness is certainly satisfying, but even if you're not a fan of quirky stats, the man has logged 216 points in 300 games. That's pretty darn good.

T.J. Oshie will seek to continue putting up great numbers as the Capitals embark on a two-week road trip. Their first stop will be Sunday in Chicago for a showdown against the Blackhawks.

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A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

It took six months of toil and effort for Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny to make it back to an NHL game. 

He last played March 20 when a torn hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ended his season just a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. That was brutal. 

A spring to heal after surgery, a summer to rehab the injury and weeks getting back in hockey shape were the steep price paid. And then it took him all of 15 minutes to score his first goal on Friday in a game against the New York Rangers. Welcome back, Michal. 

“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”

It was an organizational project. Kempny meant so much to Washington during its Stanley Cup run of 2018. The Capitals felt his absence on the top pair with John Carlson during the first-round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden credited team trainers Jason Servis and Mike Booi and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish with putting Kempny in position to return early in the season.  

“Six months of investment of their time to get him back,” Reirden said. “I thought Michal looked really good.”

The goal came at 15:16 of the first period and gave Washington a 2-1 lead. Kempny jumped onto a loose pucked batted around by teammate Alex Ovechkin, quickly corralled it and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the goal. It was a pretty play and another indication that Capitals' defensemen are taking chances when they see them on the offensive end. 

In his first game back, Kempny had 14:24 of ice time. That’s about the goal the Capitals had in mind for him. He started on the third pair with fellow Czech Radko Gudas, but also played 3:42 with Carlson, who mobbed Kempny after his goal and gave him a celebratory facewash with his glove. They’re happy to have him back. 

“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said. “I was just excited.”

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