Feb. 8 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Philadelphia Flyers 29-18-7
Washington Capitals 36-13-5
The Caps move into the back half of their four-game homestand when they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night in the District. This is the first of two visits to D.C. for the Flyers this season, they'll be back here on March 4 to finish off the season's series between the two Metropolitan Division rivals.
All eyes are on Alex Ovechkin as the Caps finish their homestand with Saturday's game against the Flyers and Monday's finale against the New York Islanders. With his Tuesday night hat trick - his third in his last seven games and fourth of the season - Ovechkin notched his 40th goal of the season, marking the 11th season in which he has scored at least 40; only Wayne Gretzky (12) had more 40-goal campaigns. He has had five multi-goal games in his last seven.
With 40 goals this season, Ovechkin now has 698 over the course of his 15-year career, putting him on the precipice of becoming just the eighth player in league history to ascend to the hallowed 700-goal plateau. There are two games remaining on the homestand, and the watch is on. As hot as he is at the moment, he can get there in a matter of a couple of shifts, as he reminded us earlier in the week.
Washington was down a goal late in the third period of Tuesday's game with the Kings, and that's when Ovechkin erupted. He netted the tying and go-ahead tallies just 70 seconds apart, and he added an empty-netter to fill the natural hat trick and lead the Caps to a 4-2 win. The first natural hat trick of Ovechkin's career came in a span of just 4 minutes and 24 seconds.
"I've honestly seen that a couple of times," says longtime teammate and linemate Nicklas Backstrom. "We were down a goal and then he just turns it on."
Backstrom has been around for most of Ovechkin's goals, and he has had a hand in 259 of them (37.1%), the fourth most assists a player has had on any other player's goals in league history.
"Obviously I'm going to be happy for him, and I'm going to be super excited," says Backstrom. "I know he wanted to get it out of the way, so hopefully he can get it done as soon as possible. But it's a nice milestone. It's been incredible watching him for this many years, and hopefully for more years, too."
Since returning from their midseason break, the Caps have alternated wins with losses. Coming off Tuesday's comeback win over the Kings, and with a couple of division opponents ahead of them on the remainder of the homestand, it's as good a time as any for the Caps to start stringing together some wins.
Furthermore, in the Flyers on Saturday and the Islanders on Monday, the Caps are facing a couple of teams they could run into in the playoffs come April and May. They'd like to leave a good impression on those teams as they come into the District.
"You always want to win - first off - no matter who it is," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "But certainly to have any kind of mental advantage, I think it's important to play a good game, and also these are tests for us. There Is a lot of different stuff going on around the league that we are going to see and face leading up to the playoffs, and learning from these experiences is going to be important for us. But it's also important for us to play well in these games and not [say], 'Oh, they're fighting for this or that,' and then that's our excuse.
"There is a lot of good hockey left to be played. We know that, and we've got to step our intensity level up and start preparing ourselves now."
Philadelphia is one of a handful of teams in the hunt for the last few playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. As of Friday morning, there were a dozen NHL teams with 65 or more points, and six of them hail from the Metropolitan Division. All six of those Metro teams are on pace for 99 or more points this season, but one of them is guaranteed to miss the playoffs. That's a competitive division and a daunting situation for those teams to deal with through the stretch run, as we are now less than two months away from the conclusion of the regular season.
The Flyers are a respectable 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, but they're coming to town on the heels of an ugly 5-0 home ice loss to the Devils on Thursday night. In that game, Philly was blanked despite pouring 46 shots on New Jersey netminder Mackenzie Blackwood; the Flyers outshot the Devils 37-9 over the final 40 minutes of Thursday's game,
New Jersey's Blake Coleman scored the only goal Blackwood needed a mere 13 seconds into the game. The Devils managed only 19 shots of their own, and Philadelphia was whitewashed in a game in which it took 46 or more shots for the first time in more than half a century, since it lost a 3-0 home decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 15, 1969.