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Preview: Flyers look to avoid losing streak against Caps in DC

Philly faces their second consecutive injury-affected Metro rival to kick off a tough November slate

NHL: Preseason-Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers come into tonight’s game against the Capitals facing down the start of a gauntlet of a schedule, with the rest of November containing two games against the red hot Carolina Hurricanes, two against the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and single games against strong opponents in Toronto, Calgary, Boston, Florida, and of course, tonight’s match-up with a team that has only lost a single game in regulation so far fueled by a career-best scoring tear — ten goals and eight assists in ten games — from Alexander Ovechkin.

So far, the results from the first tenth of the season have been promising for Philadelphia, even when the play on the ice hasn’t always felt like reason for optimism. They’ve only won the shot battle in a third of their games so far, and haven’t done so in consecutive games until this week, with the 3-0 win over the Coyotes (34 shots, 29 against) and Thursday’s overtime loss to a very shorthanded Penguins team (38-36).

Strong goaltending and opportunistic scoring are what have propelled them to a winning 5-2-2 record, good for eighth in the NHL in points percentage. Only four teams have converted their high danger chances into goals at a higher rate than the Flyers, which is an important but difficult pace to keep because 24 teams have generated more of those chances. If they want to live up to that record, they’re going to have to start controlling play more often than they have been this season and creating a higher volume of chances for themselves, especially against teams as good as the Capitals (and the rest of their November opponents).

How good are the Capitals? They’re top ten in the NHL in standings points, points percentage, goals, shots, shots against, and expected GF%. Their play may have dipped below the league’s elite (and their high standard), but if it has, it’s still just a tick below. And just when it seemed like the decades-long dominance of the Capitals might be winding down — their core of Ovechkin, Nicklas Bäckström, TJ Oshie, and John Carlson are all on the other side of 30 — they seem to have found a surprising (and infuriating) youth movement, with the first month of the season seeing important contributions from rookies Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, and Martin Fehervary. The early returns on fellow rookies Brett Leason and Aliaksei Protas plus the young goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vaněček are looking promising, as well. With Bäckström out indefinitely with a hip injury, Oshie’s recent week-to-week IR status, and now a surgery for last season’s deadline acquisition Anthony Mantha, those young contributors are going to be leaned on even harder.

Coming off consecutive losses — to the still-undefeated Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning — for the first time this season, the Capitals will be looking to regain their winning form at home against a Metropolitan rival. Meanwhile, the Flyers haven’t lost consecutive games yet, but it’s only going to get more difficult from here.

Flyers’ projected lines:

Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee — Derick Brassard — Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom — Scott Laughton — James van Riemsdyk
Zack McEwen — Nate Thompson — Patrick Brown

Ivan Provorov — Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim — Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle — Nick Seeler

Martin Jones
(Carter Hart)

Keep an eye on:

  • Joel Farabee, who scored a goal and an assist in each of this season’s first three games, but hasn’t recorded a point in the six since. In his breakout sophomore season, Farabee scored at a 30 goal, 56 point pace, but had three scoreless streaks that lasted at least five games long.
  • The penalties. The Flyers are drawing a lot of penalties (11.4 PIM per game, 5th most in the league), but they’re committing a lot, too (11.4 PIM per game, 7th most), resulting in a low amount of power play opportunities (27, 23rd most). The Capitals power play has yet to truly take off this year, with only seven goals on 37 opportunities for an 18% power play percentage, which puts them at 21st in the NHL, but 10 games is a rather small sample size and their collection of power play talent is among the best in the NHL — and in one case, possibly the greatest of all time. The Flyers, meanwhile, are in the middle of their seemingly annual put-Giroux-on-the-right-side experiment, this time in an attempt to shake up the power play and give Cam Atkinson and his hot start some man advantage ice time.
  • Martin Jones, who is expected to get the start, and who’s performance in his two starts thus far have provided reason to believe any pessimism we might have felt upon his acquisition was rash. It’s just two games, but if the Flyers can get a .941 save percentage out of their back-up goalie in two out of every nine games, it’s going to bode well for their goaltending — and thus, their overall performance — this season compared to last season.
  • The third period final buzzer, as the Capitals have yet to win a game that goes past it. They’re 0-4, with losses to the Lightning, Red Wings, Flames, and Panthers, and the last three they barely made it two minutes or any shots on net before the game ended. The Flyers, for their part, played an overtime period to a stalemate against the Canucks to open the season before losing the shootout, and lost their first OT to the Penguins two days ago.
  • Rasmus Ristolainen, who has yet to score a point and has been on the ice for relatively few goals from either team — five goals and six goals against. He’s not the only Flyers regular with no appearances on the scoresheet, but he is the most high profile, as the only other two are Zack MacEwen and Nick Seeler.
  • Alex Ovechkin, because, duh.

Stray stats:

  • The Flyers are 119-83-19-10 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Capitals, for a points percentage of .578. They are 49-44-13-7 when playing games at the Capitals’ home arena, including 29-25-13-0 at Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, and 20-19-0-7 since the move to what is now Capital One Arena (formerly MCI Center and Verizon Center) in 1997.
  • Tonight will be the 15th head-to-head meeting in the NHL between brothers James and Trevor van Riemsdyk, a series that is currently split 7-7-0. In those games, James has five goals, ten assists, and is -1, while Trevor has no goals, two assists and is +3. There is no publicly available data on their matchups in the van Riemsdyk family driveway, or elsewhere for that matter.
  • The Flyers and the Capitals are two of the older teams in the league. Washington has 12 players on their active roster over the age of 30 (the most in the league) and an average age of 28.3 (4th oldest), although thanks to the loss of Zdeno Chara and a few prospects on the roster, they have gotten younger compared to last season’s roster, when they were the oldest team in the league. Meanwhile, the Flyers, with nine tricenarians (T-4th most) and an average age of 28.6 (3rd oldest), have made recent moves towards adding experience, with the additions of Ryan Ellis, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, and Nate Thompson contributing to their uptick in average age.