CAPITALS (17-5-6) at FLYERS (13-11-1)
Last 10 -- Capitals 6-2-2; Flyers 3-7-0
Season Series -- This is the third of four meetings this season in one of the NHL's best budding rivalries. The Flyers won an exciting back-and-forth overtime game, 6-5, at Wachovia Center on Oct. 6. The Capitals held serve on their home ice with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center on Oct. 27.
Big story -- The hammer came down early Friday evening when it was first reported by CSNPhilly.com that the Flyers fired coach John Stevens. It was made official during a press conference a few hours later when GM Paul Holmgren announced Peter Laviolette will take over behind the bench. The former Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Carolina Hurricanes will coach his first game tonight against the Capitals, who will be without the suspended Alex Ovechkin for the second straight game. The Flyers lost six of their last seven games under Stevens.
"I know this was a very difficult decision for Paul to make. And, I really feel bad for John because he's been a terrific long-time member of our organization," Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider said in a statement. "I was hoping that the team would play better and that this could have been avoided, but after (Thursday) night's game, I think Paul felt he had to make this change. I make it a policy never to overrule my general manager, because once I do, it means I've lost confidence in him. I really want to wish John the best."
Capitals -- They have won four straight games and are 5-2 without Ovechkin. They are getting balanced scoring and quality goaltending. Seventeen different players have registered at least one point in the seven games they have played without Ovechkin. Keeping that kind of consistency will be paramount this month because the Capitals play eight of their remaining 12 games before the new year away from home. It'll be interesting to see how they fare against Philadelphia without Ovi. He has feasted on the Flyers with 30 points in 18 career games against them. The Capitals also know all about the Flyers' recent struggles, but they expect the building to be rocking and the opponent to be tough.
"Given our recent history, they're going to play well against us, there's no question," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "Philly is the type of team that they're gritty and also dynamic. They can score at will. Every team goes through slumps and usually a big game can get you out of those slumps. The big game is against us this weekend."
Flyers -- The Flyers have lost six of their last seven games and were shut out for the second straight time Thursday. In fact, they haven't scored a goal in their last eight periods. They are not getting enough bodies to the net to create the dirty goals. They had 38 shots on goal against Roberto Luongo on Thursday, but he didn't have to make too many difficult saves. They entered Friday 10th in the Eastern Conference with 27 points in 25 games. It's still way too soon to say they are in deep, deep trouble, but the season isn't getting any younger and Holmgren recognized that, hence the coaching change.
"This was a very difficult decision for me to make given my relationship with John," Holmgren said. "I want to thank him for his service to the Flyers organization over the years. However, in watching the team over the past few weeks I felt a new voice was needed in order to get us out of this and in the direction we expect. Peter Laviolette brings experience along with a different approach to the game. We look forward to him putting his stamp on the team quickly and getting our team headed in the right direction."
Who's hot -- For the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom has picked up some of the goal scoring slack in the wake of Ovechkin's injury/suspension. He has three goals in his last two games after going 12 straight games without one. The Flyers, meanwhile, haven't scored since Braydon Coburn's goal at 19:56 of the first period against Buffalo on Black Friday.
Injury report -- The Capitals are still without Mike Knuble, Boyd Gordon and Quintin Laing, but defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Tom Poti are on the trip and could play Saturday. The Flyers are without Simon Gagne, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe. Defensemen Kimmo Timonen confirmed he's hurting and admitted he fractured a toe in a recent game, but he is expected to play.
Stat pack -- Laviolette, who has been working for TSN, also coached the New York Islanders (2001-03) and the Hurricanes (2003-09). He has compiled a .558 winning percentage over the 487 games he has coached. During his four-plus seasons in Carolina, the team missed the playoffs three times, but the one time they did get in they went all the way. His Islanders teams made the playoffs twice, but were bounced out in the first round both years.
Puck drop -- "Obviously, this is a great opportunity. I am really excited," Laviolette said. "The Flyers are an organization that has a lot of tradition and a lot of history. This is just an exciting time for me and my family and we are really looking forward to it."