The Washington Capitals have a bit of a different look to them this season. The defense is deeper, the crop of role players up front has been rotated and they have a goalie who needs to shave more than once a week.
They're also invading the City of Brotherly Love while sporting a perfect 5-0-0 record and look poised to claim the top seed in the conference for the third consecutive season. Your Flyers are also off to a strong start, boasting a 4-0-1 mark and nine points. That's the third-most in the conference behind Washington and Pittsburgh, though it feels like the Penguins have played a couple of doubleheaders so far this season.
Washington is talented as ever, but deeper and might just have enough of that elusive "grit" that seems to go missing every April to be a force this postseason. My question for you is will the Capitals win this game close, or will it be a humbling night on Broad Street for the home side?
SOG: 14 | +/-: 0
All they've done so far is beat both Stanley Cup finalists in their first three games and sit one re-directed overtime power-play goal from a perfect start. Oh yeah, they also lead are third in the League with 19 goals. Pittsburgh and Colorado have more, but have also played more games.
And they're getting that action from all four lines, and from players old and young. Remember all that talk about how their offense left town when Jeff Carter and Mike Richards got shipped out? Well, Wayne Simmonds has more goals than Richards and Carter combined -- and so does Jakub Voracek, for that matter. Claude Giroux looks poised to jump to superstar status, James van Riemsdyk isn't far behind, and remember that 39-year-old future Hall of Famer? Played in Pittsburgh and New York -- and somewhere else, can't remember … oh, maybe we shouldn't go there -- but those dynamic hands of Jaromir Jagr look ready to start filling the net.
And did we mention the kids? Tuesday saw four rookies combine for eight points against Ottawa. Two of those guys got sent to the minors Wednesday, only to replace them with Brayden Schenn -- all together now, "the best prospect outside the NHL." Schenn blew through the AHL like he had one eye on a call-up. Now he's here, and it looks like the Caps will get the first taste of what should be a long, fruitful NHL career.
Hey, I know there's some firepower down in Washington, but what's this I hear about Ovi sitting out practice Wednesday?
SOG: 16 | +/-: 3
Alex Ovechkin did miss practice, but coach Bruce Boudreau says it was just maintenance, typical "bumps and bruises" -- he'll be in the lineup Thursday. You know who won't like that more than he likes all of the parks in and around Philadelphia? Ilya Bryzgalov. Ovechkin has 20 goals in 22 career games against the Flyers. That's more than against any non-Southeast Division foe except Toronto.
While Philadelphia has 19 goals, the Capitals haven't been lacking in that department with 18. They've also been getting scoring from everywhere -- the "Young Guns" (Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green) have combined for just five of those 18. The new-look third line has been dynamite, thanks in part to Jason Chimera's 4 goals.
An even better sign for the Capitals is the power play is off to a strong start, clicking at nearly 30 percent. They had two of the best three seasons in that department of the past 17 years in 2008-09 and 2009-10, so a return to form after a dip last season could really spell trouble for the rest of the East.
Speaking of trouble, how are the Flyers possibly going to defend against Ovechkin and the Capitals without Zac Rinaldo around?
GAA: 1.99 | SVP: 0.927
When Washington does get zone time -- and with the number of penalties the Flyers take, they're bound to get some -- the depth on defense should be good enough to keep the Caps from lighting the lamp too often. Their third pairing -- that means Nos. 5 and 6 blueliners -- are Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja. They're a combined plus-5. And we haven't even gotten to the captain himself, Chris Pronger, or Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn.
And even if there's a let-down on defense, there's the $51.5 million man in net, Ilya Bryzgalov, who so far has earned every penny. He beat the Bruins and Canucks, and he shut out the Devils -- he's one win against a Crosby-led Penguins from getting his own statue outside the building.
The Flyers needed a cool Bryz to blow their goaltending situation into stable shape -- gone is two-thirds of the three-headed monster of Bob-boosh-ton (Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton). All Bryzgalov has done is post a 1.99 GAA and .927 save percentage while facing just 26.4 shots per game.
So should the Flyers be worried about Chimera adding to his 4 goals? Yes, but I don't think it'll disturb Pronger's pre-game nap.
GAA: 1.94 | SVP: 0.935
Besides, Vokoun has won as many postseason series in the past two seasons as Bryzgalov has, and he's never had to say "I am goat." Vokoun's in a better situation because the two guys behind him (Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby) are both better than anyone else the Flyers have after Bryzgalov.
He also has a deeper defense corps in front of him. Yes, Philadelphia's defense is really good, but Pronger's durability moving forward is a huge question mark. No team in the League boasts three defensemen with the offensive skill that Green, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman possess. Wideman essentially is the team's No. 5 or 6 defenseman and he's got 2 goals and 5 points already. Roman Hamrlik can be this group's Kimmo Timonen, and the Flyers don't have anyone in their group with the youth and vast potential of Carlson and Karl Alzner, who by the way are going to spend Thursday night making Giroux and JVR look rather ordinary because, well, that's what they've done to each top line at even strength they've faced so far this season.
While I am sure Capitals fans can't wait for Jagr's return to Washington, where he will be showered with a level of booing normally reserved for Sidney Crosby (or someone like, say, Santa Claus, in Philadelphia), a big road win and a 6-0-0 start will have to suffice.
Vokoun is on a roll right now, yielding just three goals in the past three games. He's sporting a 1.94 goals against average to this point, and it says here his GAA on Thursday will be right around there after Washington escapes Philadephia with a 3-2 victory.
What say you, Mr. Kimelman?
Corey, I think the big star is James van Riemsdyk, who busts out with a pair of goals, and I think Jagr makes the Caps fans remember his glory days in Washington -- OK, that was a low blow -- and the Flyers win 4-2.