Capitals, Flyers Third Matchup Preview

Flyers correspondent Justin Johnson and I have a joint article since the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers play each other Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. A longtime rivalry between the two teams, as the Caps and Flyers were once Patrick Division foes, the intensity between the two teams continues in the present day. With this in mind, here’s how Justin and I expect this match to go down starting with some background:

Backstrom and Briere for the faceoff (Tom Turk/THW)

Why the Capitals Won the First Matchup:

AL: Coming into the first matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers on November 7, the Capitals had three consecutive wins, and the Flyers came in with six straight wins. Because of the high level of hockey both teams were playing at the time, this game wasn’t easy for either team, but the eventual victor would be Washington by the score of 3-2.

Even though the Flyers scored first, Washington was able to respond before the end of the first period and hang with the Flyers as the two teams alternated between scoring throughout the game. However, the momentum shifted in the Capitals’ favor once they were awarded with a 5-on-3 power play (which included a double-minor for high sticking on Flyers’ defenseman Chris Pronger). The 5-on-3 carried over into overtime and Caps’ defenseman Mike Green scored the game-winner from the point with the 5-on-4 remaining for Washington.

A sort of sub-storyline to the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Flyers was the Capitals’ third line’s ability to grind and move the puck along the boards. Their work to set up plays and clear the zone quickly allowed for Washington’s top line to come out on line changes and continue the pace of play.

Late penalties on the Flyers, cohesiveness on all of the Capitals players and two goals from a clicking power play unit gave Washington the victory in the first match over Philadelphia.

Caps' Laich goes down on top of Flyers' Boucher (Tom Turk/THW)

Why the Flyers Won the Second Matchup:

JJ: The last time the Flyers played the Washington Capitals on November 20th, they outlasted the Capitals in overtime at the Verizon Center and picked up the 5-4 victory. Unlike the first meeting of the season in DC, the Flyers pretty much deserved to win this game.

Philadelphia had matched the Capitals with a strong road effort. The defense could have been tighter as the Flyers allowed 37 shots, but Peter Laviolette was happy with the effort and the improved effort after the last flat effort there earlier in the year where the Flyers were heavily outshot and outworked. The Flyers were also very undisciplined in the game taking way too many penalties. This caused the Flyers to almost blow the game in the 3rd period. This is something that has gotten better as of late and the Flyers hope to keep that going. Defense and staying out of the box are two things that Peter Laviolette is known for prioritizing. However, the Flyers got the win in the last key matchup vs. the Caps on the road and their resiliency proved to be the difference in that game bouncing back with the OT goal.

Keys to winning:

JJ: What has been a key for the Flyers lately will continue to be a key in this game tomorrow against the Capitals. And that key is scoring. The Flyers offense has been on a tear lately and that is a product mostly of the Ville Leino-Danny Briere-Scott Hartnell line. These guys are an insane +56 combined on the season, led by Ville Leino in +/- with a +23. Briere has had some really good games against the Capitals since joining the Flyers for the 2007-08 season and I expect that to continue heading into this matchup. . After a bit of a tough stretch, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are quietly having very solid seasons and are back to making plays recently. The confidence level coming into a game like this is huge.

While the Caps haven’t been themselves lately, they’re still a very solid roster so the Flyers will need to be ready to play and generate offense to try to get an early advantage. The last time the Flyers played the Capitals back in November, the Flyers defensive core was still feeling it’s way into things with a lot of the new pieces the Flyers had added in the

The Caps score against the Flyers in the Nov. 7 game (Tom Turk/THW)

offseason. It really improved after that stretch and was solid up until Pronger’s injury. Chris Pronger will be back soon, but not for this game against Washington as he’s not quite ready yet. The Flyers will need a strong performance like the one they got in Atlanta the other night, and not one like they got against the Bruins earlier in the week.

Without knowing who will get the start, I will say that I’m confident that either Brian Boucher or Sergei Bobrovsky will make the saves they need to make and it’s going to come down to the Flyers defense. I have a gut feeling it may be Bobrovsky who has 69 total saves in his last couple games with a .942 save percentage. Either way, don’t look for the Flyers goalies to be the reason they lose the game.

AL: Washington will have to take what worked in their comeback win on Sunday at home against the Ottawa Senators to Philadelphia for tonight’s game against the Flyers. The Capitals continue to be an enigma, as I have said all year long. Some games the offense will show up, some games it won’t. In some games the Caps’ defense will create opportunities for scoring, and other games, it won’t be able to do enough in those respects. I wish it was as easy to say what Washington does best as it is to describe with the Flyers do best.

However, what the Caps will need to have here is what they had in the very first game against Philadelphia. All lines will need to coalesce and set the tone very early on to make the hyped-up Philadelphia-crowd simmer down a little and make the Flyers force their way up the ice through Washington’s much-improved defense. On the road, the Caps have allowed 2.85 goals per game on the road this season, compared  to the 2.95 goals they allowed on the road in 2009-10.

To go along with the Capitals’ lines coming together, as simple as it may be, the Caps just need to play the game and take shots. Most of what seems to be the issue is their tendencies to try and force plays and force their ways out of slumps (namely, we are looking at players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom). As with the Flyers, the Caps have an above-average goaltending tandem in Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov (based on Neuvirth winning Sunday, he most likely will get the start) behind the Caps’ strong defense and penalty-killing core, the key will be whether the Caps’ offense can turn itself on against a formidable opponent like the Flyers, especially with out Pronger in the lineup.

Flyers Boucher ready to make a save

Closing Comments:

JJ: The Flyers are on a roll lately, and the Capitals have played so-so. The Flyers will need to bring their A game and do everything I mentioned to win, but they have to expect to win this one, even without Pronger. The Flyers played horribly against Washington last year and with the team adjustments they made and buying into Laviolette’s system, their two efforts in Washington this year were much improved. Look for the Flyers to take the upper hand tomorrow.

AL: Since the Capitals last played the Flyers, the two teams have gone through opposite scenarios: The Flyers have moved on and continued to excel and remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, seldom giving up the lead to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are currently three points behind Philadelphia. The Capitals, however, have seemed to have hit a block in the road since their 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on November 19. Since then, consistent results have been rare for them, and so has offensive production, especially on the road. This game will be tough to win on the road against the Eastern Conference leading Flyers, but the Caps are more than capable of pulling off the victory.


Caps celebrate Semin's goal 11/7 (Tom Turk/THW)

JJ: I think the Flyers will win this game 3-2 in regulation. Due to the strong play of the goaltending lately on both sides, I don’t see this as one of the classic high scoring games the Flyers have had with the Caps in the past. However, I do think the rolling offense and the production of the Briere line will be the difference. I see them getting a couple early goals on the Capitals defense and goaltending and being able to hang on for the victory. And just a quick note to the readers, Capitals writer Angie Lewis refused to bet something on the game with me, possible having to wear a Flyers article should the Capitals lose this game. The keys to the game lean in the Flyers’ favor, too!

AL: Flyers correspondent Justin Johnson states that the Flyers will win 3-2 in regulation. I have the same score and result, except I think this will go to overtime or a shootout. While the Capitals have struggled with consistency and producing offense, their defense and goaltending should be able to hold the Flyers to two goals in regulation. The Caps are not that far off from the Flyers in terms of points and even in the caliber of play, especially since Washington has become better defensively – that is, if the Capitals can get all things clicking at the same time as they did in the first matchup between the two teams. On Justin’s note about the bet, it is true that I did not agree to go through with it, but I fully expect him to wear a piece of Capitals paraphernalia if the Caps do win!