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.
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)
7 p.m. ET, NBCSWA, NHL.TV
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
9-Dmitry Orlov -- 2-Matt Niskanen
44-Brooks Orpik -- 3-Nick Jensen
Scratched: Nic Dowd, Dmitrij Jaskin, Christian Djoos
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
9-Ivan Provorov -- 6-Travis Sanheim
8-Robert Hägg -- 3-Radko Gudas
53-Shayne Gostisbehere -- 61-Phil Myers
Suspensions: Jake Voracek (suspension)
Injuries: Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury)
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Caps-Flyers: How to Watch
- Prospect Report: Analyzing what little we know about Alexeyev's injury
- Caps Mailbag: Why Hagelin and Jensen have fit in so seamlessly