Washington 4, Philadelphia 2 -- Caps' Comeback Flattens Flyers

[Recap] - [Boxscore] - [Complete Coverage] - [WSH Reaction]

Any game that shows up in the loss column is one that by definition leaves a lot to be desired.  But as far as losses go, this one can't be viewed as particularly catastrophic.

The Flyers played a full 60 minutes of hard, fairly smart hockey.  They outshot the Capitals 43-36, and looked sharp on both sides of the special teams.  But despite being the better team for roughly 55 minutes of the game (excluding the end of the second period), the Flyers lost.  It happens.

If you have to pinpoint a reason the Caps won this game and the Flyers didn't, it would be the goaltending.  Ray Emery's 32 stops on 35 shots represent a pretty solid night statistically, but the masked man on the other side of the rink outdueled him completely.  Jose Theodore stopped 41 of 43 shots, including all twenty he faced in the final frame.  The two shots he let in were completely unstoppable power play goals.  Theodore was deservedly named first star of the game afterwards.

Emery was not the reason the Flyers lost, but he could have been the reason they won if he had played better.

Some notes from the game in chronological order, and then some more assorted thoughts after:

First Period

This is what Jacques Lemaire's nightmare's must look like.  The best of the new NHL, as plays are allowed to develop from end to end without a whole lot of clutching and grabbing.  While the rushes were rarely of the odd-man variety, they were constant and rarely slowed down.

The Flyers were able to plant guys in front of the crease at will, something they did with success all game long.  When Theodore did cough up a rebound, which was rare, guys in front of the net at will, and got plenty of second hacks at rebounds.

The first period in the first meeting was scoreless too, then gave way to seven goals in the second.  Definitely a powder keg feel to this one.  These offenses are too good to be shut out for any extended amount of time.

Second Period

In the waning seconds of the Flyers' first man advantage of the game, a beautiful alley oop cross ice pass was tapped into a yawning net by Scott Hartnell to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

After a too many men on the ice penalty put the Flyers a man down, Jeff Carter and Darroll Powe started on a short-handed two on one break.  Carter threw the puck to the net where a charging Powe got a stick on it about a foot in front of Jose Theodore, before colliding with the goalie in an unavoidable collision due to the speed of the play.  Even though Powe was completely unable to avoid contact with the challenging Theodore, he was still assessed a bogus goalie interference call, one that gave the Caps 1:41 of 5-on-3.

But the Flyers penalty kill rose to the occasion, keeping the shooting lanes closed effectively and clearing the puck from in front of Emery's net during scrambles.  While they were never able to get the puck past the blueline, they kept the Caps from generating any major chances.

Less than a minute after Powe's penalty expired to put the sides back on even terms, the Flyers were given their second power play opportunity of the night.  They quickly cashed in only nine seconds into the man advantage, with Braydon Coburn blasting a low slap shot from the top of the circles past Theodore, thanks in large part to an excellent screen set by James van Riemsdyk.

The combined momentum from the 5-on-3 kill and the Coburn goal should have given all the momentum to the Flyers for some time, but it didn't last for more than a shift or two.

Alexander Ovechkin fluttered a soft deflected shot over Emery's glove to put the Caps on the board for the first time, and to tilt momentum back towards the home team.  John Stevens inexplicably put the fourth line on the ice after the goal, which not surprisingly led to an overmatched Mika Pyorala immediately taking a holding call to give the Caps complete momentum control. 

And just over two minutes after Ovechkin brought the lead down to one, a one-timer that Nicklas Backstrom didn't get all of snuck through Emery's five hole to level the contest at two a-piece.  After stopping the first twenty-three shots, Emery let in two of the next three, both of which were extremely stoppable.

The Flyers had to work hard to get momentum in their direction, but the Caps stole it back quickly and easily.

Third Period

The Flyers played an absolutely outstanding third period.  They drew two penalties and took none, and kept the action in the Washington end for the vast majority of the frame.  The Flyers, who had trailed the Caps in shots through two, doubled up their opponents in the category in the third, outshooting them 20-10.  The Flyers dominated every category but scoring, which according to NHL rules is the category used to determine the winner of the game.

Alex Semin gave the Caps the lead early in the third, on a high shot from the top of the circles that deflected, but far enough up ice that Emery should have had time to adjust. Alex Ovechkin sealed the Washington win in the last minute with an empty netter, after Backstrom and Semin both passed up clear looks at the net to get the reigning MVP the puck.  I don't know if it's a team effort to pad Ovechkin's stats, but it was bizarre seeing the two open forwards work to get the puck to the only covered player as the net sat open.

Despite being outscored by two in the final frame, the effort level in the third was unquestionable.  The Flyers won puck battles time and time again, outworking and out-chancing the Caps convincingly.  Darroll Powe even managed to draw a penalty shot after being dragged down on a breakaway, but wasn't able to do anything close to anything with his one on one opportunity.  Jose Theodore was simply outstanding, and didn't allow for the Flyers to make good on any of a multitude of chances.

The Flyers and Caps meet again in early December, back in Philadelphia.  If they put up 43 shots again and control play as well as they did tonight, it's hard to think they won't come away from that one with a win.

Miscellaneous

  • The last time these two teams met in the nation's capital, the Caps were the ones with the 2-0 lead in the second period before the Flyers answered with four unanswered goals.
  • After scoring a goal in three straight games, Arron Asham has been held to 8:01 and 8:38 of ice time in the last two games.  Why?
  • The Flyers had been 5-1-1 when scoring the first goal going into this game.
  • Asham's ice time is sparse, but it must seem like an eternity to Riley Cote, who saw only 3:08 of action, including no time in the third period.  After the game, still understandably full of energy, Cote was doing pushups in the locker room.  What is the point of dressing they guy if you don't trust him to play any meaningful shifts? A seventh defenseman like Oskars Bartulis or someone like a Jared Ross or Jon Kalinski would seem to be a much more appropriate substitute.

Questions With Answers

  1. How much is Simon Gagne's absence felt by the team's offense? 43 shots for the Orange and Black, so it's hard to say he was missed too much.
  2. How convincingly will Washington dominate in the faceoff circle, and how big an impact will it have?  Faceoffs didn't seem to be a big factor in this one, except for the Flyers second goal, which was scored shortly after winnning an offensive zone draw on the powerplay.  Flyers only won 46% of the draws, but it wasn't a big reason for the loss.
  3. Can Ovechkin and Semin be held to less than four goals tonight? Setting the bar low, I know... Barely.  The Alexes netted three, including Ovechkin's empty netter. 
  4. The Flyers are impressively third best in shots for and fifth best in shots against, but can they outshoot the always offensive-minded Caps? They were trailing by three in the shot count through two, but dominated 20-10 in the third.  Didn't mean much, though.
  5. Which of the visiting Flyers' dads gets to leave the game the proudest of his boy? Tough to say.  Definitely not Papa Timonen though, as Kimmo was a -3 on the night.

A few days off, then Carolina at home on Saturday.  Five wins in the first ten games is definitely below expectations, but the season is still young.

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