The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers renew their rivalry this afternoon; Round 2, as it were. The last time these two teams met, on November 1st, the Flyers won a round – a Ray Emery beatdown of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby – and lost the bout, a 7-0 shutout win by Holtby.
Since then the Flyers, who fell to 3-9-0 with what was a beatdown of its own, has climbed off the canvas and posted an 11-6-3 record to move into sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind the Caps.
It has been like two separate seasons for the Flyers, separated by that game against the Caps. In their first 12 contests, ending with that 7-0 loss, Philadelphia was 3-9-0, averaging only 1.67 goals per game and allowing 3.08 goals per game. Their power play was 5-for-43 (11.6 percent), and their penalty kill was 48-for-57 (84.2 percent). Since then the Flyers are 11-6-3, averaging 2.60 goals per game and allowing 2.45 goals per game. Their power play is 16-for-71 (22.5 percent). Their penalty kill is 68-for-81 (84.0 percent).
However, December has not been especially kind to the Flyers so far. They are 2-3-1 this month and have slipped into some bad habits doing so. Their 2.50 goals per game scoring offense is inflated by a six-goal effort in a 6-3 win over Detroit. They scored two or fewer goals in four of their other five games. They have allowed 22 goals in those seven games. The power play continues to hum, going 6-for-20 (30.0 percent), but half of those goals were scored in that 6-3 win over Detroit. The penalty kill is 21-for-25 (84.0) percent, so strike one up for consistency in December for the Flyers.
The December scoring is led by Claude Giroux (2-3-5) and Sean Couturier (2-3-5). For Giroux it is part of a continuing effort to dig himself out of the hole of a slow start. He did not record his first goal of the season until Game 16 of the season, the game-winner in a 4-2 win over Edmonton on November 9th. However, since then Giroux is 6-10-16 in 17 games. He is 8-5-13 in 17 career games against Washington.
For Couturier it is part of his validation as a first round (eighth overall) draft pick in 2011. He, too, had a slow start – he did not have a goal in his first 19 games and recorded only four assists. However, starting with the game in which he scored his first goal of the season, against Ottawa in a 5-2 win on November 19th, Couturier is 5-6-11 in 13 games. He is 1-1-2 in eight career games against the Caps.
Then there is the goaltending. An issue for the Flyers since goaltenders used horsehair in their leg pads, it remains, at best, a work in progress. In December, it is rather poor. Steve Mason and Ray Emery have combined for a 3.98 goals against average and a save percentage of .869. It has been a team effort. Neither goalie has a save percentage in December above .900, Mason at .893 and Emery at .809.
Here is how the teams compare overall…
1. As the club’s leading scorer, you would expect that Claude Giroux leads the team in multi-point games. He does, with five. But would you have thought Matt Read is second, with four multi-point games? The Rangers, Red Wings, Sabres, and Islanders are his victims.
2. When Mark Streit – one of the usual conveyor belt of Flyer big-name acquisitions – skated against the Caps on November 1st, he was having a tough time acclimating himself to wearing Flyer orange. He had no goals and only four assists in 11 games, and he did not record a point against the Caps. He has hardly been better since. He does have a goal – one – coming in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on November 27th. He is 1-6-7 in 20 games since facing Washington.
3. Rookies do not figure heavily in Flyers’ results, but Michael Raffl might be one to watch. He is 2-2-4 in his last five games averaging more than 14 minutes per game.
4. The Flyers bring a six-game home winning streak into this game, and this is one area where their goaltending has been solid. The Flyers outscored their opponents by a 22-9 margin in those games, and Flyer goalies have a save percentage of .949. The thing is, though, those six home games cover a 33-day period. It might not reflect the current state of goaltending.
5. As befits a team sitting in sixth place in their division, Philadelphia is not the most adept squad at possession. They are under 50 percent in both Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations (49.6 percent) and Fenwick-for percentage (48.2 percent). In both they rank in the bottom half of the league. They are trending better in December, though. The Flyers are above 50 percent in Corsi-for percentage in five of six games this month and 50 percent or better in four of six games in Fenwick-for percentage.
1. Last year the Caps had three games decided in the bonus round out of 48 games played. So far this season the Caps are 7-3 in the Gimmick. They have already tied a franchise best in shootout wins (seven) and are within striking distance of the highest number of decisions in the freestyle round (13, off a 7-6 record in 2005-2006).
2. Only two teams – Edmonton and Winnipeg (six apiece) – have allowed more shorthanded goals than the Caps (four).
3. Washington has 42 goals scored in the second period this season. They have only 51 scored in the first, second, and overtime periods combined.
4. No team has more wins in extra time than the Caps. They have nine such wins overall, two in overtime, seven in the Gimmick.
5. The Caps scored seven goals in the clubs’ only meeting so far this season. They scored only eight goals against the Flyers in three games last season. The Caps are somewhat consistent in their record against the Flyers since the 2004-2005 lockout. Washington is 8-6-1 at home and 8-4-4 on the road against Philadelphia.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Philadelphia: Brayden Schenn
With Vincent Lecavalier out for the Flyers on injured reserve with a non-displaced fracture in his back, Philadelphia is going to have to replace his tied-for-the-team-lead nine goals from somewhere. “Somewhere” might have to be Brayden Schenn. The bad news here is that while he is the team’s third-leading goal scorer (seven), Schenn has only one goal in his last 14 games and none in his last ten contests after recording six in his first 18 games. He has a goal and two assists in seven career games against Washington.
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom scored his second career goal against Philadelphia back in 2007, an overtime game-winner in Bruce Boudreau’s first game as head coach for the Caps. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Flyers – 11-24-35, plus-13 in 22 career games against Philadelphia. Those 11 goals are tied for his highest total against any team and is the most against any club not in the former Southeast Division. Two of those goals came in the Caps’ 7-0 win in Philadelphia on November 1st, the first time he recorded two goals in a game since November 1, 2011 against Anaheim. He comes into this home-and-home set with goals in his last two games, the first time he scored goals in consecutive games since he had them against Florida and, yes, Philadelphia on November 1st and 2nd.
1. Play your game… There will no doubt be something of a circus atmosphere to these games, especially the one in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, owing to the hijinks perpetrated by the Flyers in the 7-0 Caps blowout on November 1st. Let them feed the elephants. Just play your game.
2. Don’t “Give Up the Funk.” If you know that reference, you’re old. It refers to a song from the 1970’s associated with a dance craze at the time, “The Bump.” The Caps might apply “the bump” to Flyer goalies, who might be on watch to see if the Caps are out for vengeance after the assault on their goalie in November. Just let ‘em know you’re there (without the stick in their side, as another 70’s icon, Reggie Dunlop, might have recommended).
3. Get out of the gate quick. Only five teams have allowed more first period goals than the Caps; nine have scored fewer. That’s a poor mix. It is made more difficult by the fact that only the Los Angeles Kings have allowed fewer first period goals (12) than the Flyers (14). Even in the 7-0 smackdown in November, the Caps scored only one first period goal. They need to do better in their game starts.
In the end…
For fans, it should be entertaining. Will the Caps retaliate? Will the Flyers intimidate? Will Pierre McGuire bloviate? We have at least 120 minutes (or more) of old-fashioned divisional rival hockey to answer these and other questions. But as Al Michaels once put it in another context, “this game is being viewed with varying perspectives. But manifestly, it is a hockey game.” Yes, this is not the United States taking on the Soviet Union in 1980. As I-95 rivalries go, though, it’s not nothing. But that’s what the Flyers will take away from this home and home.
Capitals 4 – Flyers 2
Capitals 3 – Flyers 1