Go Figure, Flyers Get Back on Track Against Division-Leading Capitals
In a lot of situations, a slump for a power play will not be condemned by a coach or players after a game. You hear a lot of comments talking about generating chances and that the players are just not finishing or that eventually the goals will come. After Thursday’s loss to the Devils, one where the Flyers went 0-for-4 on the power play and surrendered a shorthanded goal and a number of chances, there was no sugarcoating anything from the head coach.
“I should have denied,” Alain Vigneault said. “Our power play was terrible. I don't know what else to tell you. Every time we were on the power play, they were having chances towards our net. So, we should have denied it after the first one. We should have figured it out. I will next time.”
So when the Flyers took the ice on Friday for practice, they had a new power-play formation and new combinations. On their first power-play attempt on Saturday against Washington, it took nine seconds for them to get a goal. They added another to cap their scoring in a dominant 7-2 win over the Metro-leading Washington Capitals.
“There’s no doubt our guys were highly motivated, but I think we were motivated against the Devils,” Vigneault said on Saturday. “Tonight the difference was we were able to capitalize on some of our looks. It was a strong team win, we had saves at the right time, but go figure, we were able to score seven tonight and weren’t able to score one last game.”
Go figure is right. After getting shut out by the last-place Devils on Thursday, the Flyers scored seven goals against the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals. “It’s the beauty of the game,” Vigneault said with a smile.
But in a sense, it wasn’t really all that surprising at all. The Flyers have shown constantly throughout the season that they can skate with the top teams and come away with results. Against the two Eastern Conference division leaders -- Boston and Washington -- the Flyers have a combined 4-0-1 record.
“It’s Saturday night in a tough rink and we wanted to bring it,” Brian Elliott said. “I thought we came with our A game. You could tell everybody was into it right away. That’s what we want to bring every night. It’s tough in an 82-game schedule, but these are the games at this time of year that you need to bring it.”
“We’re a good team and this is a tough league,” Vigneault said. “There are no bad teams. Everybody works hard and everybody prepares. Tonight, we were obviously fortunate that we capitalized on some of our looks. We got a big game from [Claude Giroux] and [Sean Couturier]. Let’s build off that and get ready for Florida.”
Giroux, in particular, was in need of a game like this. The Flyers captain had just one point over his previous five games and had gone 13 straight games without a goal, posting just five assists in that time. He snapped his goalless streak with his third point of the night and the 800th of his career.
“The win feels the best, especially when you come to a building where it’s really tough to play. I haven’t been playing that great lately. It’s good to be able to contribute on a team win and I want to keep going here.”
The second period and special teams, both ways, was really the story of this game. The Flyers were able to take advantage and score on two of their five power plays in the game, but they also had to be a solid penalty killing team.
After scoring on their first power play of the game, the Flyers also allowed Washington to tie the game just 29 seconds into their first power play. The difference in the game was in the second period.
The Flyers came out with a ton of pressure and turned that into three quick goals in a span of 2:45. During the rest of the second period, the Flyers had to kill off three penalties, including a rare lone embellishment call on Couturier, a partial 4-on-3 power play with Kevin Hayes in the box for hooking, and a slashing penalty to Travis Sanheim after a brutal turnover by Phil Myers.
Given the talent on the Capitals power play, those were three huge opportunities to make it a close game again. Alex Ovechkin entered the game two goals away from reaching 700 for his career. There was a clear emphasis on trying to get him his shot. Ovechkin landed two shots in the game, including one on the power play that was stopped by Elliott, but also had three shots blocked. The Capitals never had another power play and finished the game 1-for-4. Robert Hagg, who was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch on Thursday, finished with a team-high four blocked shots, including a notable one on an Ovechkin blast.
“Everybody in this room played a really solid game,” Hagg said. “I can’t control who’s going to be in and out of the lineup. The only thing I can control is my own game and I want to do the best at it.”
The Flyers are going to need the best from everyone for the rest of the season. They got a critical two points in Washington against the Metro division leaders while two teams ahead of them in the standings, the Islanders and Blue Jackets, lost in regulation. However, a come-from-behind shootout win by the Hurricanes put the Flyers back into a tie for the second wildcard spot, and therefore on the outside looking in. Just five points separates the second-place Penguins from the Flyers.
Even if the Flyers are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture at the moment, they have a lot of their destiny in their hands at the moment. They face Florida, another team fighting for a wildcard spot but out of the playoff picture, on Monday and Thursday next week. They face the Islanders on Tuesday and have another game against them later in the season. They have a home-and-home with Columbus on Feb. 18 and 20. They still have one more game against both Pittsburgh and Carolina before the season ends. That’s eight of the Flyers remaining 27 games.
So the next two weeks are an opportunity to make a significant move in the Flyers playoff push that certainly got off to a great start in Washington on Saturday.