Thursday's rematch against the Flyers is the second game in a four-game road stretch for Washington. The Caps opened the trip in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, falling 5-3 in a loss that stopped their winning streak at seven. The Caps let a 2-0 lead slip away in the back half of the second period when the Pens took advantage of a series of unforced Washington errors to score three times in less than two minutes, taking momentum, the lead and eventually, the two points.
The Caps will be looking for a rebound performance on Thursday, aiming to get right back to where they were before those few fateful minutes on the other side of Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Washington still leads the Metro by two points, but the Caps are only eight points clear of Columbus, the current eighth-place occupant of the Eastern Conference standings. The Jackets actually have one more regulation/overtime win than Washington (38 to 37).
"It's extremely tight," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's a big two points. It's a good challenge for us to grow our group. [We have] two new bodies in our locker room from the trade deadline, and that's the first game we've lost with them in there. So I'd like to see how they respond after a loss. I know for the most part our ability to bounce back - outside of that [winless] streak we had before the break - has been good after a loss. Now you get to see a little bit of the makeup of a couple of new players, in terms of how they put together a game after a loss.
"For us, for sure it's about getting better. Is it disappointing for us to lose two points against Pittsburgh? Absolutely. That being said, there were some decent things in that game, and some areas we need to improve on. We addressed those today, and we'll be ready to go tonight, and then on to another opponent in Tampa Bay."
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | March 14
Lineup Change - For each of its last eight games, Washington has rolled out the same lineup featuring the same 18 skaters, with only the goaltenders changing here and there. Tuesday's loss in Pittsburgh was Washington's first since Feb. 23 in Buffalo, and the Caps will make one tweak to their lineup in the wake of that loss.
Chandler Stephenson draws back into the lineup tonight against the Flyers, seeing action for the first time since that aforementioned game in Buffalo. A healthy scratch for each of the last eight games, Stephenson had not been scratched for more than two straight games at any point in the season before that. He never sat for more than two straight games last season, either.
"You can't really act like, 'Boo-hoo, you,'" says Stephenson of sitting out for so long. "The team had a lot of success and guys were having a lot of fun. It was fun to be around, and you've just got to wait for your opportunity and make the most of it."
Those eight straight games with the same lineup is Washington's longest such stretch this season.
"Coming back from the break," says Reirden, "that was some of the discussion we had about the urgency and commitment and the mindset we were going to have when we returned from break. You've got to - in my opinion - start to show that as a coach, too, with some of the lineup decisions that you're making. You put your players in situations where if they are going to perform well and deserve to stay in the lineup, they're not coming out. For a while, we got away from that and were trying to keep everybody involved.
"I think a big part of our seven-game winning streak there was some chemistry that was starting to develop. If a player or two doesn't play up to par, then we are going to make an adjustment."
Nic Dowd will sit out Thursday night's game, ending a run of 11 straight games in the lineup for him, his longest stretch of consecutive appearances since he played in 18 straight in Nov.-Dec. Dowd is the Caps' best face-off man in road games (49.5 percent) this season while Stephenson is at 42.2 percent on the road. Although a center by trade, Stephenson has played mostly on the wing during his NHL career.
"It's my natural position," says Stephenson, "but last year - year and a bit here - it's been less. Just a little more attention to detail in the [defensive] zone and other than that it's pretty similar. [Travis Boyd] can jump in there, too."
Stephenson steps back in against the Flyers, and he has had some success against them, scoring three of his 11 career goals against Philly.
"No, not overly," he responds, asked whether his success against the Flyers is something he is aware of. "It's more just trying to get the rust off as quick as I can and just try to get into the game as fast as I can - just help the line out, and just keep it simple."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | March 14
In the Nets - Braden Holtby's personal five-game winning streak was stopped on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, but he will be back in net and looking to return to the win column tonight in Philadelphia. Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals against in seven of his last 11 starts, and he owns a 9-5-1 record since the All-Star break, with a shutout, a 2.47 GAA and a .919 save pct.
Lifetime against the Flyers, Holtby is 10-4-8 in 23 appearances with a couple of shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .915 save pct.
Washington will get its first ever look at rookie Philly goalie Carter Hart tonight. Recalled from AHL Lehigh Valley in mid-December, he earned his first NHL win in his debut against Detroit on Dec. 18 and helped the Flyers push their way back up the standings after the turn of the calendar. But he was pulled from his last two starts in late February before going down with a lower body injury. Tonight, Hart starts for the first time since Feb. 21.
On the season, the 20-year-old netminder is 13-8-1 with a 2.79 GAA and a .917 save pct. Since the All-Star break, Hart is 5-3-0 in eight starts, with a 3.46 GAA and a .908 save pct.
Philadelphia travels to Toronto for a Friday night date with the Maple Leafs, so Thursday's game starts a set of back-to-backs for them. The Flyers will likely go with Brian Elliott against the Leafs.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Flyers to look when they meet on Thursday night in Philadelphia:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly
65-Burakovsky, 18-Stephenson, 72-Boyd
28-Giroux, 14-Couturier, 23-Lindblom
25-van Riemsdyk, 19-Patrick, 11-Konecny
12-Raffl, 21-Laughton, 38-Hartman
44-Varone, 10-Knight, 27-Bailey
30-Neuvirth (lower body)
93-Voracek (league suspension)