Flyers Gameday: 5/7/21 @ WSH
GAME 54: FLYERS @ CAPITALS
Wrapping up their season series with one another with a back-to-back set in DC, Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (23-23-7) will take on Peter Laviolette's Washington Capitals (34-14-5) at the Capital One Arena on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on NBCSP. The teams will rematch on Saturday.
The Flyers are 1-5-0 against the Capitals this season.
Philly prevailed, 7-4, in a nationally televised game on Super Bowl Sunday after the NHL made a decision to go ahead with the game at Capital One Arena despite Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim being a close contact exposure to a COVID-19 case (Sanheim himself tested negative throughout but went into protocol for a week).
Two days later, positive COVID tests started to turn up among Flyers players. A game in Washington was postponed. The Flyers ultimately had six active-roster players, a couple of Taxi Squad players plus a positive test from a player on IR (Morgan Frost) and four total games postponed. Two postponements stemmed from a COVID outbreak on the New Jersey Devils and the other two were related to the Flyers' cases.
The Flyers ended up being off the ice for a week, played a home game against the New York Rangers on Feb. 18 (a 2-1 shootout loss) and the Lake Tahoe game against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 21 (a 7-3 loss) with six regular starters out of the lineup because they were still in COVID protocol.
Nonetheless, and despite the fact that they had much in their collective game that needed to be cleaned up, the Flyers entered March with an 11-4-3 record and the highest points percentage in the East Division. The month started with back-to-back-to-back road games in Pittsburgh, with the Flyers winning one in multi-goal comeback fashion and losing two.
The following week, the Flyers played the Capitals three times. In a fateful week that truly started Philadelphia's month-long free-fall from pushing for first place to sinking out out the playoff picture, the Flyers lost all three games to Washington in regulation (3-1, 5-3 and 5-4). An all-too-familiar pattern of giving up closely spaced goals, entering third periods trailing by multiple goals and then making a late comeback bid that fell a little short -- sometimes with a late-empty netter adding to the final margin of defeat, sometimes not -- doomed the Flyers.
On April 13 in Washington, the host Capitals jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first period and went on to easily defeat Philadelphia, 6-1, in one of the least competitive all-around performances the Flyers mustered all season.
Four days later in Philadelphia, the Capitals pulled away for another multi-goal margin of victory in a 6-3 final. The Flyers twice erased one-goal deficits (1-0, 2-1) and later cut a 4-2 deficit to a single goal but Washington inevitably had a quick response. As Vigneault described it after the game, Philadelphia was "second on everything" as they lost too many battles and were too porous defensively to withstand the relentless attack. The Capitals were sloppy themselves at times, but the Flyers weren't nearly as opportunistic as their opponent.
Pressed into starting duty in net after Carter Hart was a late scratch due to an MCL sprain, Alex Lyon stopped 35 of 40 shots. Two power play one-timers by Alex Ovechkin, two deflection goals (one accidentally deflected by Travis Konecny, the other a high-tip by Connor Sheary) and a goal in which the Flyers were collectively caught flat-footed in their own zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov walked in to beat Lyon represented the goal-scoring damage. Anthony Mantha added a late empty-netter for the final 6-3 margin.
The Flyers split a pair of home games with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week, prevailing 7-2 on Monday and losing 7-3 the next night. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was suspended for both games in Washington as a result of cross-checking Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Friedman after the ex-Flyer scored an empty net goal that made it 6-3 at the time. Earlier in the game, the Flyers took exception to a hit that Friedman put on Joel Farabee, resulting in Jakub Voracek taking a retaliatory cross-checking minor and Farabee dropping the gloves with Friedman.
Highly touted 2019 first-round pick Cam York will make his NHL debut in Friday's game. Normally a left-side defenseman, York skated on his off-side in a pairing with Samuel Morin at Thursday's practice. Vigneault indicated that he's not sure how much of Friday's game that York will play on his off-side and he may rotate personnel around on the blueline over the course of the game.
York is coming off an excellent performance on Wednesday for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, showing a good defensive stick, skating well and passing on the tape. Offensively, York scored the game-winning goal in the third period after an earlier assist. On both scoing plays, York connected with Flyers 2020 first-round pick Tyson Foerster. The Phantoms defeated the Hershey Bears, 5-3.
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal in Friday night's game. Lyon will get the nod on Saturday.
The Capitals enter this game two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (75 to 73) for first place in the East Division but hold two games in hand. The Penguins are idle on Friday and then will complete their 2020-21 regular season schedule on Saturday afternoon against Buffalo. The Caps have three games remaining.
To say the least, it's been an eventful and emotional week for the Capitals.
After suffering back-to-back home losses to Pittsburgh last week, the Caps won a pair of emotionally charged road games against the New York Rangers, 6-3 and 4-2. The first game lit the powder keg, with the actions of often-controversial Capitals power forward Tom Wilson during an after-the-whistle scum at the eye of the storm. Wilson sucker-punched Pavel Buchnevich while he was prone on the ice and subsequently wrestled Artemi Panarin down to the ice. Panarin sustained a lower-body injury that ended his season early.
The Rangers howled for Wilson to be suspended. He received only a fine (the $5,000 maximum). Predictably, the rematch between the Caps and Rangers on Wednesday was a war. There were four fights right off the opening faceoff and six in total during the first period, including Wilson versus Brendan Smith. Wilson ultimately exited the game after one period with what the Capitals described as an "upper-body injury".
Officially, Wilson is day-to-day and his status for Friday's game will be updated by Laviolette. It would not be much of a surprise if he plays.
Evgeny Kuznetsov is in COVID-19 protocol (for a second time this season). Earlier this week, he was scratched along with Washington goaltender Ilya Samsonov for disciplinary reasons. The two Russian players arrived late for a team function. Subsequently, Kuznetsov was placed back in COVID-19 protocol. His status will be updated on Friday. Samsonov could dress for Friday's game.
Ovechkin's return on Monday from a lower-body injury lasted just a single 39-second shift before he left the game. He's missed five of the last six games. Although the Capitals are battling for first place, it's far more important to have the future Hall of Famer healthy for the playoffs. As such, it would not be surprising if he misses both games against the Flyers.
Entering this game with 730 career goals in the regular season, Ovechkin needs one goal to tie and two to surpass Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for 5th on the NHL's all-time list. This season, Ovechkin has 24 goals and 42 points overall in 44 games played. Last season, the Flyers completely held Ovechkin off the scoresheet in four head-to-head games. This season, he has torn apart Philadelphia for eight goals and 12 points in six games.
Capitals defenseman Justin Schultz is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. His status will be updated on Friday.
Publicly overshadowed by the drama and controversy swirling around Wilson, veteran Capitals forward T.J. Oshie lost his father Tim (AKA, "Coach") who passed away on Tuesday at age 56. Oshie elected to play in Wednesday's rematch with the Rangers and notched a hat trick (goals 19, 20 and 21 on the season). To honor the memory of T.J.'s dad, the Capitals affixed a black-and-white "Coach" decal on the back of their helmets.
Monday's game marks the first time in his career that longtime Flyers forward Michael Raffl will play against Philadelphia. A Flyer since 2013-14, Philadelphia traded the 32-year-old impending unrestricted free agent to Washington at the 2021 Trade Deadline in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick. Raffl was a very well-liked and well-respected figure within the Flyers' locker room, as well as a trusted role player among a series of head coaches.
Since April 17, the Capitals have really tightened things up in terms of their two-way play. The club is yielding just 25.4 shots against per games in that span; the second fewest in the NHL.
On a head-to-head basis against the Flyers this season, the Capitals own a 29-19 goal differential edge across the six games played to date. Much of the damage has been done on the power play. The Washington power play, which ranks 3rd overall at the NHL at a 25.9 percent success rate, has been even more lethal when playing against the Flyers. The Caps are 7-for-14 (50 percent) on the PP against the Flyers. On the PK against the Flyers, the Capitals have killed 13 of 15 Flyers' power plays: an 86.67 percent success rate.
Projected lineups (will be updated)
28 Claude Giroux -14 Sean Couturier - 11 Travis Konecny
86 Joel Farabee - 13 Kevin Hayes - 93 Jakub Voracek
25 James van Riemsdyk - 21 Scott Laughton - 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel
23 Oskar Lindblom - 19 Nolan Patrick - 57 Wade Allison
9 Ivan Provorov - 6 Travis Sanheim
45 Cam York- 61 Justin Braun
55 Samuel Morin - 5 Phil Myers
37 Brian Elliott
[34 Alex Lyon]
PP1: Giroux, Couturier, Allison, Voracek, York
PP2: Hayes, Farabee, JVR, Konecny, Provorov
Scratches: 8 Robert Hägg (healthy), 59 Jackson Cates (healthy), 79 Carter Hart (MCL sprain, out for the remainder of the season).
NHL suspension: Shayne Gostisbehere (suspended for May 7 and 8 games).
Injured reserve: 48 Morgan Frost (shoulder surgery), 58 Tanner Laczynski (hip surgery).
COVID-19 protocol: None.
39 Anthony Mantha - 19 Nicklas Bäckström - 43 Tom Wilson
73 Conor Sheary - 20 Lars Eller - 77 T.J. Oshie
28 Daniel Carr - 17 Michael Raffl - 10 Daniel Sprong
62 Carl Hagelin - 26 Nic Dowd - 21 Garnet Hathaway
9 Dmitry Orlov - 74 John Carlson
4 Brenden Dillon - 57 Trevor van Riemsdyk
33 Zdeno Chara - 3 Nick Jensen
41 Vitek Vanecek
[31 Craig Anderson]
PP1: Wilson, Bäckström, Oshie, Sprong, Carlson
PP2: Sheary, Eller, Mantha, Orlov, [Schultz, if available]
Scratches: 2 Justin Schultz (lower body, day-to-day), 8 Alex Ovechkin (lower-body), 31 Craig Anderson (healthy).
Injured reserve: 47 Beck Malenstyn (Achilles tendon repair surgery), 35 Henrik Lundqvist (open heart surgery).
COVID-10 protocol: 92 Evgeny Kuznetsov, 30 Ilya Samsonov.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (16-6-4) have five games remaining on their abbreviated 2020-21 season schedule:
* SAT May 8 on the road against the Hershey Bears (4 p.m. EDT)
* SUN May 9 at home against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (3 p.m. EDT)
* WED May 12 in Newark against the Binghamton Devils
* SAT May 15 at home against WB/S
* SUN May 16 at home against Binghamton (3 p.m. EDT).
The games that were postponed during the COVID-19 outbreak on the Phantoms will not be rescheduled. To the extent that finishing in first place matters in a season where there will be no Calder Cup playoffs or in-division postseason competition, the final standing will be determined by points percentage and not points. The Phantoms have a .685 points percentage while the first-place Hershey Bears (20-7-2) have a .724 points percentage.
Hershey has four games remaining on its schedule, starting with a road game on Friday in Newark against the Devils and then the Phantoms at home the next day. Thereafter, they will host the Devils on May 15 and then conclude against the Pens the following day.