For as positive a week as the Capitals have had, it made sense to expect some sort of letdown on Tuesday against the Flyers.
Instead, they handed out a beating not seen in Capital One Arena since Alex Ovechkin was 22-years-old.
In a 9-2 whipping of the Flyers, the Capitals avoided what looked to be a prime spot for a dip in play, especially after three-straight wins over playoff teams and a matchup with another upcoming on Thursday.
“More important right now for us than wins is how we play the game, and with Philly’s record maybe you would think that we would take it a little lightly,” T.J. Oshie said. “But they’ve played us really well this year. They beat us twice, I think, and they were very physical in those games, had a really good forecheck and worked hard against us. So I don’t think anyone in there was taking it lightly.”
The Capitals, fresh off wins against the Lightning, Penguins and Bruins, didn’t leave much to the imagination against the Flyers. They scored three times in the first period, twice in the second and four times in the third as fans in the arena chanted, ‘We want 10!’ in the game’s final moments.
With just nine games left before the postseason begins, the focus, as Oshie mentioned, is on finishing the stretch out by playing the best hockey they can.
“I know the score was 9-2, but we came downtown here to play a game and play hard,” Oshie said. “It didn’t matter who we were playing against, and that’s very important for us going forward. It doesn’t matter what happens, who we’re playing. If guys make mistakes, guys know we have a new standard that we’ve set recently here that we have to live up to each night.”
Even in the Capitals’ wins in the last three games, they’ve been able to avoid early letdowns and have never trailed in two of them.
“I thought the guys did a good job coming out and playing strong in the beginning,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Philadelphia's still a good hockey team and if you don't prepare to do the right things, then oftentimes you don't. It was one of those catch games where you've got three teams that are in the top of the league and you look at the standings, but you know they're still a good team.”
There will be more letdown spots in the next weeks, as a game against the Maple Leafs is followed by a game against the Canadiens. That is followed by games against the Avalanche and Golden Knights, only to end the upcoming five-game road trip with the Coyotes. Then, when the Capitals return, they’ll have the Maple Leafs waiting for them once again.
Only now, there are serious playoff implications to consider.
The Capitals trail the Penguins by three points with two games in hand, and with a strong finish to the year, can finish as the Metropolitan Division’s third seed and avoid the top-seeded Panthers.
In order to do that, though, they’ll need to avoid trap games just like they did Tuesday.
“We'd love to move up the standings and chase higher,” Laviolette said. “I think the bigger picture is to continue to try and play well. And so that's four games in a row where we've done the right things and made good decisions through the neutral zone and established an identity in the offensive zone and been pretty tight defensively. That's really the objective. With that, you hope to keep winning games and moving up the standings.”