Saturday, June 05, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Ten Games That Mattered: Washington at Philadelphia, December 5th

December 5: Washington (17-5-6) at Philadelphia (13-11-1)

The Result: Capitals 8 – Flyers 2

The Background: The Flyers were thought at the start of the season to be a contender for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals. Defenseman Chris Pronger was added in a draft-day trade (he later signed a seven-year contract extension), Ian Laperriere was added for some grit, and the Broad Streeters were returning the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and Scott Hartnell, all of whom recorded at least 30 goals in the 2008-2009 season. Things looked good for the Flyers when they won their first three games of the season, including a wild 6-5 overtime win over the Capitals on October 6th, a game in which the lead changed hands five times.

The Flyers' fast start dissolved into a run of inconsistency, though. After the three-game winning streak to open the season, the Flyers then lost three in a row, won two, lost two, won seven of eight, then lost six of seven. The roller coaster ride cost head coach John Stevens (who was drafted as a defenseman by the Flyers in 1984) his job on December 4th. Enter Peter Laviolette, a former Stanley Cup winning head coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, who took over a team with a 13-11-1 record and a 10th place standing in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps, meanwhile, headed to Philadelphia on a four-game winning streak and a 3-0-2 record in their previous five road games.

Why It Mattered: It was entirely possible that the road to a Stanley Cup would go through Pennsylvania, and that did not necessarily mean Pittsburgh. The teams had split two games to date – that wild 6-5 overtime win for the Flyers in Philadelphia and a 4-2 win for the Caps in Washington in October 27th. In both of those games the first period ended scoreless.

Not this time.

Tomas Fleischmann scored 57 seconds into the game after Eric Fehr forced a turnover at the Flyers’ line, and Brendan Morrison picked up the puck, skated in, and fed Fleischmann coming down the left side to the right of Flyer goalie Ray Emery. The Flyers managed to tie the game on a goal by Mika Pyorala just over 12 minutes into the period, which might have provided some momentum for the home team.

But it was at that point that Daniel Carcillo decided to audition for an episode of “CSI: Philadelphia,” and not as one of the good guys. Carcillo, thinking no one in the crowd of 19,789 and four on-ice officials was looking, decided that a clean check from Matt Bradley required some retaliation. He cross-checked Bradley (two minutes), instigated a fight (four minutes), sucker-punched Bradley before the latter could get his gloves off (nine minutes… you running a tab on this?), was whistled for a ten-minute misconduct (19 minutes), and was given the rest of the night off with a game misconduct (29 minutes). The Flyers would skate the next nine minutes shorthanded, provided the Caps did not score.

The Caps made them pay instead. First, Fleischmann put the Caps out in front to stay at the 17 minute mark of the first period. That goal unleashed the deluge. Mike Green scored 20 seconds after Fleischmann to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at the first intermission. Brooks Laich scored in the first minute of the second period, giving the Caps three goals on the extended power play.

Not 21 minutes into the game, and the Caps had a 4-1 lead. They were on their way to rid their mouths of the bad taste of a 7-1 pasting they absorbed on this ice sheet almost exactly one year before. Which meant that the Caps weren’t done. In a space of 4:09 late in the second period they popped three pucks past starting goalie Ray Emery (who was relieved after allowing the first of them, scored by Chris Clark) and his relief, Brian Boucher. But for the exchange of a couple of third period window dressing goals by Scott Hartnell for the Flyers and a power play tally David Steckel for the Caps (with Hartnell in the box), the competitive portion of the evening was over before 40 minutes were in the books.

The Takeaway: It was not the most goals ever scored by a Capitals team against the Flyers (that would be ten goals in a 10-4 win against Philadelphia on November 21, 1981), but it was the most ever by a Caps team scored in Philadelphia. There were several odd items about this game. First, Alex Ovechkin was not in the lineup. He was serving the second game of a two-game suspension for knee-on-knee hit of Carolina’s Tim Gleason on November 30th. The Caps did not seem to miss him on this occasion. Also, with eight goals scored, one might expect a splattering of points up and down the score sheet. Not in this game. Six Caps had goals, 12 Caps recorded points. The flip side of that coin is that six Caps had multi-point games (Tom Poti, Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green). Green had a four-point night (two goals, two assists), and Backstrom had a five-point night (one goal, four assists), tying a personal best for points in a single game. Along with the concentration of points was the concentration of shots on goal – only 12 Caps had at least one shot on goal (30 in total). But they were efficient. The eight goals on 30 shots was one thing (26.7 percent shooting percentage), but the Caps also had four goals on six power play shots.

It was the biggest win in a season series that saw the Caps capture at least one standings point in all four games (3-0-1), go 5-1-1 since the 7-1 loss to the Flyers in the first game of the 2008-2009 series, and record an 11-4-1 record against the Flyers over the past four seasons.

Makes you want to scream at who is in the Stanley Cup finals, doesn’t it?

No comments: