Hump Game. Sort of like “hump day,” but different. This is the middle game – Game 3 – in the Washington Capitals’ five-game home stand. And today’s contestant – the Philadelphia Flyers – is likely to be the most formidable of the opponents the Caps will face in the five games. Except…
On January 12th, the Flyers were second in the Atlantic Division and only two points behind the division and Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers. Why is January 12th a date of any particular note? It happens to be the date on which the Flyers last won a second consecutive game, having beaten Carolina, 2-1, on January 10th and the Islanders, 3-2, two days later.
Since those consecutive wins, Philadelphia is 9-9-3. Three of the nine wins have come in extra time, two in the Gimmick (they have also lost three games in the Gimmick). They do not have any consecutive wins, but they do have a two-game losing streak and a three-gamer.
Much has been made of the Flyers’ goaltending troubles, and it seems every word has merit. But lost in the shuffle is that while the Flyers lead the league in offense this season at 3.29 goals per game, their average over their 9-9-3 run is down to 2.81. And the hallmark has been inconsistency. Among the nine wins the Flyers have in their last 21 games, eight times they scored at least four goals, five times at least five goals. In the 12 losses, they were held to two or fewer goals eight times.
Special teams also have shown inconsistency. The power play – currently sixth in the league at 19.9 percent – has actually outperformed its season level of efficiency, going 18-for-83 (21.7 percent) in the last 21 games. The penalty kill is another thing altogether. It is not an especially efficient group so far this season – currently ranking 21st at 80.9 percent – but it is only 60-for-78 in the last 21 games (76.7 percent). Drilling down into those 21 games, we find that it is the power play that seems to have mattered more in outcomes. In the nine wins the Flyers were 11-for-35 on the man advantage (31.4 percent). In the 12 losses they were 7-for-47 (14.9 percent).
Then there is that goaltending. The “Killer Bees” might refer to the Africanized honey bee, or it might refer to a continuing sketch on old episodes of the television show, “Saturday Night Live.” In Philadelphia it might refer to the goaltenders – Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky – who have been inconsistent at best, poor at worst, for long stretches of the season. These last 21 games is one of them.
Ilya Bryzgalov has 16 appearances in the last 21 games and has a respectable line: 7-4-3, 2.28, .912, and one shutout. But inconsistency has marred his game. He has allowed at least three goals in five of his last nine appearances (2.63, .896). And he has been the better of the two netminders for the Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky has seven appearances in the last 21 games, over which he is 2-5-0, 4.43, .846. He has allowed three or more goals in six of those seven appearances, two of them lasting less than 30 minutes.
Here is how the two teams compare, numbers-wise:
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1. Of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers are one of three teams with a better points earned percentage on the road (.636) than at home (.583). New Jersey and Boston are the others.
2. Scott Hartnell has been a reliable 20-goal scorer in his career – five times in six seasons post-lockout coming into this season. One might not have foreseen, though, that he would be a 30-plus goal scorer (he hit 30 once, in 2008-2009) and that he would be tied for fourth in the league going into tonight’s game.
3. The Flyers have had good balance from their defense in one respect – even strength effectiveness. All eight Flyer defensemen having played more than 13 games are in “plus” territory (that Flyer with 13 games is Chris Pronger, out for the season).
4. Feast and Famine. The Flyers have the third best winning percentage in one-goal decisions this season and the seventh-best such percentage in decisions of three or more goals. If you’re going to beat them, it is in two-goal decisions (5-10).
5. That whole “shoot the puck” thing? The Flyers take it to heart. They have been outshot in only 17 of 63 games this season, tied for the lowest in the league with San Jose (in 64 games).
2. No Capitals defenseman is in “minus” territory for the season on Verizon Center ice. Every one that has played in at least ten home games is in “plus” terrirory.
3. Maybe the Caps should petition the league to go to 4-on-4 play. They are plus-6 (12 goals for, six against) this season.
4. The power play woes continue… Over their last 25 games the Caps are 8-for-74 (10.8 percent). Home cooking has not been much tastier – 5-for-34 (14.7 percent).
5. Intermissions matter… the Caps are 16-1-1 when leading after 20 minutes, 19-0-0 when leading after 40. When trailing after the first period, they are 8-19-1; they are 5-21-2 when trailing at the second intermission.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Philadelphia: Pavel Kubina
The Flyers employ space-eaters on defense. Including the injured Chris Pronger, Philadelphia has dressed six defensemen of at least 220 pounds this season (by way of reference, the Caps have dressed two – John Erskine and Jeff Schultz). Pavel Kubina is the last and largest of this group, having been acquired by trade with Tampa Bay for a pair of draft picks, and who weighs in at 258 pounds. The Flyers have allowed 17 goals in the five games in which Kubina has appeared so far. But he has a lot of experience against the Caps – 62 regular season games worth – in which he is also a minus-40. Ponder that.
Washington: Alexander Semin
One might think that a skill player such as Alexander Semin that does not have a reputation for trafficking in crowded areas might be intimidated by a team with the Flyers’ reputation for nastiness. Well, Semin is 9-11-20 in 21 career games against the Flyers (four goals and six assists on power plays). If the Caps are to erase the odor from Friday’s game against the Devils, Semin is likely to be an important ingredient in the cleanser.
1. Fast ten. If the Caps are still in a funk from Friday, it will show up right away in how they play their first ten minutes. If they recognize they urgency that losing a game like that attaches to the rest of their season, they will come out hard in the first ten minutes. And, there is that whole “intermission” record to consider. In the December 13th loss to the Flyers the Caps were down after one period, 1-0, and down after two by a 4-0 score. When the Caps beat the Flyers in October (game six of their seven-game winning streak to start the season), they led by a 2-1 margin at both intermissions.
2. Power Up. The Flyers have allowed at least one power play goal in seven of their last 13 games (37-for-51 in penalty killing, 72.6 percent). The Caps need this part of their game to step up if they are going to make a late-season run. In the two games played between these teams so far, the Caps were 1-for-6 in the game they won, 0-for-3 in the one they lost.
3. Stop the bleeding. The Caps allowed five goals in consecutive games before running off a three-game winning streak. That streak came to an end when they allowed five goals –again – in a loss to New Jersey on Friday. Four of the last five Caps losses have involved five-goal results for the opponent. The Caps can’t sustain poor goaltending performances. It has been the one reliable element in their success over the past three months. Needless to say, against the league’s top offensive team, goaltending will have to be as sharp as sharp can be.
In the end, if the Caps were going to lose any of the five games on this home stand, this is the one folks might have pointed to as the most likely. Now, it has become a “gotta win” game. Earning the two points puts the Caps ahead of Winnipeg for eighth in the East, an important consideration since this game uses up one of the games in had the Caps hold over the Jets. The Caps get the Flyers in as favorable a situation as they might hope for, given the Flyers’ inconsistency over the last two months. It is an opportunity to get over the hump of that eighth-place threshold.
Yup… “Hump Game.” Let’s just hope it’s not all downhill from here.
Caps 4 – Flyers 3