The Washington Capitals take the ice to defend a two-game winning streak tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center. The two-game “streak” matches their longest since they opened the season with a seven-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, their opponents – the Philadelphia Flyers – come to Verizon Center on a five-game winning streak of their own, their longest of the season and their longest since a five-game streak in mid-December of last season.
The Caps are facing the Flyers for the 189th time in team history and have a 72-94-19-3 all-time record against the Orange and Black. That record probably looks worse than it is when you consider that the Caps began their history against this team by going winless in their first 25 games against the Flyers. That’s right. From their first game – a 6-2 loss in Philadelphia on November 9, 1974 – through their 25th meeting – a 5-2 loss at Capital Centre in Landover on December 20, 1980 – the Caps knew nothing but futility. More than six years of futility wrapped up in an 0-19-6 record.
But that December 20, 1980 game against the Flyers was the first half of a home-and-home series, and the Caps went to Philadelphia on the following night and smacked the Flyers around in their own building, winning by a 6-0 score. For those of you who wonder about this rivalry, the box score of that game in instructive (from flyershistory.com). Seventeen fighting majors were doled out. There were 21 misconduct penalties, five roughing penalties. There were 184 minutes in penalties…in the first period. There were 344 minutes in penalties for the game. Almost lost in the mayhem was the fact that Jean Pronovost had a pair of goals, and Mike Palmateer stopped all 44 shots for the shutout. It is all part of the rivalry that is going to be renewed when the teams are realigned with one another next season.
Here is how these teams match up with one another by the numbers:
1. Going into action on Monday night, the Flyers were the only team in the NHL with four players having ten or more goals. You might have expected Claude Giroux to be among them. You might not have been especially surprised to find Jaromir Jagr among them. But Scott Hartnell? His 14 goals puts him on a pace to finish with 41; his career high is 30 (with the Flyers in 2008-2009), and his career 82-game average is 21. If he should get a goal in this game, it will be Hartnell’s 200th career goal.
2. Then there is Matt Read, the fourth ten-goal scorer. Coming into this season Read did not have so much as a full season as a professional, having played 11 games with the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms after completing his eligibility at Bemidji State University last year. He is on a pace to finish with 35 goals, which would be the most he has scored at any level of organized hockey, including the year he had 34 goals with the Milton Icehawks in Ontario Junior “A” hockey in 2005-2006.
3. The Flyers come into this game having won five games in a row and seven of their last eight, outscoring their opponents in those eight games by a combined 28-19. Four of the wins have come by a one-goal margin, and three of them were won in overtime.
4. In two games against the Winnipeg Jets, the Flyers have allowed a total of 15 goals (9-8 and 6-4 losses). They have allowed 65 goals in their other 26 games (2.50/game).
5. The “bully” seems to be back in Broad Street Bullies, at least insofar as strict adherence to the rules – or lack thereof – is concerned. The Flyers lead the league in minor penalties taken (151, versus 114 for 22nd-least penalized Washington), have the sixth-most major penalties taken (18, versus nine for the Caps), are fourth in misconduct calls (five, versus one for the Caps), and lead the league in penalty minutes per game (16.3, versus 10.3 for 27th-place Washington).
2. The Caps are one of six teams that have perfect records when leading after two periods (8-0-0). They are one of four teams that have better than .500 records when allowing the first goal (8-7-0).
3. The Caps are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against the Flyers, outscoring them 21-13. They have not lost to the Flyers in regulation since dropping a 4-2 decision at Verizon Center on February 24, 2009. The Caps are 7-0-3 against the Flyers since then.
4. Roman Hamrlik has 12 goals in 63 career games against the Flyers, including one this season in the teams’ only meeting. It is the most goals he has against any team over his career.
5. The Caps have recorded more hits than the Flyers this season (635 to 593) and have the third highest number of hits recorded at home this season (437, trailing Los Angeles and Dallas).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Philadelphia: Zac Rinaldo
As we noted, Zac Rinaldo has seven fights in 24 games this season. That would be good, in a manner of speaking, for a tie for fourth in the fighting rankings. The thing is, though, he does not seem to be especially good at it at this level of play. He is, after all, listed at 5’11”, 169, not what you would call a “heavyweight.” According to the Web site, hockeyfights.com, Rinaldo has a record of 0-5-2 in his seven fights thus far this season (winners decided by fan vote), and only one of the five losses could be considered close. But what he seems to be is fearless. He has taken on the likes of Dustin Penner (five inches taller and more than seventy pounds heavier than Rinaldo), he has taken on Zenon Konopka (a veteran of 84 NHL fights). He has taken on Brandon Prust (71 career fights), he has taken on Cody Bass (22 fights in the AHL over the last two seasons). If anything, he seems to resemble former Cap Matt Bradley, a guy who will take on any and all comers for his team, even if it means taking his lumps in the process. In fact, Rinaldo took on Bradley earlier this year. Bradley won with 91 percent of the vote on hockeyfights.com.
Washington: Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin represents risk and reward in this game. First, he is 9-11-20, plus-3, in 20 career games against the Flyers. Half of his points (four goals, six assists) have come on the power play. He has only three power play points this season (a goal, two assists), but all of them have come at home. On the other side, Semin has taken almost twice as many minor penalties this season (18) as the next highest Capital (Nicklas Backstrom: 10). Keep that in mind when you consider that the Flyers are 8-for-24 on the power play over their current five-game winning streak. Which Semin shows up – the one who has had scoring success against the Flyers, or the one who has a penchant for taking penalties – could spell the difference in this game.
1. “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.” No, it’s not a remake of “Sunset Boulevard.” But with HBO covering the Flyers, there is the question of whether the Flyers are ready for their moment in the spotlight and whether the intrusion will affect their game. HBO catches the Flyers in a place similar to that in which they found the Penguins last season – all fat and happy in the midst of a winning streak. Does that change?
2. Pace. The Flyers lead the league in first period goals scored. Only two teams – Detroit and Edmonton – have scored first in more games than the Flyers, who have done so 18 times in 28 games. They have the best record in the league – 11-0-0 – when leading after one period. The Capitals cannot let the Flyers establish a pace to their liking early. If they do, and the Flyers capitalize, Philadelphia is a hard team to haul down from behind.
3. Keep the Juice Flowing. The soft underbelly of the Flyers’ five game winning streak is that they have allowed power play goals in four of them. Overall their penalty killing is 15-for-20 in their last five games (75.0 percent). The Caps have five power play goals on their last eight man-advantage situations. If the Flyers get too frisky, the Caps have the means to make them pay.
In the end, this has the chance to be a high-scoring, entertaining game. Even without leading scorer Claude Giroux out for this game), the Flyers have considerable fire power with the suddenly hot Scott Hartnell, Cap-killer Danny Briere, the surprising Matt Read, and old friend Jaromir Jagr. Meanwhile, the Caps have scored 13 goals in their last three games, and they have outscored teams over those three games by 5-4 on the power play and by 8-6 at even strength. If the Flyers are missing Ilya Bryzgalov (listed only as probable for this game) they will pin their hopes in goal on Sergei Bobrovsky, who in three career appearances against the Caps has a 3.36 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage (numbers almost identical to Bryzgalov’s 3.36, .891 career mark). It could be a wild one.
Caps 5 – Flyers 4