March 14 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 41-22-7
Philadelphia Flyers 34-27-8
Washington's road journey continues on Thursday when it makes its second visit to Philadelphia in nine nights to take on the resurgent Flyers. The Caps started the trip in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, losing a 5-3 decision to the Penguins as their seven-game winning streak came to a halt.
The Caps were playing a terrific game on Tuesday against the Pens, owning a 2-0 lead in the back half of the second period and totally bottling up the dangerous Pittsburgh attack. But the Penguins made the Caps pay for a series of self-inflicted errors, and Pittsburgh went from two goals down to one goal up in a span of less than two minutes. The Pens never gave up the lead, ending the Caps' second seven-game winning streak of the season and tightening the standings in the Metropolitan Division with a dozen games remaining in the regular season.
"The first 30 minutes was for sure textbook good hockey," says Caps center Lars Eller of Tuesday's loss. "Good puck management, and we made it hard on the other team to create offense. We got the puck deep when we needed to, and we were backchecking hard so we were forcing turnovers and going the other way. Now they're getting tired at the end of shifts and we are cycling the puck. That's when we are at our best, and we did that fairly well the first 30 minutes. So that game is growing for us, which is good."
Video: Caps 365 | March 13
When Washington last visited Philadelphia on March 6, the Caps also turned in a terrific first 30 minutes. The Caps led 5-0 over the Flyers at that point, getting a five-on-five goal from each of their four forward lines and a power-play goal from Alex Ovechkin. But the Flyers made it more interesting than Washington would have liked, scoring in the waning seconds of the second and doing so again just 10 seconds into the third. Philly made it a 5-3 game with a third unanswered goal in the front half of the final frame, but Caps coach Todd Reirden called his timeout to settle the troops, and Washington was able to close it out without further incident.
The Caps have had two seven-game winning streaks this season, and both ended because they were unable to hold onto a multiple-goal lead midway through the game, a problem that has cropped up here and there over the course of this season. Is it something the Caps need to address with the playoffs looming less than a month away?
"A little bit, yeah - yes and no," says Eller. "I think that there was a bit of a difference between the game in Philly and the game in Pittsburgh. I think we handed it to Pittsburgh a little bit too easy, in terms of capitalizing on our mistakes that were avoidable, but it just became a snowball effect pretty quickly.
"It's very hard to prevent a team from not getting [scoring] chances for 60 minutes. They are going to get some looks at some point. But it shouldn't happen the way it did last game. In terms of the Philly game, we were up 5-0 and there was a difference. But yes, we do have to look at trying to close out games and keep our foot on the gas because as soon as you give teams just a little bit of life, they are going to build off that like a snowball effect, and they did that [Tuesday]. All of a sudden they get one goal and then a power play right after. It's an important lesson for us."
Reirden will be looking for a strong response from his team, which has won nine of its last 11 and is 14-5-1 since the All-Star break. Even with that extended hot spell, the Caps' lead in the Metro Division is just two points and they are only eight points clear of the ninth place Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings.
Video: Todd Reirden | March 13
"For quite some time, even in the beginning of that [winning] streak, we were getting off to slow starts and still finding ways to win," says Reirden. "We talked about it, and it's not a real recipe for success long term. Our starts have been better, and just in terms of stopping that momentum surge that happened in [Tuesday's] game, it's a good learning opportunity for us, same as it was when we were here in Philly [last week], stopping that energy surge, and there are a couple of ways to do it. That falls on players and staff to get that stopped."
Philadelphia has won four of its last five, taking its only loss during that stretch from the Capitals here last Wednesday night. The Flyers are trying to chase down one of the last couple of available playoff berths in the Eastern Conference, but time is not on their side.
When Washington was here last week, the Flyers were five points out of the last playoff spot. Heading into Thursday's game, Philly is still five points south of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Eighth-place Columbus and ninth-place Montreal each have 81 points at the moment, and each is playing at a pace to finish with 95, so the Flyers probably need to use 95 as a target to have a chance.
Philly would require a 9-2-1 finish to hit 95 on the nose. That's not an impossible task, given that the Flyers are 19-5-2 in their last 26 games.