The Washington Capitals clinched the President’s Trophy before any other Eastern Conference team clinched a spot in the playoffs. Alexander Ovechkin leads the league in goals while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom join him in the top 15 in scoring. Barry Trotz is the favorite to win the Jack Adams and goalie Braden Holtby will be in the Vezina discussion – and that’s exactly the team the Philadelphia Flyers should want to play in the first round of the playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Flyers won one of their biggest games of the season in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Capitals. The win put them two points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for the final spot in the East with one game in hand.
The win wasn’t totally convincing; the Flyers needed a shootout to get the extra point and the Capitals rang a couple off the post that could have turned the ending their way, but it did show Philly can skate with the top team in the league – and in some occasions pull out a win.
The two teams have played each other four times this year with the series split. However, the Flyers needed extra time in both of their wins. It’s also worth noting, one of the Capitals’ wins came on Nov. 12, two days before Shayne Gostisbehere was called up, and incidentally the day Mark Streit was injured which forced Philadelphia’s hand in the roster move. We’ve all seen what Gostisbehere has done for the Flyers’ lineup in four months this year.
But it’s not the records that show why Philly should want Washington. The Flyers have played a style that is able to get under the Caps’ skin.
The Capitals like to play a north-south flying game. Yes, that’s changed a bit under Trotz but they still are at their best when the team is skating fast and confusing defenders. Dave Hakstol’s system of clogging the neutral zone and the Flyers’ physical style has been able to slow down Washington in three of their games so far this year.
It’s also likely that the Flyers are in the Capitals’ heads a little bit this season. Veteran Jason Chimera risked taking a penalty to give Gostisbehere this cheap shot in Wednesday’s game:
The Other Matchups
The Flyers are most likely to finish in the last Wild Card spot should they make the postseason. The only Metropolitan team they could realistically catch is the New York Islanders, but they have two more points in the same amount of games as Philadelphia.
But the Flyers shouldn’t even be interested in the first Wild Card spot. Whoever finishes there will take on the top seed in the Atlantic Division, which is the Tampa Bay Lightning at this point, but the Florida Panthers could also take the division crown.
This year has proven that the Panthers can give the Flyers fits. Florida has two wins in three head-to-head games this season including a 7-1
shellacking in Philly’s second game of the year.
The Panthers’ similar physical style and deep lineup has been too much for the Flyers and while they’re mostly inexperienced, so are the Flyers.
Philadelphia earned two very convincing wins against the Lightning in the teams’ last two meetings, but Tampa Bay proved last season what they can do come postseason time. Flyers fans would probably prefer an opponent with less success in April and May.
The Capitals are still the better team on paper and in the standings, but the Flyers’ system and play may give them a run for their money come the middle of April, and maybe more than just one round for Philadelphia.