After dropping their first two games coming out of the bye week, the Capitals sought to avoid a second three-game slide of the season on Wednesday against the Flyers in Philadelphia. With an early mulligan courtesy of the team's crack video coaching staff, the Caps were able to straighten up and fly right, skating off with a 4-1 win over the faltering Flyers.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice, including what would prove to be the game-winning goal on a power play late in the first frame. That was all the support Braden Holtby would require in earning his 30th win - and Washington's 40th - of the season.
Video: Caps players talk after 4-1 #CapsFlyers win
"It's a big game for us today," says Kuznetsov. "We knew we had to win. After the break, we lost [two] on the road and we didn't want to lose today."
Seeking a better start after falling behind early in each of their two previous games, the Caps couldn't have been happy to see Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek pot a rebound on the game's first shift, just 23 seconds after the opening puck drop. But the Caps' braintrust also noted that Philly's Dale Weise issued a not-so-insignificant shove to Holtby's left shoulder, and they issued a coach's challenge. Officials ruled that Weise had indeed interfered with Holtby before the puck crossed the goal line, wiping the tally off the board.
Video: Kuznetsov, Backstrom propel Caps past Flyers, 4-1
"I obviously didn't see the interference part," says Holtby. "I just kind of followed the puck and next thing I know it was kind of out of the play so a little fortunate, a great call by our video coaches. We have the two best guys in the league and they play a big part in a lot of our wins so tonight they saved me. I owe them dinner for sure."
It was the second straight game in which the Caps' video review tandem of Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi urged a successful review of a goal against in the first period.
"It saved us from being down the first shift of the game, that was a good call by them," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And that is why they are so valuable, especially with them trying to get the call right and all that so real good on them."
Shortly after the game's first television timeout, the Caps forged a 1-0 lead of their own.
Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie combined to win the puck along the right wing wall high in the Philadelphia zone, and Nicklas Backstrom pulled the puck out of the scrum. Backstrom expertly deployed Philly blueliner Radko Gudas as a screen and ripped a shot that went bar down behind ex-Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth, staking the Caps to a lead at 6:33.
Video: WSH@PHI: Backstrom roofs wrister to open the scoring
"I just got it there on my backhand," recounts Backstrom. "I just tried to shoot it through [Gudas'] legs. I think it redirected a little bit off him and it was a little lucky, but I'll take it."
Late in the period, Kuznetsov drew an elbowing call on Philly center Sean Couturier and then proceeded to personally make him and the Flyers pay for it. After taking a feed from John Carlson at center point, Kuznetsov fired a shot into a teacup high on the short side to double the Washington lead to 2-0 at 17:59.
Video: WSH@PHI: Kuznetsov buries PPG off inside crossbar
The Caps gave up a few more scoring chances than they would have liked in the first, but they also hung a crooked number on the opposition in the first frame for the 20th time in 59 games this season.
Early in the second, Philly had another goal waved off - this one an Ivan Provorov back door tally - when on-ice video review revealed the puck hadn't actually entered the net, but rather glanced off the crossbar. Undaunted, the Flyers went ahead and scored an actual, real goal a few minutes later.
Brayden Schenn got a piece of Brandon Manning's left point shot and deflected it past Holtby at 6:54 of the second to make it a 2-1 game. Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen was injured on the play, suffering a lower body injury. He went to the room and was examined, returned for one shift later in the game and then it was decided to hold him out for the remainder of the contest.
The Flyers had the better of play for much of the second period, and they had a chance to pull even on the power play when Washington's Zach Sanford was sent off for hooking late in the middle frame. Instead, the Caps killed off the penalty and restored their two-goal cushion less than a minute later.
Video: WSH@PHI: Kuznetsov scores second goal off defenseman
Justin Williams found some running room along the right wing wall, and he chugged into the Philadelphia zone with puck, passing back toward the middle of the ice to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov appeared to be trying to feed Marcus Johansson, but instead the puck glanced off Gudas' stick and went through Neuvirth to make it a 3-1 game at 17:59 of the second.
Kuznetsov's second strike was a true turning point, and it took a lot of starch out of the Flyers' attack thereafter.
Video: WSH@PHI: Oshie crashes the net, taps in easy goal
Washington's penalty killers snuffed out another Philly extra-man chance in the third, and the Caps then padded their lead with another goal from their top trio. Ovechkin collected the puck in Washington ice and worked a cross-ice give-and-go with Backstrom, getting the puck back just after gaining the Flyers' zone. Ovechkin deked Neuvirth and shoveled the puck toward the net but it took Oshie's follow-up to get it over the line for a 4-1 Washington lead with 5:17 left in the game.
Video: Coach Trotz on Wednesday's victory over the Flyers
"I didn't like our first 40 [minutes]," says Trotz. "I thought we were a little slow out of the gate again and that's three games in a row that we were a little slow out of the gates. We were able to sort of manage it and probably stabilize it a little bit more in the second. They sort of changed it in the first ten and I thought we got it back in the last ten. Third period they didn't really have anything; I thought we did a really good job managing it in the third."