February 22 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 39-12-7
Philadelphia Flyers 28-24-7
Washington finishes off a three-game road run on Wednesday night in Philadelphia when it faces the Flyers in a nationally televised Rivalry Night contest. The game is the third of four meetings between the two Metropolitan Division rivals this season; each team has earned a win in its own building. The Flyers' victory here in Philly on Dec. 21 came in the shootout, so the Caps also claimed a point in that game.
Video: Sanford on sticking in the lineup, #CapsFlyers
Over the weekend, the Capitals returned to action after the conclusion of their bye week. When the off week kicked in, the Caps were near the top of their game, having won six straight games and a dozen in a row on home ice. Teams on heaters like that are usually loathe to take a break, but the Caps needed the time off because of a grueling schedule over the previous six weeks.
The Caps reconvened for practice - their first in a week - last Friday, and then they played a back-to-back set of weekend afternoon games on Saturday in Detroit and on Sunday in New York. The Caps lost both games, pulling a point out of Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings.
Washington turned in poor first period performances in both games, and it never led at any point in either contest. But the Caps did get better in both games as they wore on, and one gets the sense they're not so far from returning to peak form if they can manage a better first 20 minutes.
"It's better," said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen in the wake of Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Rangers in New York. "Against that team, it's not a conventional game because they're going to exchange chances with you. So it feels like it's up and down the ice with lots of odd-man rushes. We don't want to hold back, so the second two periods were a lot better than the first and a lot better than [Saturday] so it's a step in the right direction."
Video: Alzner talks #CapsFlyers after practice
Washington only permitted 23 shots on goal in Saturday's loss on Detroit, and 10 of those came in the first frame. The Red Wings mustered little in the way of threats and scoring chances after the midpoint of that game, and after they rallied to tie the game late in the third, the Caps had several chances to win in overtime and in the shootout.
The Rangers poured 19 shots on the Washington net in the first period of Sunday's game, the most the Caps have surrendered in any single period this season. The Caps allowed only 11 shots the rest of the way, so 29 of the 53 shots - and half of the four goals - Washington allowed over the weekend came in the first frame of those two games. For the first time in two months, the Caps went two straight games without scoring in the first themselves.
"It was a lot better, that's for sure," said Caps center Nicklas Backstrom after Sunday's loss. "The first period wasn't at all how we play. But we've lost two in a row. We've just got to get back to the way we played before [the bye week]. We're going to have another practice before we play the next game, so we've just got to get back into it."
The Caps took Monday off, and they practiced on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's game in Philly.
"It felt good," says Caps center Jay Beagle, "it felt really good actually to get out there and to have a really hard practice with the details and the systems and all that. It's weird taking five days off in the middle of February, so I think it was good to get out there and to focus in on fine-tuning some parts of our game."
Given how well Washington was playing going into the bye week, it's no surprise they slipped some after spending five days away from the game. But they weren't too bad this past weekend, either, slow starts aside.
Video: Trotz on Boyd recall, #CapsFlyers and more
"I thought we actually played probably four decent periods out of the six coming out of the break," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "The two first periods were not good. And we're trying to put the details back in our game, the structure back in our game and the trust back in our game. That's building, and we're trying to do that. And we'll just try to get better every day with a purpose."
When Washington first visited the Flyers in Philadelphia this season two months ago, the home team was still on a high after a 10-game winning streak was halted earlier that same week. The winning spree vaulted the Flyers into the playoff picture; Philly was actually a point ahead of Washington in the standings going into that Dec. 21 game, but the Flyers also had four games in hand on the Caps. The Flyers were nine points clear of the nearest non-playoff team in the rear view mirror at that point.
The Flyers have won only nine of 27 (9-14-4) games since their steak ended in mid-December. Philadelphia reeled off three straight wins immediately before the NHL's All-Star break, but the Flyers are just 3-5-1 since. Going into Tuesday night's slate of NHL activity, Philadelphia is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings, three points south of the final playoff position.
During the life of their 10-game winning streak earlier this season, the Flyers averaged 3.5 goals per game. Along with Pittsburgh, Columbus and the New York Rangers, Philadelphia gave the Metropolitan Division four of the league's top five teams in terms of goals per game just past the quarter mark of the 2016-17 season.
Video: Travis Boyd on his first NHL recall
But goals have been harder to come by for the Flyers of late. They've scored three or fewer goals in 15 straight games now, totaling just 25 goals - and only 16 at even-strength - during that stretch. On the season, the Flyers have dipped back down to a tie for 20th in the league with an average of 2.53 goals per game. While Philadelphia still boasts a top 10 power play in the league, the Flyers have scored just 87 goals at five-on-five in their 59 games this season, and they rank 28th in the circuit in that department, ahead of only New Jersey and Colorado.