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Flyers vs. Capitals recap: Matt Niskanen somehow went coast-to-coast, and then we lost

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Matt f'n Niskanen? Come on.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Two very, very weird things happened in the third period of today's Flyers game in Washington. Both involved defensemen who probably shouldn't be scoring goals, and both were completely shocking.

First, Nick Schultz tee'd up a ridiculous slap shot from the blue line that rocketed over the shoulder of Braden Holtby, the best goalie in hockey right now, and tied the Flyers and Capitals up at 2-2.

Until that point, the game had gone much like the meeting between these two teams 10 days ago: the Flyers played a dominant first period, got worked over in the second period, and broke even in the third period, ultimately squeaking out a win in overtime.

It would have been nice to see that again today. Alas, the other bizarre goal by a defenseman changed the storyline. Matt Niskanen scored his third goal of the year, and it sure was a beauty from the Washington perspective. From the Flyers perspective, uhhhhhhhhhhh guys, where was the defense here?

It'd be one thing to let Alex Ovechkin or Evgeny Kuznetsov go end-to-end like that. But Matt Niskanen? Come on, man. I don't know what went wrong here -- probably some sort of communication breakdown between the defensemen -- but it's just unacceptable. And that was the hockey game; the Flyers lost 3-2.

It's hard to say if they deserved a better fate. The first period was one of the better periods we've seen from the team all year, despite not capitalizing on several power play chances. They dominated possession and, much like the first period last time these teams met, they had the league's best team on their heels. It's safe to say that they probably earned more than just the one goal they scored in the period -- a Michael Del Zotto shot assisted by Shayne Gostisbehere, stretching his point streak to eight games.

Two quick goals from the Capitals in second period gave Washington the lead, but the Flyers had several chances to tie it, ultimately thwarted by just incredible goaltending from Holtby, who made one particularly huge stop on Mark Streit at the door step. Holtby is a fantastic goaltender, and getting two by him is an accomplishment. But coming away from this one it does feel like the Flyers missed more than their fair share of opportunities, excellent opposing goaltending aside. Washington just shut it down in the third, and chances were pretty limited on either side after the Niskanen goal.

So the Flyers close out what turned into a pretty terrible weekend -- losing a point in the final seconds against New York on Saturday and coming up empty in Washington on Sunday. Four points back of the wild card with two games in hand isn't the worst place to be, particularly with two home games coming up this week.

Questions Answered
  1. Both of these teams played in shootout games yesterday afternoon -- with fatigue possibly being a factor, does this one end up getting a bit sluggish? It did seem as though Washington was a bit out of it in the first, and the atmosphere in the building did feel a bit sleepy, even when the home team was winning in the third. Then again, Washington sports fans are pretty "meh" basically at all times, so that's not totally shocking.
  2. The last time these teams played, Claude Giroux's line was hard-matched to the Ovechkin/Backstrom unit, and Evgeny Kuznetsov's line ran amok on everyone else. Assuming the top lines face off again, how do the other lines fare against Kuznetsov? Both of those Caps' lines played well today, and the matchups were pretty similar to last time. This is just an impossible team to match up with line-for-line, particularly with Sean Couturier out.
  3. Either we get Mason on a back-to-back or Stolarz in his NHL debut in net. Tough ask against the NHL's top offense. How does the Flyers' netminder, whoever he may be, fare today? I thought Mason played well. He made 27 saves, and I wouldn't fault him for any of the three goals against. A bad deflection from Ovechkin, a snipe from Dmitry Orlov, and the Niskanen debacle.
  4. Yesterday's Flyers game got heated pretty quickly, and the Caps and Flyers have had their share of tussles in recent years. Does today's game turn into an angry one? It got a little chippy at times, with Tom Wilson generally being the one acting like a baby. Guy is a trash bag on skates. Nothing out of control, though.
  5. If the Flyers get a lead at some point, can they actually hold it? Of course not.

Comment of the Day

Another point for Godstisbehere.

>> chicago_flyers_fan