You can read the recap we penned for Japers’ Rink here, but we had a few more thoughts on last night’s 1-0 Washington Capitals win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
-- Give Flyer goalie Rob Zepp credit for playing a very good, under-control game in what could have been a difficult setting, on the road against a very hot team. But the Caps shot in some bad luck, too. Alex Ovechkin hits a crossbar, and the puck stays out. Jay Beagle beats Zepp cleanly over his left shoulder from point blank range, but there is too much air under the puck, and it sails into the netting. Eric Fehr has an insurance goal on his stick, but he is unable to lift the puck over Zepp’s left pad. Zepp was good, but the hockey gods were smiling on him, too.
-- Streaks are funny things. When a club is going badly, you can tell when they are coming out of it. They play better, but they are not immediately rewarded. It might take a couple of games to turn “playing better” into wins. The same goes for hot streaks. A team shows cracks, gets lackadaisical, takes short cuts, but it might take a game or two before they are burned by the deterioration in play. That was what the Caps had the look of last night, especially after the first eight minutes. Give them credit for playing a disciplined game in many respects, making the Flyers negotiate the entire ice surface to mount any offensive push. But their offense looked disinterested in spots, disjointed in others.
-- Andre Burakovsky is going to be a fine player, and one can see him improving almost on a game-to-game basis in terms of being comfortable on the ice and not playing outside his skill and comfort zone. But the fact is that the right wing slot on the top line has been a revolving door for much of the season. It might be that the solution, at least for this year, is going to be found at the trading deadline. The first big in-season move in the tenure of Brian MacLellan, perhaps.
-- For all the nonsense being tossed Brooks Orpik’s way this season – he’s too old, his contract is too big, he’s slow – his nine points this season (all assists) is not far off his mark last season (2-11-13), and he is a plus-8. Add in that he is averaging almost three minutes of penalty killing time a night and more than 22 minutes overall, and he seems entirely worthy of the trust the coaching staff seems to have in him.
-- It is hard to notice Jack Hillen on a game to game, or even a shift to shift basis. He does not get a lot of ice time, but there he is these days, playing the solid pro, hardly a liability as the Caps work through some injury issues on the third defensive pair. Since December 20th he is 0-4-4, plus-2, in ten games.
-- Holding the Flyers’ duo of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek to two shots apiece is as good an example of any of how the Caps’ philosophy has changed. Those two players had 31 goals between them going into last night’s game and had 31 goals between them at the end of it. Credit to the players and the coaches for throwing a blanket over them.
-- The Flyers are a mess on the back end. Some of that is injury (Braydon Coburn and Niklas Grossman out on the blue line, as was goaltender Steve Mason). But the defense the Flyers iced last night looked rather weak in their own end, a lot of the same kind of defenseman – puck movers who were not particularly strong along the wall in one-on-one battles. It made the Caps offensive performance a bit more disappointing. A lot of hard work along the walls was not rewarded.
-- Matt Niskanen was our “player to ponder” in the prognosto for this game, the focus of which was his disappointing offense compared to last season’s breakout year in Pittsburgh, but entirely consistent with his career performance otherwise. What he showed last night was a different side to his game, a certain orneriness, first with his hit that leveled Scott Laughton and sent the Flyer to the locker room for the duration, then not letting the Flyer chirping about it get him off his game.
-- Is it me, or have the Brothers Schenn regressed? We had no idea what they were doing for considerable stretches last night, except for trying to get Tom Wilson to do something stupid. Good on Wilson for not indulging them.
The Caps are going to move up in weight class this weekend with back-to-back games in Nashville and Dallas. While there is much to cheer about in a 1-0 win over a hated rival, the Caps will have to be more consistent in their effort against those teams if they are to come out of the weekend with any standings points.