It might have been a preview of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff matchup when the Washington Capitals visited the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. It certainly played like one as the Flyers and Capitals failed to settle things in regulation or the five-minute overtime, needing to go to the freestyle competition before the Flyers skated off with a 2-1 win.
It was a contest of special teams in the hockey portion of the game. The first two periods went scoreless, but early in the third the Caps broke on top with the man advantage. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a pass from Justin Williams and skated the puck down the right wing wall. He turned and looked for a passing lane to Alex Ovechkin. Failing to find one on the ice, he elevated a pass through the middle of the ice to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and wristed it over the glove of goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-0, 1:28 into the period.
That goal held up until Marcus Johansson took a hooking penalty 13 minutes into the period. The Caps skated most of the ensuing shorthanded situation off, but the Flyers worked the puck around the Caps’ zone late in the power play, Wayne Simmonds taking it behind the Caps net and banking a pass off the boards to Claude Giroux at the left point. Giroux fired a slap shot that clipped the shaft of Brayden Schenn’s stick and sailed over the glove of Braden Holtby to make it 1-1 at the 14:32 mark.
That did it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the show. In the Gimmick, Mason denied T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while Nick Cousins and Same Gagner scored for the Flyers, giving the home team the extra standings point in the 2-1 decision.
-- It was something we noted in the prognosto, that the Caps came into this game as the most efficient shooting team in the league when it came to the Gimmick (8-for-15/53.3 percent). Going 0-for-2, the Caps fell to third at 47.1 percent. They fell to 19th in save percentage in giving up two goals on two shots (11-for-17/.647).
-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal, his league-leading 44th, was just his third in his last 13 games.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a rough night in the faceoff circle, going 1-for-15 (6.7 percent).
-- Jay Beagle led the Caps in shots on goal (6).
-- When Marcus Johansson was sent off on a hooking penalty in the third period, it was the first penalty he took since February 9th, breaking a 22-game streak without one. Nevertheless, in taking the penalty he set a career high in penalty minutes taken in a season (12).
-- Braden Holtby has 17 career penalty minutes, 11 of them have been taken against the Flyers after the two minutes he was charged for roughing in this game.
-- Dmitry Orlov…no charged giveaways in 15:54. Keep it up, kid.
-- Maybe it’s scoring in a venue in which the official scorer is more inclined to look for such things, but the teams combined for 64 hits (Caps: 30, Flyers: 34). Compare that to Monday, when the Caps and Columbus Blue Jackets combined for 33 hits (Caps: 18, Blue Jackets: 15).
-- After going five games without a penalty minute, his longest streak since opening the season with a six-game penalty-free streak, Tom Wilson picked up his third minor penalty in two games with a roughing call in the third period (coincidental with Sam Gagner).
-- The Caps held the Flyers to a virtual draw in possession at fives, scratching out a 50-49 edge in shot attempts. More to the point, and consistent with what they do when they are successful, they ruled the third period with a 14-9 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5, and they had a 11-7 edge in high-danger scoring chances (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
OK, it was a loss. But the Caps played a decent road game. If anything, this game was one more in what is something of a shooting funk in which the Caps find themselves. In their last 17 games they are shooting 5.7 percent at 5-on-5; they were 0-for-25 in this game. A team with the depth of skill the Caps have cannot be expected to stay in this rut for much longer. The takeaway, then, is the play of Braden Holtby, who was 22-for-22 in saves at 5-on-5, bringing his 5-on-5 save percentage to .934 over his last 17 games (numbers from war-on-ice.com). As has been noted, you might say he’s back in “beast” mode. And that’s the best sign for the Caps coming out of this game.