The Caps are 2-0-1 against Metro foes this season, and they last played a Metro opponent on Oct. 18 when they defeated the New York Rangers in DC. Only six of Washington's first 34 games will be played against divisional opponents.
"Anytime you play a team that's within your division," says Caps center Nic Dowd, "and a team that's playing well, too, that's a good challenge, especially on the road. Philly is not an easy place to play.
"We started out and we were on the road quite a bit at the beginning, and I think that helps a team out. It brings guys together and allows you to focus just on the team, and it takes away all of the extracurricular activities away from when you're at home, not that that's necessarily a bad thing. But it is strange that we haven't played many games against the teams in our division, so it's going to be a good test."
Washington carries an 8-1-1 road record and a 12-game point streak (10-0-2) into Wednesday's game as it looks to get back in the win column after Monday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
"The schedule really has been much different than in past years," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "But like I said, we're happy to have the record that we do. I expect us to respond a little bit from the first two periods we had [Monday] and build on some of the stuff we did in the third, and some of the chances we had in OT.
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | November 13
"We're going into a difficult building with a new coach. They're trying to make a push in the Metro, and they're not far off from us, so it will be a good challenge."
The Flyers are 6-1-1 on home ice, they've won four straight, and they're 8-2-1 in their last 11 games. Philly has been a strong possession team in the early going this season; they're the league's second best face-off team at 53.9 percent, and they've permitted an average of 28.8 shots on goal per game, just a shade behind Carolina for the league lead.
"They're especially good at home, too," says Reirden of the Flyers. "The shot numbers that they put up at home as opposed to the road - just in our own research and scouting - is at a higher number. And they've been able to take advantage additionally of the new face-off rules, and now you're getting [Claude] Giroux or [Sean] Couturier in spots where they can wind draws. Obviously, their other center men are good as well, but they've been able to get some offense and some zone time out of that as well. I think those are two big things that I've seen, that are very apparent, especially when playing at home as opposed to playing on the road."
When The Deal Goes Down - Five months ago tomorrow, the Caps and the Flyers hooked up to make a rare player-for-player trade. The two divisional rivals swapped right-handed defensemen, with Matt Niskanen going from Washington to Philly and Radko Gudas coming to the District in return.
The two veteran blueliners have played a quarter of a season in their new environments, and both teams are pleased with the trade. The Caps needed to shed some salary, and Philadelphia wanted a top four righty who is capable of playing upwards of 20 minutes a night and can be utilized in all situations. Both teams are off to strong starts, and both blueliners have played well for their new teams.
Video: Radko Gudas Pregame | November 13
Tonight, Gudas and Niskanen will go up against their former teams for the first time since the trade. Teams go up against former players - and vice versa - all the time. The Caps have seen former teammates Andre Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer and Brett Connolly - among others - early this season, but this is a bit different, because it's a player-for-player trade between two division rivals. That's a somewhat unusual circumstance in the modern NHL.
"He is obviously a player I know quite well," says Reirden of Niskanen. "I spent 10-plus years coaching him, and he is an outstanding person, and obviously a great player. He was a huge part of his having the success we did here, in terms of winning the Stanley Cup, and additionally he has been a big part of some of the development of our defensemen that we now have, whether we're talking about John [Carlson] or Dmitry [Orlov], in terms of their growth. He has always liked working with younger guys, and he was a perfect role model for the habits and details that you have to have to play the position, and was a good pro for us."
One of the reasons the trade has worked for both teams is that both players are excellent locker room presences, and both have been popular among their teammates wherever they've played throughout their careers.
"We're really happy to have him," says Reirden of Gudas. "Just the element that he brings, the physical component, the shot-blocking ability, the penalty killing, the way he is in the room - he has fit in with no problem at all. The guys really like him, and we think there is a big place for that type of player on our team. That has allowed us to adjust some of our penalty kill minutes for some of our other [defensemen], and allow them to focus on other areas where they can have more success. So it has been a good move for us, and I'm sure he is anxious to play against the Flyers [Wednesday]."
"Gudas, he is an awesome guy to be around whether it's on the ice or in the locker room or away from the rink," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. "I've heard from some of his teammates in the past that he is one of their favorites that they've played with. So that's a good thing for us and a good fit for us. And on the ice, he brings a physical aspect that we are kind of losing without [Brooks Orpik] and Nisky, Brooksie especially."
For the first of their four meetings the season, the Caps and Flyers will have the added spice of a couple of beloved new - and former - teammates who would like nothing more than to beat their previous employer.
"I think it adds a little bit to it," says Dowd. "I mean, there's no question guys are going to be giving Gudie a harder time than usual. I'm sure Philly is going to be giving Nisky a harder time than usual.
"They are two very good players who play a similar style in some ways. And I think both teams were happy with the deals that they made. I think it will be good to see Nisky. I'm sure Gudie will be a little more ramped up, and I'm sure Nisky will be a little more ramped up individually, but as a team, I don't think it's going to weigh into it that much."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 13
Homegrown - Philadelphia has 12 of its own draftees on the active roster currently. Seven of those dozen players are Flyers first-rounders, and Philly also has three of its own first-rounders on injured reserve right now. The Flyers also have four first-round imports from other NHL organizations: Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Chris Stewart and Jakub Voracek.
In The Nets - As he gets set to take the crease on Wednesday against the Flyers, Caps goalie Braden Holtby is on the verge of cracking the NHL's all-time top 50 in career wins. Felix Potvin (266) currently occupies the 50th slot on that list, and Holtby (265) is aiming to match that total against Philadelphia.
Holtby has won four straight starts and has helped his team earn points in eight straight (7-0-1). In those eight starts, he has fashioned a 2.72 GAA and a .920 save pct.
Lifetime against the Flyers, Holtby is 12-4-8 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.46 GAA and a .918 save pct. in 25 appearances.
Twenty-one-year-old sophomore netminder Carter Hart gets the start on Wednesday against Washington. After a slugging October in which he won two of his first seven appearances of the season, Hart is back on the beam. He has won each of his last four starts, posting a 1.92 GAA and a .929 save pct. in the process.
Hart made one start against the Caps in his rookie season, giving up four goals on 31 shots in a March 14 game here in Philly.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Flyers to look on Wednesday night when they get together in Philly for the first of their four meetings this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
18-Stephenson, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
62-Hagelin (upper body)
25-van Riemsdyk, 28-Giroux, 49-Farabee
23-Lindblom, 14-Couturier, 11-Konecny
81-Twarynski, 13-Hayes, 93-Voracek
10-Andreoff, 12-Raffl, 18-Pitlick
19-Patrick (migraine disorder)
21-Laughton (broken finger)
55-Morin (torn ACL)