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Carter Hart returns, leads Flyers in key divisional battle vs. Capitals

Carterrrrrrrr Hart, doo doo doo doo doo doo.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With just thirteen games left in the regular season and facing a playoff points deficit of five points, the Flyers are in full-on desperation mode for wins.

This was also the case eight days ago against these very same Capitals, though the Flyers couldn’t find their footing in that one and suffered a 5-3 setback at the hands of the Metropolitan leaders. It’s the lone loss for the Flyers in their last five games, but it’s paramount that they find a better result against a Caps team they’ll play twice in their last baker’s dozen.

But the matchup between these two on the 24th of this month might not mean much if the Flyers don’t come up with points in a tough four-game stretch starting tonight against the Caps followed up trips to Toronto and Pittsburgh before returning home to face the Canadiens on Tuesday. Already five points out, the Flyers could play themselves in —or out— of a playoff spot by then.

These teams know each other well, and you know the defending Cup champions well too. There’s the usual suspects in Alexander Ovechkin with his league-leading 46 goals, passing wizard Nicklas Backstrom, standout defenseman John Carlson and the steady Braden Holtby in goal. The Flyers know how to beat the Caps (They won three of four last season), but they’ve yet to do it this season and tonight would be the perfect time to break the 0-2 mark.


Three things

Score first

The Caps have scored five unanswered goals to start each of the previous meetings, which is just laughable if you’re the Flyers. And after allowing the first five the Flyers responded with a too-little. too-late effort by closing with the last three goals in each game.

The fight was nice, but they can’t afford to let the hole get that deep because the Caps are too good and experienced to actually let a lead like that collapse completely. With Washington red-hot and eyeing perhaps home-ice advantage until they’d have to play the Eastern Conference Finals, there’s no way they’ll be laying an egg in any game down the stretch.

Their offense can pile on, and Carter Hart will have to be good early if the Flyers can avoid another blitz. The best way to avoid the blitz is to actually put on one of their own and control the puck and put the pressure on the Caps.

As Michael Scott once said, “How the turntables.”

Get the power play going

The Flyers are riding a three-game scoreless drought on the power play (0-for-6), but will be without the services of one Jakub Voracek, lost to a two-game suspension that was upheld after an appeal from the NHL Players Association.

Like they did a little over a week ago, the Flyers will figure to have their chances against a Caps team that 1) takes a ton of penalties and 2) doesn’t have a great penalty kill (22nd overall).

The loss of Voracek, who is second on the team with 12 power play helpers, is tough but creates more chances for James van Riemsdyk (eight PPG’s), and the red-hot Sean Couturier (six PPG’s). Couturier has goals in three of his last five and should eclipse the career-high 31 he netted last season with him sitting at 28 already.

The lack of Voracek’s presence also allows Claude Giroux to continue to work on his strong side of the ice to setup the one-timer in the slot to Couturier and get the point blast in play with Shayne Gostisbehere.

Re-starter Hart

Gonna be honest here, but starting a 20-year-old rookie netminder against the defending and red-hot Cup champions after missing more than two weeks of action with an ankle injury is certainly a bold move.

We’ll see how it plays out for Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon, but the coach is tabbing his rookie after watching Brian Elliott go 5-1-1 with a .917 save percentage in seven starts since Hart’s injury. Of course Elliott’s lone clunker in there was allowing four goals on 19 shots to these very same Capitals so perhaps the decision isn’t all that crazy in the end.

Elliott talk aside, Hart will need to be very strong in this one and especially early as the Capitals have really buried the Flyers early in games this season. Knocking the proverbial rust off won’t be an easy task against this team, but as we’ve seen this season: Hart just isn’t any rookie. He’s not like the others, but this will be a huge test for the Flyers phenom, and that’s not a bad thing as he’s earned the right with his stellar play from January on.


Flyers’ projected lineup

Forwards

Piano Man — Gerald — Giroux

JVR — Patrick — Konecny

Raffl — Laughton — Hartman

Varone — Knight — Bailey

Defense

Provorov — Sanheim

Gostisbehere — Myers

Hagg — Gudas

Goalie

Hart

(Elliott)