GAME 18: FLYERS VS. CAPITALS
Briefly returning home, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (10-5-2) host Todd Reirden's Washington Capitals (13-2-4) on Wednesday evening. Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:30 p.m. ET.
The game will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network. The radio broadcast will be on 97.5 The Fanatic (or 93.3 WMMR) with an online simulcast on Flyers Radio 24/7
This is the first of four meetings this season between the teams. The teams will rematch at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 8 before the scene shifts to Washington on Feb. 8 and March 4. Last season, the Flyers got swept in the season series with the Capitals, going 0-4-0. The previous season, Philly managed to go 3-1-0 against the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Wednesday's game is the start of another 3-in-4 gauntlet for the Flyers, who will be in Ottawa on Friday and then back home on Saturday to play a rested New York Islanders team (who will have had two nights off, and will be playing for just the second time since Nov. 9).
The Flyers bring a 6-1-1 home record into Wednesday's tilt. After back-to-back ugly road losses to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins dropped their overall record to 5-5-2, the Flyers have gone 5-0-1 over their last six games and have won four in a row.
On Saturday, the Flyers rolled all four lines and after skating to a hard-fought 2-2 tie through 65 minutes, grabbed the shootout bonus point in Toronto from a 3-2 (2-1) victory. On Sunday, the Flyers dominated the powerhouse Boston Bruins for 40 minutes but ran out of gas in the third period. Boston managed to battle back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period but Carter Hart rescued a regulation point before the Flyers ultimately prevailed (1-0) via another shootout. Joel Farabee tallied the lone goal in the skills competition. In regulation, Phil Myers (goals in three straight games) and Travis Konecny scored for the Flyers.
Hart will get the start in goal against Washington. There were no five-on-five lineup changes at practice on Tuesday. The lone change overall was placing Ivan Provorov back onto Claude Giroux's power play unit while Shayne Gostisbehere went back to Sean Couturier's power play unit.
Through 17 games, the Flyers have six players with double-digit points. Konecny leads the way with 19 (8g, 11a). He is followed by Oskar Lindblom (8g, 6a), Couturier (5g, 8a), Giroux (4g, 8a), Jakub Voracek (4g, 8a) and Ivan Provorov (3g, 7a). James van Riemsdyk (nine points) and Kevin Hayes (seven points) each have scored four goals.
Entering Wednesday, the Flyers have averaged 3.12 goals per game with allowing 2.94 per game. The power play comes in at 21.5 percent and the penalty kill at 85.4 percent. The team has won faceoffs at a 53.9 percent clip, although the percentage has been dropping a bit of late with Sean Couturier muddling through a shoulder strain and limited in his ability to take draws.
The Capitals bring the NHL's best overall record, best road record (8-1-1) and highest-scoring offense into Wednesday's game. The team sports a 12-game unbeaten streak (10-0-2). After the third game of the season, Washington has not been held to fewer than three regulation goals in any single game.
Washington is coming off a rare night where they left the building with less than two points. On Monday, the Capitals lost on the road via shootout to the Arizona Coyotes, 4-3 (2-0). Washington trailed 3-0 early in the second period and 3-1 entering the third. The Caps then turned up the heat and got one early period goal and then a tying goal with 1:16 left on the clock to rescue a point.
Evgeny Kuznetsov tallied twice (7th and 8th) for Washington before T.J. Oshie (9th) scored the game-tying goal. Ilya Samsonov got the start in goal, stopping 32 of 33 shots in regulation and overtime before going 0-for-2 in the shootout. Former Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby (8-1-3, 3.25 GAA, .898) will get the start in goal for Washington against the Flyers.
The Capitals, far and away the most potent offensive team in the NHL so far this season, have nine players who are already in double-digits in their point totals. Seven players have scored five or more goals through the first 19 games.
Defenseman John Carlson (8g, 21a, 29pts, +14) leads the way. He's followed by prolific leadign goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin (13g, 10a, 23pts), Kuznetsov (18 points in 16 games after starting the season on a drug-related NHL suspension), Jakub Vrana (9g, 8a), Tom Wilson (8g, 8a, 18 pim), Nicklas Bäckström (4g, 11a), Oshie (9g, 5a), Lars Eller (5g, 6a) and Michal Kempny (3g, 8a). Wilson, one of the NHL's most feared and hated opponents, brings a five-game point streak into Wednesday's game.
Part of what makes the Capitals such a tough opponent is that they have different ways of beating teams: with finesse and skill or with heaviness and physicality. They can around you or through you. This year's edition of the Caps have been willing to trade off scoring chances with opponents because they can simply outgun other teams. Washington has scored 46 goals at 5-on-5 and allowed 40 (by comparison, the Flyers have scored 34 and allowed 38).
In terms of size and physicality, the Capitals are one of the NHL's heaviest teams at an average 204 pounds (the Flyers average 199 pounds) per player. The Capitals rank in the top one-third of the league with 429 credited hits; led by Wilson (63), ex-Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas (55) and winger Garnet Hathaway (53). As a young player, Ovechkin threw his body around with abandon but nowadays picks his spots more selectively. The future Hall of Famer has been credited with 43 hits; fourth on the team.
Gudas, acquired by the Capitals during the offseason in exchange for Matt Niskanen, will make his return to Philadelphia on Wednesday night. For the season, he's averaging 17:32 of ice time (21.8 shifts), has chipped in five assists and is +9.
Entering Wednesday's game, the Capitals have averaged 4.00 goals per game with allowing 3.05 per game. The power play comes in at 23.9 percent and the penalty kill at 85.5 percent. The team has won faceoffs at a 49.9 percent rate.
PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change)
25 James van Riemsdyk - 28 Claude Giroux - 49 Joel Farabee
23 Oskar Lindblom - 14 Sean Couturier - 11 Travis Konecny
81 Carsen Twarynski - 13 Kevin Hayes - 92 Jakub Voracek
10 Andy Andreoff - 12 Michael Raffl - 18 Tyler Pitlick
9 Ivan Provorov - 15 Matt Niskanen
53 Shayne Gostisbehere - 61 Justin Braun
6 Travis Sanheim - 5 Phil Myers
79 Carter Hart
[37 Brian Elliott]
Power Play 1: Giroux, JVR, Farabee, Provorov, Voracek
Power Play 2: Couturier, Lindblom, Konecny, Gostisbehere, Niskanen
Scratches: 8 Robert Hägg (healthy), 44 Chris Stewart (healthy), 55 Sam Morin (torn ACL).
Injured reserve: 21 Scott Laughton (broken right index finger)
Injured non-roster: 19 Nolan Patrick (migraines)
8 Alex Ovechkin -19 Niklas Backstrom - 77 T.J. Oshie
13 Jakub Vrana - 92 Evgeny Kuznetsov - 43 Tom Wilson
18 Chandler Stephenson - 20 Lars Eller - 14 Richard Panik
28 Brendan Leipsic - 26 Nic Dowd - 21 Garnet Hathaway
6 Michal Kempny - 74 John Carlson
9 Dmitry Orlov - 33 Radko Gudas
34 Jonas Siegenthaler - 3 Nick Jensen
70 Braden Holtby
[30 Ilya Samsonov]
Power Play 1: Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Bäckström, Oshie, Carlson.
Power Play 2: Ovechkin, Eller, Wilson, Vrana, Orlov.
Scratches: 72 Travis Boyd (healthy), 78 Tyler Lewington (healthy), 62 Carl Hagelin (upper-body injury, Nov. 8).
PREVIEW: PHANTOMS @ THUNDERBIRDS
Starting a three-in-four gauntlet of their own, Scott Gordon's Lehigh Valley Phantoms (6-2-5) are in Massachusetts on Wednesday morning to take on Gordie Kinnear's Springfield Thunderbirds (9-6-0). Gametime at the MassMutual Center is 10:35 a.m. ET. The game will be streamed on AHL TV.
The Phantoms are coming off a week that saw the team going 2-0-1 but ended with the team's fourth shootout loss of the young season in a 3-2 road loss to the Hershey Bears on Sunday. Veteran forward Kyle Criscuolo has three goals and four points over the last three games.
Rookie center Morgan Frost leads the team in scoring with 12 points (5g, 7a) in 13 games played, ranking second in the AHL rookie scoring race. Frost was not at his best last week, particularly last Wednesday against Wilkes Barre/Scranton and in the second half of the back-to-back with Hershey but has posted at least one point in nine of the last 10 games.
Offensively, Frost's output is followed by veteran Greg Carey (4g, 5a), Criscuolo (4g, 3a), Mikhail Vorobyev (3g, 3a in 10 games), rookie winger Maksim Sushko (3g, 3a) and defenseman Andy Welinski (2g, 4a in six games). German Rubtsov has posted six points (1g, 5a) in 10 games with the Phantoms, interspersed with a three-game NHL stint with the Flyers. Fourth-year pro Nicolas Aube-Kubel has posted four goals, five points and 12 penalty minutes.
Veteran center Cal O'Reilly, a four-time AHL All-Star is off to a slower-than-expected offensive start (1g, 5a) this season after posting 67 points in 67 games for Iowa last year. Veteran offensive defenseman T.J. Brennan, a two-time Eddie Shore Award winner and four-time AHL All-Star, is still looking for his first goal of the season.
Rookie forward Isaac Ratcliffe has dressed in 12 of 13 games so far this season. He's played in different spots in the lineup, including some opportunities to play with Frost, but primarily in the bottom half of the lineup. The 2017 second-round pick has posted one goal and three points to date.
To date this season, J-F Berube has started seven games in goal (3-1-3, 2.50 GAA, .910 SV%) while Alex Lyon has started six (3-1-2, 2.10 GAA, .920 SV%).
Last season, the Phantoms posted a middle-of-the-pack 18.8% success rate on the power play. So far this season, Lehigh Valley has really scuffled with the man advantage, coming in at 6-for-51 (11.8%, 12th in the 16-team Eastern Conference and 25th in the 31-team league)
were one of the AHL's top penalty killing teams, coming in at 85.1 percent. The PK has also not truly gotten untracked so far in 2019-20, and enters Wednesday morning's game at 79.2% after being one of the league's top penalty killing clubs (85.1%, 2nd in the East) last season.
The Phantoms' depth has been tested a bit of late. Phil Myers is back up in the NHL; maybe to stay for good. Second-year center/left winger Connor Bunnaman, who started the season with the Flyers, suffered a lower-body injury in his 4th AHL game this season and remains out of the lineup. Veteran left winger Andy Andreoff (3g, 4a in 10 games) is on recall to the Flyers, and looking to stake down a regular fourth line spot. Third-year defenseman Mark Friedman went down in the first period of Saturday's game against Hershey and did not return.
Springfield, the Florida Panthers' AHL affiliate, played the Charlotte Checkers tough on the road in a weekend back-to-back set. The Thunderbirds managed a split, losing 2-1 on Friday but earning a 4-3 win in the rematch the next night.
Anthony Greco leads the Thunderbirds with 12 points (7g, 5a) in 17 games. Rookie right winger Owen Tippett, selected by Florida with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, has posted six goals and 11 points in 15 games.