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Gameday: Playoff rematch as Caps visit town

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Washington Capitals (20-10-3, 43 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (17-8-6, 40 pts)
Wachovia Center - 1 PM EST - Philadelphia, PA
TV: CSN Philly HD, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 207
Check Here for Internet Streams
Behind Enemy Lines: Japers' Rink | On Frozen Blog | Capitals Kremlin

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"We know them pretty well. Their core group is completely the same as the core group they had last year. As is ours. I don't think there's a lot of like on either side. I'm looking forward to it because it's always a great atmosphere, a good hockey atmosphere in Philly. You always get 20,000 screaming so and so's there. And Philly is playing so good right now, that it's going to be a great challenge for us."
-- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau

What to Watch For: The Capitals really don't like us. I mean, besides beating them in the playoffs last year, I don't really get why. Is it bitterness? Maybe it's just me, but I don't sense much ill will on the Flyers side toward the DC boys. As a fan, the whole "HEY lets jump on top of each other like Brad Lidge just struck out Eric Hinske because we scored a goal!" is a bit ridiculous, but it's not enough to hate them over. In fact, I'd go as far as saying I like the Capitals. Ovechkin is the most dynamic player in the game and they've got the most bitchin' jerseys in the NHL.


Again, maybe it's just me, but I sense no true rivalry here. I guess for Caps fans who are in such a shitty division, where the closest team is Carolina (no fun), you kind of have to mooch off of other rivalries. If you were to ask a Caps fan who they're biggest rival is, I'm sure they'd probably say Pittsburgh, but they have the whole Crosby v AO thing... a valid reason for Pittsburghers to hate them (be jealous?) back.


But still, the Capitals website claims that Flyers/Caps is a rivalry.


We have zero reason to dislike the Capitals, so if this is a rivalry, it's pretty one sided.


Scouting the Enemy: The Capitals are going to win the Southeast if they lose the rest of their games probably, but still they are proof that good teams can play in terrible divisions. In fact, some think they are a Cup contender, including me. Like the Flyers, they've been hot lately, winners of five straight. They are coming off of a 4-2 win over St. Louis on Thursday night. Three of the games on this five game stretch they have going were against pretty weak teams -- St. Louis, Ottawa, and the Islanders -- but five wins in a row is never anything to frown at.


While Washington is an astounding 13-1-1 inside the beltway, they are just 7-9-2 on the road, however they've won the last four regular season games in South Philly.


Between The Pipes: Antero Niittymaki is the starter for the third game in a row. With Marty still out with the flu, Nitty is getting a lot of extra work, but he has stepped up to the challenge. Don't let the score fool you -- his game on Thursday was not bad.


The goaltending has been a little crazy in Washington lately. It's a bit of a love triangle between usual backup Brent Johnson, veteran Jose Theodore, and rookie Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov was sent down to Hershey after winning both games he started with the big club. He got the opportunity to start because regular starter Theodore was injured and backup Johnson was also hurt, forcing himself to ride the pine. Varlamov is upset about being sent down... really? Who gives a shit? It's the NHL, man up.


You also might've heard the story about Brett Leonhardt, a former D-III college goalie and current web producer for the Capitals who got to take warmups in place Varlamov and sat the bench in his place last Friday night since his arrival from Hershey was delayed. Cool story.


Back to the game: Theodore has sucked for the Caps all season after signing a big contract in the offseason, and they are hoping that with Johnson and Varlamov both performing well, it will light a fire under Jose's ass. We won't see on Saturday as Johnson gets the start.


Johnson has terrible numbers lifetime against the Flyers... 2-6-0 with a 4.54 GAA. He didn't participate in the postseason last year, but he's currently having the best year of his career at 10-4-2 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA in 16 games. Still, he's less than mediocre on the road this season, with a save percentage of .891 and a GAA of 3.44.


Injury Report: Mike Green and Alexander Semin both were injured against St. Louis on Thursday. Green practiced on Friday and while saying he aggrevated his previously-injured shoulder, he said he plans on playing Saturday. Things weren't as rosy for Semin though. A quote, with a stick tap to Japers' Rink:


"I have already been to the doctor. I think that maybe my nerve was hit. And now it is squeezed. I can hardly walk. I have no clue how many games I am going to miss. I felt bad this morning. I feel worse than I did yesterday. I am trying to [use] pain relievers... I am so tired of these injuries. Just [recently] one injury healed, my shot got better. And here is another one. God, when is this all going to end?"
-- Alex Semin


No word on if Randy Jones will suit up for the Flyers today. He played last night for the Phantoms and is eligible to play one more game with them during his conditioning assignment. They play Saturday night at the Spectrum. The rest of the injury picture looks the same for Philly.


Questions to Answer:


1. Can the Flyers leave the nasty Montreal loss in the past?


2. Does John Stevens split up the pairing of Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, since it failed so miserably on Thursday night and hasn't performed well at any time this season when it's been used?


3. How will Brent Johnson, with terrible career numbers against the Flyers, perform in goal for Washington?


4. Will all of this unexpected extra work take a toll on Antero Niittymaki?


5. How much will the absence of Alexander Semin hurt the Caps?


6. Can they contain AO and Nicklas Backstrom like they did to Crosby and Malkin a week ago?


Today in Flyers/Capitals History: The teams have played once on this date. In 1980, the Flyers beat the Caps 5-2 in DC. Washington led 2-0 after the first, but the Flyers notched five unanswered goals to get the victory.


With the win, the Flyers improved to 19-0-6 all-time against Washington. That's right -- they went 25 games, from November 9, 1974 to December 20, 1980, without losing once to the Capitals. That changed the next day, however, as Washington beat Philly 6-0 on the back end of a home-and-home. Still, the Flyers have historically owned the Capitals, going 92-64-19 all-time.


Let's Go Flyers!