The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up their I-95 back-to-back road trip on Saturday night when they visit that peaceful meadow of brotherly love, Wells Fargo Center, in Philadelphia when they face the Flyers in a Metro Matchup that is the season home opener for the Flyers.
The Caps are coming off a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night to push their record to 3-1-1 and to the top of the Metropolitan Division. Meanwhile, the Flyers are coming off a three-day hiatus, off since dropping a 6-5 decision to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. It extended the Flyers alternating wins and losses to arrive at a 2-2-0 record on their road trip to start the 2017-2018 season. The Flyers, who struggled with the 19th-ranked scoring defense in the league last season, at least started the season on a higher note, allowing only seven goals in their first three games. But then they almost had that total doubled when the Predators dropped a six-pack on their heads.
Scoring has been uneven on a game-to-game basis for the Flyers, who scored five goals in their season opener (a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks) and in that last contest against Nashville. In the two game in-between, they have a total of three goals, all of them in a 3-2 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks last Saturday.
Scoring has also been strange for the Flyers at the player level of production. Both of their leading point producers – Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere – are at the top of the skater rankings without the benefit of having scored a goal. Voracek, who led the club in points last season (20-41-61), has six assists to top the Flyers points list. He has been kept off the score sheet only once when he, and the rest of the squad, was held without a point in a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on October 5th. Voracek could crack the top-20 in all-time point production for the Flyers if he records another 34 points. His 360 points in what is now his seventh season with the club trails Dave Poulin in 20th place with 394. Voracek is 11-8-19, plus-1, in 29 career games against the Capitals.
Gostisbehere is trying to rehabilitate a reputation for being a scoring defenseman that he established in his rookie season two years ago (17-29-46), one in which he finished second in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie, and that sustained a hit last season when he slumped to 7-32-39 in 76 games and was a team worst among defensemen minus-21. So far, the results are mixed. Yes, he is second on the team in points with five (all assists), but they came in bunches – three assists in the 5-3 win over the Sharks to open the season and two more in the loss to Nashville in the Flyers’ last contest. Four of those five assists came on power plays, all three he had against the Sharks and another against the Predators. The plus-minus is looking better though; he was “even’ in all four games to date. “Ghost” is 0-3-3, minus-3, in seven career games against the Caps.
The Flyers have a situation on the blue line that resembles that of the Caps, perhaps even more so. They are a young group. Only one of the seven defensemen to dress so far is past 30 years of age (Andrew MacDonald is 31), and four of them are younger than 25 – Gostisbehere (24), Ivan Provorov (20), and rookies Travis Sanheim (21) and Robert Hagg (22). Sanheim is a former first-round draft pick (17th overall in 2014) who had a fine season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL last season (10-27-37, plus-7, in his first full year in the AHL). Hagg is a former second-round pick (41st overall in 2013) who was up for one game with the Flyers last season and going 7-8-15, plus-10, for the Phantoms. Both Sanheim and Hagg will be looking for their first points for the Orange and Black in what will be their first appearances against the Caps.
1. The Flyers are one of just two teams to have scored and allowed the same number of goals. Philadelphia has scored and allowed 13 goals, while the Ottawa Senators have both scored and allowed seven goals (through Thursday’s games).
2. The Caps might be able to take advantage of the Flyers’ penalty killing. It is not that they have faced a lot of shorthanded situations, although they have the tenth-highest number (17). It is that they rank 28th of 31 teams in efficiency (70.6 percent), although they have yet to test their penalty killers at home.
3. Then there is the matter of the Flyers’ propensity for late swoons. Only the St. Louis Blues have allowed more third period goals (eight) than the Flyers (six).
4. If Claude Giroux gets three assists (perish the thought), he will reach the 400-assist mark in his career. Less likely is Jakub Voracek getting to the 500-point mark in his career in this game. He needs a six-point night to get there.
5. Only one team in the league has more penalties this season than the Flyers without having taken a major penalty. Philadelphia has been whistled for 17 penalties without a major so far. Washington has 20 penalties and no majors.
1. Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 20th game of four or more points as a Capital on Friday night (1-3-4). Only one player in the league has more such games since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008 – Sidney Crosby (22)
2. T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist for his 12th game with three or more points as a Capital. Since he joined the Caps in 2015-2016, only Backstrom has more three or more point games (18).
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists to give him four multi-point games in five played so far. His ten assists leads the league, and his ten points is tied for the league lead with teammates Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
4. Alex Ovechkin became the fourth player in league history to record nine goals in his first five games with his goal on Friday night. Mike Bossy, Patrick Marleau, and Mario Lemieux are the others.
5. Andre Burakovsky had his first NHL fight in Friday’s win over the Devils; in fact, his first fight in pro hockey. His scrap with Blake Coleman was his first fight since he mixed it up with Nick Moutrey back in March 2014 as a member of the Erie Otters.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Philadelphia: Brian Elliott
Perhaps nowhere in the NHL are goaltenders treated as “plug-and-play” devices more than in Philadelphia. Steve Mason out, Brian Elliott in. If Mason put up okay, if not extraordinary numbers for the Flyers last season (26-21-8, 2.66, .908, with three shutouts in 58 games), Elliott is doing little to improve on that in the early going. After what was a disappointing, statistically, one-year stay with the Calgary Flames last season (26-18-3, 2.55, .910, with two shutouts in 49 games) and signing a two-year/$5.5 million contract with the Flyers last July, he opened the season with a 2-1-0 record but a goals against average of 3.67 (34th of 52 goaltenders to dress so far) and a save percentage of .876 (42nd). That’s what allowing six goals on 31 shots in one of three games he’s played so far will do to the GAA and save percentage, though. Not that his career numbers against the Caps are any better: 6-5-0, 3.31, .888 in 13 career appearances.
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
Through four games, only one Capitals defenseman has a goal, and he’s a rookie (Christian Djoos). Three do not yet have a point. It is not surprising that neither Brooks Orpik nor Taylor Chorney have any points thus far; they are generally regarded as defensive defensemen. Dmitry Orlov is another story. Not that he has had explosive starts in his still young NHL career – he had one point in the first four games of each of his last two seasons (both assists) – but a good deal is expected of the 26-year old this season. In other respects he is assuming more responsibility, particularly in penalty killing where he is averaging 4:03 in shorthanded ice time per game, 3:30 more than he averaged last season (and that was a career high). What he has been slow in doing so far is unleashing shots. He has three shots on goal in four games, and while it is a very small population of games so far this season, he had 125 shots in 82 games last season. You get the feeling it will come, but sooner would be better than later as the Caps seek to fill in the spaces left with the departures of three starters on defense from last season. Orlov is 5-1-6, plus-4, in 13 career games against the Flyers.
In the end…
The Patrick Division days are long gone, but it is still possible to spin up some anger at the prospect of facing the Philadelphia Flyers. And it especially satisfying to beat the Flyers on their home ice. The Caps have points in four consecutive games in Philadelphia (2-0-2), both losses coming in trick shot competitions. One thing the Caps will be looking to do is to reduce the volume of shots they have been facing (first four games featured more than 30 shots against), a task made harder by the fact that in each of their last three visits to Wells Fargo Center they allowed the Flyers to put up an average of 35.3 shots per game. It will be a chance for the Caps to put some early distance between themselves and the rest of the Metropolitan Division.
Capitals 3 – Flyers 1