Flyers vs. Capitals, Game 1 recap: Washington rides power play to 1-0 series lead
The Capitals scored on their power play opportunities and the Flyers did not. And that's just part of the ugliness of Game 1 for Philadelphia.
In the end, it was a simple difference between the Flyers and Capitals in Game 1: one team got something to happen on the power play and the other did not. Washington took home a tight 2-0 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series as a result.
And you might say that's an OK thing from the Flyers perspective, looking at the big picture. It was a greasy, bouncing puck goal scored against Steve Mason on a questionable penalty call in the second period, and another one late in the third to put the game out of reach. And that was the only difference between the Flyers and Capitals in this Game 1. It was a close game -- a winnable game for the Flyers if a few things break their way early with the man advantage.
That's if you want to look on the bright side. If that's not your cup of tea, consider this: the Flyers got thoroughly out played for two periods in this one after an extremely solid first period, and if that continues there will be a lot more than just one goal separating these two teams by the end of the series. Toss on an injury to forward Sean Couturier and it's even worse for Philadelphia. (He'll be re-evaluated tomorrow.)
And they lost their composure, too. Tom Wilson, resident Washington pest, did his job with brilliant effectiveness in this one, ultimately goading the Flyers into an undisciplined mess when it was still a winnable 1-0 game in the third period.
It looked good from the start. The Flyers had three big power play opportunities in the first period, all the result of controlled pressure in the Capitals zone. It looked a bit like Washington was caught off guard with the Flyers forechecking early on, and the Flyers were able to win a lot of 50/50 pucks and sustain control of the puck on several possessions deep in the Washington zone. One penalty was the result of a strong Jake Voracek foray across the blue line that the Caps could not handle, and the other was a dumb error by Brooks Orpik where he left his feet while finishing a late check.
The third was a Dmitry Orlov hit on Nick Cousins, who also drew the penalty against Orpik. It was similar -- a player trying to keep up with Cousins and an ill-timed hit that was worthy of a two-minute minor. But the Flyers couldn't cash in on any of them, thanks to some timely saves by Braden Holtby but mostly just solid penalty killing by Washington. They have a wonderful PK unit and it showed in the first 20 minutes.
On the flip side, the Capitals really only saw a few opportunities, mostly generated by their second line of Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams. They had one or two grade A chances on Steve Mason, but the Flyers netminder was absolutely up to the task in the early going.
But as good as the first period was for Philadelphia, the second period was the same for the Capitals. 10 minutes went by before the Flyers even got their first shot on goal, and that came via a power play opportunity. All told the Caps just completely dominated zone time, shot attempts and scoring chances in the second, and they earned three power plays of their own as a result.
And unlike the Flyers, they actually capitalized on an opportunity when Brandon Manning was called for delay of game after the puck deflected off his stick and into the stands from the defensive end. It wasn't intentional, and it's a crappy part of a rule that could probably use tweaking, but that's the rule as it stands. The Caps finally got one past Mason as a result, a bouncing deflection off the skate of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and in to break the 0-0 tie. I don't even know who scored the goal for Washington, because I don't really care.
To make matters worse, the Flyers lost Sean Couturier to injury in the period as well after he was hit into the boards awkwardly by Alex Ovechkin. He never returned to the game, and we don't know his status for Game 2. He'll be checked out on Friday, but losing Couturier is a perhaps fatal blow to a team that desperately needs him to help even the scales at 5-on-5 in this series.
The poor play continued for the Flyers in the third period. Two more penalties, including a four minute double minor to Sam Gagner for high sticking, kept things firmly tilted in Mason's direction for much of the period, and it was something of a miracle that Washington didn't put another home with the man advantage. Credit an amazing PK effort, including a ton of blocked shots and some lengthy time spent wasting away the penalty in the Caps end, for that.
Tom Wilson really tried to make it a game in the end. With 6:51 left, he delivered a big, dumb hit on Andrew MacDonald. It's what he does. Unfortunately, Wayne Simmonds felt the need to step in and defend his teammate by fighting Wilson -- which, of course, is commendable. But it wound up eliminating a Flyers power play in a one-goal game late in the third, as they called Wilson for boarding and fighting and Simmonds for roughing and fighting.
Now, you can say that was questionable officiating (and my loooooooord, it was), but Simmonds could have avoided it by just letting Wilson walk to the penalty box.
Frustrating. And ultimately it may have been the difference in this Game 1. We'll never know.