Dark Night - Folks who filed into Capital One Arena on Wednesday night expected to see a spirited battle between the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division, and for 20 minutes that's how it played out.
"The first period, I'm not sure if there was a feeling out process, but there wasn't a lot of room," says Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.
There wasn't, but the first frame turned out to be the Caps' best of the night, as they were tagged with a 5-2 defeat, their second home-ice loss by three or more goals to the Flyers in a span of 26 days.
The Caps were resourceful in creating enough room to score the only goal of the first period, Lars Eller's dazzler at 14:09. For a Washington team that entered the game with a 19-0-2 mark when leading after the first period, it seemed like a good sign. But the Caps also failed to take advantage of three first-period power plays, and the penalty pendulum swung in the other direction in the second.
Video: PHI@WSH: Panik, Eller team up to open the scoring
Before the middle frame was six minutes old, the Caps took three minor penalties, a pair of stick infractions sandwiched around a bench minor for too many men. They dodged a bullet when a Philly power-play goal was waved off, but the Flyers quickly scored on the same power play. Late in the second, the Flyers took a 2-1 lead six seconds after the expiration of Washington's fourth minor penalty of the period.
Rock bottom came when the Flyers scored on a rarely seen 5-on-2 rush, with all three Washington forwards trailing the play just seconds after failing to get a forecheck started, despite a helpful turnover from Philly goaltender Brian Elliott.
The rest was just details, as Philadelphia scored four or more goals for the seventh straight game - the Flyers have won all seven - for the first time since 1993. Meanwhile, Washington yielded three or more for the ninth straight game, doing so for the first time since 2007.
Wednesday's win pulled Philadelphia to within a point of Washington for the lead in the Metropolitan Division.
Penalty Problems - The spate of second-period penalties did the Caps no favors, severely skewing the ice time of many of its skaters. Nick Jensen finished the night with a single-game season high of 22:12, but more than half of it - a whopping 11:31 - came in the second period. Jakub Vrana, one of Washington's three 25-goal forwards, was limited to 2:43 in ice time in the second. Ilya Kovalchuk skated 3:59 in the second and Nicklas Backstrom just 3:37.
Then there was the case of Tom Wilson, the Caps' top-line winger who has 21 goals this season. He engaged in a first-period fight with Philly's fourth-line center Nate Thompson in the first, and then dropped the mitts with third-pair defenseman Robert Hagg late in the second. Both of those trade-offs were bad for the Caps. Wilson was a high-event player for the Caps in that eight of his 18 shifts resulted in a penalty or a goal. At night's end, he had skated just 12:19, a single-game season low.
Video: Reirden Postgame | March 4
"Tom's a real valuable player for us, and he has been in very few altercations this year," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "In the situation with the first [fight], he sees a questionable hit where a guy goes into the boards wrong and he comes to take care of his teammate. And then the next one, he gets forced into it a little bit. That was some of my discussions with the referees, that [the Flyers] are trying to get him off the ice by putting him in those situations.
"That's something we continue to work with. He hasn't had a problem with that all year, and he has obviously turned into a top end player for us, who is used in all situations. So that's the trade-off of him playing on the edge and taking care of his teammate. And yet the second one he was just forced into it, and I like to see it's not always him causing every problem."
Ochocientos For Oshie - Caps right wing T.J. Oshie played in the 800th game of his NHL career on Wednesday night against the Flyers. Drafted by the Blues with St. Louis' first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Oshie went directly from the campus of the U. of North Dakota to the Blues' lineup on Oct. 10, 2008. He skated 15:34 in his NHL debut that night, a 5-2 Blues win over Nashville in St. Louis.
"It's been a while," says Oshie, reflecting back on more than a decade in the league. "Back then I was a young kid right out of college, and I probably shouldn't have been living on my own. And now with a family with two kids and one on the way in a few weeks. It's been a fun, long journey from my time in St. Louis and definitely my time here. I'm looking forward to playing 800, another steppingstone to the big milestone, which is a thousand."
Video: Postgame | March 4
Although he played 443 games in St. Louis and has played 357 games in a Washington sweater, Oshie has scored more goals with the Capitals (127) than he did with the Blues (110). He averaged .70 points per game with St. Louis and is at .72 with Washington, but his goals-per-game rate increased dramatically, from .25 per game with the Blues to .36 per contest with the Caps. He is shooting a bit less with Washington (2.03 shots per game vs. 2.10 with the Blues), but his gaudy 17.6 shooting pct. with the Caps is way above his 11.8 rate with St. Louis.
Since joining the Caps at the outset of the 2015-16 season, Oshie's shooting pct. is sixth in the league among all players who have played in at least 100 total games over that span.
"Once I got here, the coaches kind of freed me up a little bit," says Oshie. "We had a very defensive, safe style of hockey when I was in St. Louis. And here, I think it was around Christmastime my first year and [Reirden] came up to me and he was like, 'Hey, you can make some more plays. We know you're going to stop and get back if you turn the puck over.' It was just crazy for me to hear something like that.
"So that definitely, and obviously playing with Nick and [Evgeny Kuznetsov] for a lot of my career, too - premier passers of the game. That steps up, but really just my mentality on playing games back then was more about no making mistakes, and now is more so trying to score goals. It was a great move for me and for my career, and I'm loving every minute of it here in D.C."
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22:18 in ice time and with four shots on net … Jensen led the Caps with 5:10 in shorthanded ice time and three blocked shots … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with nine shot attempts … Richard Panik led the Caps with four hits … Eller won seven of 11 draws (64 percent).