Tuesday night was a tough one for the Caps, as they spoiled an otherwise splendid game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh with a series of mistakes that enabled the Pens to take the lead and eventually, the game. Washington was looking for a good bounce back effort on Thursday night in Philadelphia, and it got exactly that in a 5-2 win over a desperate Flyers team.
Brett Connolly scored on his first shift of the game and set up Lars Eller on that line's third shift of the night, keying the Caps' win. Connolly added a second goal in the second, as that line - with Carl Hagelin - contributed three quarters of Washington's offense on this night.
"I mentioned it earlier this morning that it was a first response from basically our new team that we have since the trade deadline, with everyone that's in," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I thought certainly that Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller and Brett Connolly really set the tone for our team. We had four lines playing and it was a really, really good response by us in terms of playing with the lead."
Video: Connolly pots two and Wilson notches 20th in 5-2 win
Swift starts have been more prevalent for the Caps of late, and they kept the trend going on Thursday against the Flyers. Brett Connolly staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead at 2:53 of the first period, scoring from down low on the left side after taking an alert feed from Michal Kempny at the left point.
Connolly and mates struck again midway through the first, converting a Travis Sanheim turnover at the Philly line into a 2-0 lead. Connolly kept it in Flyers territory, and after a few short passes between linemates, Lars Eller put a shot on Philly goalie Carter Hart. Hart made the stop, but Eller buried his own rebound at 9:30.
The first period was super quick; there were only two television timeouts, and the second of those came with just a minute left in the frame. There were only nine face-offs, and the Caps - the league's worst face-off team - won seven of them from Philly, the league's best team on the dot.
Philadelphia had the game's first power play, a carryover that was split equally between the final minute of the first and the first minute of the second. The Caps killed it off, but James van Riemsdyk scored three seconds after it ended, slipping a shot past Braden Holtby at 1:03 of the second.
As Philadelphia pressed hard for the equalizer, the Caps were able to restore their two-goal cushion. Connolly stripped rookie Flyers defenseman Phillppe Myers of the puck at the Washington line, then cruised in alone on Hart with a couple of teammates trailing and a Philly defender trying to close on him from the opposite side. As he reached the left dot, Connolly slowed and lined up his shot before beating Hart with a dart on the glove side at 8:43, giving the Caps a 3-1 advantage.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | March 14
"I kind of just looked and weighed my options," recounts Connolly. "I knew that we had a three-on-one and the [defenseman] kind of let me take a shot and I took it, put it where I wanted to. Good to see that one go in for sure."
Just 65 seconds later, it was a 4-1 game. Washington's top forward line put together a strong shift in the offensive zone, and from the left point, Dmitry Orlov fed Evgeny Kuznetsov down on the goal line on the right side. Kuznetsov didn't have much of an angle from there, so he fed Tom Wilson in the slot, and Wilson drove a one-timer into a virtually vacant cage to make it 4-1 at 9:48.
Less than a minute after Wilson's goal, Holtby robbed Philly's Nolan Patrick from in tight with his glove, a save that loomed larger when Scott Laughton scored at 12:22, collecting a point shot that caromed off some bodies in front and putting it behind Holtby to make it 4-2.
The Caps ran into some penalty issues in the third when they were tasked with a trio of kills in a span of just 5 minutes and 8 seconds. Washington's penalty killing outfit also bounced back nicely; after yielding two goals in Tuesday's loss to the Penguins, they were perfect in four missions on Thursday, and they were at their best in the third when the Flyers were pushing hard to get within one.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | March 14
Flyers coach Scott Gordon pulled Hart for an extra attacker late in the third, and Kuznetsov scored into the vacated cage with 2:26 remaining to account for the 5-2 final, Washington's second win in Philly in a span of nine nights. The Flyers are 19-7-2 in their last 28 games, as they've mounted a late surge for a playoff berth. Three of their seven regulation losses over that span - and each of their last two - have come against Washington.
For the second time in as many visits to Philly, the Caps jumped on the Flyers early and never trailed.
"A little bit of jump, awareness," says Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, when asked what was missing from the Flyers' start. "It's not even their first or second line scoring the goals too, it's their third, so I think for us they outworked us and outbattled us in the first 10 minutes and it showed."