It's weird: Alex Ovechkin has been playing well lately. It's one of the rare stretches this season where we can say that about the guy who used to be in the running for Best NHL Player, but it's true right now. Ovechkin has five goals in his last four games, and that's prompting a lot of "Ovi's getting hot at just the right time!" stories.
Not that it'll matter much if the Capitals miss the playoffs, which is a very legitimate possibility now. The Buffalo Sabres have miraculously caught Washington in points with 80, and the Caps will play their lone game in hand over Buffalo tonight against the Flyers. If they lose in regulation, they'll fall into a virtual tie with the Sabres, although the Caps do hold the tiebreaker.
Needless to say, however, this is an utterly gigantic game for the Capitals tonight. The key may very well be shutting down Alex Ovechkin, but we know how to do that: Hit him, get him frustrated, keep him to the outside. Just play a physical brand of solid positional defense on him and you can shut him down. It's possible.
The Flyers have done it before, and when Ovechkin gets frustrated, he tries to do it all himself. It turns into a spiral and the whole Caps' offense gets sucked in there with him. It's actually pretty fun to watch. I'd expect Nicklas Grossmann to lead the charge tonight against Ovechkin, just as he did on Sunday against Evgeni Malkin. Should be a fun matchup to keep an eye on.
The Caps could be without Alexander Semin this evening, and they will be without Nicklas Backstrom, who's still recovering from a concussion. Dale Hunter thinks he's cute by not announcing which goalie will start, but it doesn't really matter. Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby both stink. The Caps' lineup via the Washington Times:
Ovechkin - Laich - Brouwer
Johansson - Aucoin - Knuble
Chimera - Perrault - Semin/Ward
Hendricks - Beagle - Halpern
Alzner - Wideman
Hamrlik - Green
Schultz - Carlson
For the Flyers, it's pretty simple: Score first, score a lot. The Flyers have scored eight goals in the three games against the Caps so far this season -- five came in one game -- but we're held to just a single goal in their last outing 18 days ago at Verizon Center. Scoring has been an issue for the Flyers of late -- whether that's on the power play or otherwise -- and tonight would be a really fantastic time to correct that trend.
Expected lineup for the Flyers is the same as we saw on Tuesday vs. Florida:
Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr
Wellwood - Briere - Voracek
Simmonds - Schenn - Read
Rinaldo - Couturier - Talbot
Timonen - Carle
Coburn - Grossmann
Kubina - Lilja
Game thread at 5 p.m.-ish. Game is on CSN Philly, CSN DC and 94 WIP this evening. Be sure to check in with our friends over at Japers' Rink for the Capitals' perspective on tonight's game. Go Flyers.