The Capitals seemed as though they had high levels of swagger coming into Tuesday night’s match against the Flyers, winning two in a row and having beaten the Flyers 5-2 earlier in the year. However, Philadelphia dominated the Caps, winning 5-1 in Washington. With the Caps going on the road for Thursday’s game against the Jets, and so many tough goals allowed, it seemed to be just “one of those games” where the opposition got the best of the home team.
The Flyers and Caps seemed toe-to-toe in gameplay until with about over three minutes to go, Scott Hartnell, who had scored in each of Philly’s victories, dribbled a puck through Tomas Vokoun’s five-hole and got the Flyers the lead. Washington escaped the first period down 1-0 and still appeared in the game, but after goal no. 2, it seemed about over.
The second period featured three unanswered goals, and a final goal was scored in the third. Only with over three minutes left in the final period did the Caps get one on the board, as Jeff Halpern found the answer to getting past Ilya Bryzgalov. Yet, that was all Washington could muster, going down by four goals in front of a home crowd at Verizon that dwindled rapidly within the final 20 minutes.
With all the momentum from the last two victories the Caps’ mustered, this loss was a head-scratcher for a few reasons:
- Facing Elite Teams — The Caps can’t seem to battle with the elite teams. While the Caps twice beat the Senators and pushed around a Leafs team that was struggling with secondary scoring, they couldn’t beat a team that led the Eastern Conference in the Flyers. With many picking Washington to win the Stanley Cup this year, or at least making the playoffs, the only way they would make a deep run in the least would be to start winning against teams with some pedigree, especially when they have so many key injuries coming into the game eg. Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger.
- Failed Physical Play — Washington gets out-muscled easily: The Caps seem to rely on two things mainly: their ability to score and their ability to play physically. When they can’t score, they try to get back within games by out-hitting opponents and trying to win puck battles. However, when they are losing physically as well, they seem to get off of their game. The same thing happened against the Blues: Washington was able to hang with St. Louis through a period and a half, but after a while, the Blues’ physical presence beat out the Caps’, wearing them down and giving the Blues more opportunities to work with and leaving the Caps’ with less. Against the Flyers, while Philadelphia did not out-hit them, they won the puck battles from the second period on, and were able to get in good positioning for pucks. With Washington not going for them physically as much, the Flyers were able to get those spots to tip in shots and gain more scoring chances than the Caps.
- Where Was the Goaltending? — When a team’s defense is failing, at time, their goaltending needs to come through to steal games. Vokoun did not do this in the least for the Capitals Tuesday evening against the Flyers. While goals two, three and four were primarily tip-ins for Philadelphia, Vokoun did not do much to stop the very first one, which trickled in through the five-hole, putting the Caps’ down early against the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers. Goalies must save games for teams, and Vokoun hasn’t been able to do that one more than one occasion for Washington. Michal Neuvirth, who is statistically the worst goaltender in the NHL, came in the third period and allowed a goal, but with the road game on Thursday and Vokoun’s poor performance to help his team against the Flyers, Neuvirth may get the start and a chance to show his true abilities with an improved squad in front of him against the Winnipeg Jets.
Going on the road, the Caps will need to play differently, as they learned on their trip to Ottawa where they defeated the Senators 5-3. With better goaltending, balance, and real confidence, the Caps should be able to mentally erase their showing against the Flyers on 24/7 cameras. Still, this is most likely part of the learning process under Dale Hunter, and figuring out how to win big games under his command and direction. While Washington showed promising signs of improvement the last few games, the Caps still have progress to make and it will still require patience from observers of the team, including those who left Verizon oh-so early after a losing effort.
If it helps to know, Alex Semin, who many have criticized lately, had probably the most solid game with some great scoring chances, including a few chances with some dekes around Flyers’ defenders and some opportunities in front of the net, three shots and five — yes, FIVE — hits on the night. The next player was Alex Ovechkin, who had led his team to some solid play lately with his play away from the puck, but could not generate so much tonight.
Notes: Matt Hendricks was out against with a nagging knee injury… Jeff Schultz was, once again, a healthy scratch… Mike Green sought a specialist today for his groin injury.