The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
August 6th is not a particularly exciting date on the historical calendar of the Washington Capitals. It is the birthday of former Caps defenseman Christian Djoos (1994); it is the anniversary of the signing of free agent forward Grant Martin in 1985, who played in 20 regular season and one playoff game for the Caps over two seasons; and it is the anniversary of the 2018 naming of Brett Leonhardt, Reid Cashman, and Scott Arniel as assistant coaches for the club. It will now be remembered as the first time in 253 regular season and playoff games that the Caps faced the Philadelphia Flyers in a game played in August.
The Caps and Flyers opened their respective round robin phases of the postseason with the Caps dropping a Gimmick decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, and the Flyers besting the Boston Bruins, 4-1. But now, let us take a look at…
How we got here:
November 13: Capitals 2 – Flyers 1 (OT/Gimmick)
The Caps scored early on a goal by Brendan Leipsic in the first period, and the Flyers scored late on a power play goal by Claude Giroux to tie the game and force extra time. After a scoreless overtime, Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded the only goal in the freestyle competition to give the Caps a 2-1 win. This was one of only 20 games in the league all season in which both teams recorded more than 30 shots (the Caps had 36 to the Flyers’ 31) and in which each team posted one or fewer goals.
January 8: Flyers 3 - Capitals 2
Three lead changes was the feature of this game. The Flyers opened the scoring in Philadelphia on a Travis Konecny goal less than four minutes into the game. The Caps came back on goals 5:23 apart by Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana to take a 2-1 lead. Robert Hagg tied the game with 42 seconds left in the first period to close a wild opening frame. Kevin Hayes scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 2:01 left in the second period, a shorthanded goal on a Caps power play that would end up going 0-for-5 for the game.
February 8: Flyers 7 - Capitals 2
Compared to the game played a month earlier, this game started quietly enough, the teams exchanging goals (Sean Couturier for the Flyers, T.J. Oshie for the Caps) to go to the first intermission tied, 1-1. Then, things took a turn. The Flyers scored six straight goals over the second and third periods to open up a 7-1 lead and end the competitive portion of the contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov closed the scoring mid-way through the period for the Caps in a 7-2 loss.
March 4: Flyers 5 – Capitals 2
The Caps opened the scoring in the last meeting of the regular season between the two teams, but once more they fell victim to goals scored in a bunch. The Flyers scored three goals in ten minutes in the second period to take a lead they would not relinquish. Garnet Hathaway did manage to draw the Caps within a goal with a late strike less than two minutes before the second intermission, but goals by Ivan Provorov and Scott Laughlin in the third period pushed the Caps to their third straight defeat at the hands of the Flyers.
Who’s hot, or at least, who was hot for the Caps?
- Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom is one of two active Capitals who, over his career, averaged more than a point per game against the Flyers (55 points in 49 games/1.12 per game). The odd part of his production, though, is that it has not been much of a predictor of outcomes. The Caps are 17-10-6 in the 33 games in which he recorded at least one point against Philadelphia (1.21 standings points per game), and they are 7-5-4 in the 16 games in which he did not (1.13 standings points per game). Including Monday’s game against Tampa Bay, Backstrom has points in 21 of 32 games away from Capital One Arena and is 7-21-28 over those games.
- Alex Ovechkin. The other active Capital averaging more than a point per game against the Flyers over his career is Ovechkin (59 points in 57 games/1.04 per game). What is more, his point-scoring mattered. The Caps are 19-7-8 in games in which Ovechkin posted at least one point against Philadelphia. But let’s put a pin in that for a moment.
- Braden Holtby. Since coming into the league in 2010-2011, only two goaltenders in the league have more wins against the Flyers than Holtby (13) – Henrik Lundqvist (21) and Sergei Bobrovsky (15). Coming into this season, Holtby brought a 13-game points streak against the Flyers, going 9-0-4, 1.88, .937. but he has been even better against the Flyers in a postseason setting. He started and finished all six games of the Caps’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal win over the Flyers in 2016, stopping 149 of 154 shots (.968 save percentage), allowing more than one goal only once, and shutting out the Flyers to start and end the series. Four years removed from that series means a lot of turnover for Orange and Black personnel, but Holtby has not been intimidated by the colors or the logo. But put a pin in this, too.
Who’s cold, or at least, who was cold for the Caps?
- Alex Ovechkin. Four Capitals dressed for all four games against Philadelphia this season and did not record a point, three defensemen (Dmitry Orlov, Radko Gudas, and Jonas Siegenthaler) and Alex Ovechkin. The Flyers are the only team Ovechkin faced four times this season against which he did not record a point, and Philadelphia is one of only five teams overall against which he went without a point (Pittsburgh, San Jose, Vancouver, and Vegas were the others).
- Braden Holtby. As good as Holtby was against the Flyers in the run-up to this season, the 2019-2020 season was, well, less good. He was 1-3-0, 4.15, .857 in the four games he played against Philadelphia.
- Nicklas Backstrom. In his last 19 games, Backstrom has two goals on 37 shots. The good sign for him, given that the Caps will be playing away from Washington, is that his last five goals scored in the regular season were on the road.
Who to watch for the Flyers…
- Claude Giroux. There is perhaps no more familiar face among the Philadelphia Flyers to contemporary Caps fans than that of Claude Giroux. The 45 regular season games he has on his resume against the Caps tops all active Flyers, and it’s not close for second (Jakub Voracek: 34). He is one of eight Flyers to have faced the Caps at least 20 times in his career who averages at least a point per game against the Caps (45 points in 45 games. This season, Giroux led the Flyers with five points in the four games against the Caps, four of those points on power plays. He closed the regular season with a strong finishing kick: 8-10-18 in his last 15 games.
- Nicolas Aube-Kubel. The Flyers were not sparing in dressing rookies against the Caps this season. Eight rookies among the 27 skaters facing the Caps were rookies. Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel dressed for three games and led the rookies in scoring against the Caps, going 1-2-3 in the three games he played. Aube-Kubel took a bit of time reaching the NHL, he being a second round (48th overall) pick in the 2014 Entry Draft, and his stats for the season after he joined the Flyers were not jump-off-the-page impressive, but seven goals and 15 points while averaging just over 11 minutes a game spoke to a measure of offensive efficiency on his part. He finished the regular season with four goals and eight points in his last 12 games.
- Carter Hart. The Flyers finally have their goalie. Carter Hart is one of five goalies in Flyer history to dress for at least 40 games in a season, post at least 20 wins, and do so with a goals against average under 2.50 and a save percentage over .910 at least once (43 games, 24-13-3, 2.42, .914). He is the first to pull off that feat since Robert Esche did it in 2003-2004 (40 games, 21-11-7, 2.04, .915). Against the Caps, though, Hart split the work with Brian Elliott, appearing in two of the four games, and they happened to be the first two games in the season series. He was impressive in those appearances, stopping 35 of 36 shots in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Caps on November 13th and then stopping 26 of 28 shots in a 3-2 win over the Caps on January 8th. He was another strong-finishing Flyer, going 10-2-0, 2.17, .926 over his last dozen appearances of the regular season. He stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Flyers’ opening game of the round-robin, a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
Fun Facts in the Season Series…
- The Caps had their worst goal differential per game of any opponent against the Flyers this season (minus-2.25).
- Washington outscored the Flyers, 5-3, in the first periods of the four games this season, but they were outscored, 13-2, in periods two and three in the season series.
- The Flyers scored six straight goals from six different players in a span of 25:17 across the second and third periods in a 7-2 win over the Caps on February 8th.
- The Caps did not get a goal from any defenseman in any of the four games against Philadelphia this season.
- Washington, not a good faceoff team overall this season, saved their worst for the Flyers. The Caps’ 39.6 faceoff winning percentage against the Flyers was their worst against any Eastern Conference team.
- Only one Capital recorded as many as five shots in a single game against the Flyers this season, and no, it was not Ovechkin. Richard Panik had six shots on goal in the Caps lone win in the season series, a 2-1 Gimmick win on November 13th.
…hey, when you go 1-3-0 in four games, not many of the “facts” are going to be “fun.”
If the Caps are going to put a pin in the party balloon that has been the Flyers’ season against the Caps and win the second game of the round robin, they will have to be far more competitive over all 60 minutes than they have been, and it would help if the stars were more than a little bit brighter when the Caps take the ice on Thursday.
Capitals 4 – Flyers 2