Win a draw Will Ya! Caps host Flyers - Copley In, Backy??
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The Washington Capitals finished the first half of the season atop the Metro Standings coming off a 3-2 victory in Detroit and stopped their longest losing streak of the season at 3 games.
Although the 15-21-6 Flyers, currently second last in the NHL, have struggled this season it’s always a tough game when these two get together and the Caps should have learned a lesson last week as they went down to the less-then-stellar St. Louis Blues 5-2 in a game where you could argue Washington took their opposition lightly and were able to get the Caps off their game including goading Tom Wilson (Caps second-leading goal scorer) into a needless scrap. It was evident the game got away from them.
The 25-12-4 Capitals enter the game sitting first place with 54 points in the tight Metro Division now having only a two-point lead on Pittsburgh with Columbus just 3 points back. None of these three teams are even the hottest in the division with the Islanders only losing once in their last ten to put them back in the mix currently sitting in the first Wildcard spot just four back with 50 points.
It makes it vitally important to play well in your division and conference when things are as tight as they are and the Capitals have been stellar in this regard. They have a 6-1 record in their last seven vs Metro squads and are 14-1 in their last 15 vs the East.
Few teams in the NHL are as desirable to beat then the Philadelphia Flyers if you Rock the Red in DC and tonight will provide another opportunity. The clubs have a storied history against each other and for the first time in 2018-19 the old Patrick Division foes will face-off tonight in Washington at Capital One Arena. Last season the Flyers won three of the four meetings between them. It will be the second of a back-to-back for the Flyers who lost last night 3-0 to St. Louis. In fact, the Flyers haven’t won since a shootout victory over the Rangers in their last game before the Christmas break on Dec. 23 in a stretch that has seen them lose seven straight (0-5-2).
Nicklas Backstrom will be a game-time decision as he was not on the ice for morning skate due to illness.
Should he remain out tonight Coach Todd Reirden adjusted his lines. Notable is Eller on the first PP unit. My guess is this is mostly because he’s the next best face-off guy for him.
Pheonix Copley will get the net for his 14th start of the season holding an impressive 9-2 record with a 2.56 GAA and .915 SV%. The native of North Pole, Alaska had won 5 games in a row until the OT loss to Dallas last Friday.
It’s no secret that the Caps power play has virtually disappeared since the start of December and going 0-4 in Detroit has now given them a grand total of 5 goals in the last 48 opportunities for an embarrassing 10.4%. Surprisingly, Montreal, St.Louis and Columbus are even worse over that stretch. While the Capitals 5 on 5 scoring has helped mitigate this issue and held the team in contention, it’s concerning for a power play with this many weapons and historic success rate to be this bad for this long. Last season the Caps seemed to get cold on the power play as well around the same time. Good thing the Caps are playing a Flyers squad who also struggle on the power play sitting 29th in the league in efficiency. This also surprises me with some of the talents they can ice including Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek.
The Flyers 28th ranked (75.2%) penalty killing units, much like Washington’s, have also struggled as only Los Angeles, Chicago and Ottawa have worse defending rates while down a man. The Capitals, while slightly improving over the last 4 weeks, still sit 25th in the league with a 77.2% rate with their home PK operating slightly worse at 75.9%. The Flyers do have 3 shorthanded goals so the Caps will need to pay attention as they Flyers like to hold the puck during PK’s.
Giroux leads Flyer scoring with 46 points, good for 25th overall and his 33 assists also lead his team and have him tied for 14th overall with the Capitals John Carlson. Yes, John Carlson is tied in assists with one of the best set-up guys in the league. His 13 goals trail team leader Sean Couturier by two (15). With only 2 assists his last six games you’d expect a breakout game for the Captain so let’s hope it’s not today. He does have 12 points in 11 games vs the Metro so no doubt he will be a tough out today. Last season the 2006 1st round pick had 2 goals and 3 assists in the four games played against the Capitals. Ovechkin still leads the Caps and the NHL with 30 goals.
The Caps have struggled at the face-off circle this year sitting dead-last in the NHL winning only 47% of the time the puck is dropped. The Flyers, on the other hand, are the best team in the NHL with a 56.3% winning rate. It could be an issue today as the Caps can’t spend all their energy retrieving the puck after lost draws and not have any gas in the tank once they get it back. I will be interested to see how the Caps handle draws against Giroux specifically as he leads all NHL’ers at 60.5%. Only Nicklas Backstrom (51.3%) is above the 50% mark and so I think we’ll see a more concerted effort on the wingers of the Caps to help the center out. The loss of Jay Beagle to free-agency last summer to Vancouver is certainly being felt here.
The Flyers Claude Giroux(447) and Nicklas Backstrom(435) are the top two in total assists since the 2010-2011 season in the NHL.
Game time is 7:30 PM EST on NBCSN and Capitals Radio Fan 106.7