Washington is halfway through a four-game homestand, and it is still seeking its first victory. The Caps fell 5-4 in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, and then dropped a 2-1 decision on Friday to the Minnesota Wild, their first regulation loss on home ice since Feb. 3. Washington comes into Sunday's game having lost consecutive contests for the first time since Jan. 22-23, and it will be seeking to avoid losing two straight in regulation for the first time since Jan. 18-20.
"I just want to see a better response than how we played last game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I think our team was headed in the right direction and improving in a lot of different areas. And then obviously how we dealt with the adversity of missing a few players for the first game and being not as emotionally invested as we were against Tampa. It cost us the points, so I'm hoping that message has been delivered and everyone understands the importance of this game in moving forward, and most importantly in improving our team."
Bottoms Up - After a strong 9-4-1 month of February, the Caps have kept the train rolling in March with a 7-3-1 mark. On the surface, the Caps appear to have scoring balance this month; six forwards and two defensemen have accumulated seven or more points in the 11 games. But a closer look shows that Washington's top six has done much of its offensive damage on the power play while the bottom six has done the heavy lifting at five-on-five.
Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin each have eight points at five-on-five this month and they lead the team in that department. Connolly has five of the team's 25 goals at five-on-five in March, followed closely by Andre Burakovsky with four. Washington's bottom six forwards have combined to score 14 of the team's goals at five-on-five this month, while the top six has contributed 10 goals while playing far more minutes. Blueliner John Carlson has the only goal from the defense.
Do the Caps need more from their top six than they're getting right now at five-on-five?
"For sure," answers Reirden. "We switched it up, and when we switched it in the New Jersey game, we got an immediate reaction with a goal on consecutive shifts with the move between [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and [Nicklas] Backstrom. And we'll continue to find the right combinations that give us the best opportunity here to have success. And sometimes - especially when guys aren't necessarily feeling up to par health-wise - you've got to sometimes manage some minutes and do some things that way.
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | March 24
"You'll maybe see some creative combinations at times, and with who is going and feeling well and who is having a good game and taking advantage of opportunities, they may see a little more action tonight."
Philly Faltering - Jeff Gordon took over the coaching reins from Dave Hakstol in mid-December for the Flyers, and soon afterwards, Philadelphia took off on a lengthy second-half tear. The Flyers were 12-15-4 under Hakstol, and they are 24-16-4 since Gordon took over.
The last time Philadelphia visited Washington on Jan. 8, the Caps prevailed 5-3, leaving the Flyers with a 15-22-6 record, just one point ahead of Ottawa for the fewest points in the league at that juncture.
Since then, the Flyers are 21-10-2, and they took a good run at sneaking into a wild card spot. But Saturday's home ice loss to the New York Islanders leaves them in a tough spot, trailing eighth-place Montreal by seven points with just seven games remaining. Philadelphia may have just run out of gas; it is 2-4-0 in its last six with one of those victories coming in a shootout.
"They played [Saturday]," says Reirden of the Flyers. "The result didn't go their way. I expect them to be upset about it. They had a pretty godo chance to try to get some points from that game, having watched it. They didn't leave with it, so they're going to have a little anger to their game with this being one of their last opportunities to make a final push.
"So we need to be prepared for that, and make sure we get off to a good start here in a 12:30 game."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the start in goal for Washington, taking his fourth crack at his 28th win of the season. After consecutive losses to the Lightning, Holtby made 25 saves in a 2-1 setback to the Wild on Friday. He has scuffled some in afternoon action this season, posting a 2-4-0 mark in seven starts with a 3.76 GAA and an .881 save pct.
Holtby has won each of his two starts against the Flyers this season, and owns an 11-4-8 record against Philadelphia in his career, along with two shutouts, a 2.52 GAA and a .915 save pct.
For the Flyers, we are expecting to see Bryan Elliott today, as rookie sensation Carter Hart had the crease yesterday in Philly against the Islanders. Since the All-Star break, Elliott is 5-2-1 with a 3.09 GAA and a .913 save pct. in 10 appearances.
Philly has deployed a league record eight goaltenders this season, and the Caps have seen four different Flyers goalies in the three previous meetings between the two teams. They scored four goals on 19 shots against Elliott in just over 24 minutes on March 6, and he will be the only one of the four to start twice against Washington this season. Mike McKenna and Hart started the other two games for Philadelphia against the Capitals.
Lifetime against the Caps, Elliott is 8-6-0 with a 3.24 GAA and an .890 save pct. in 16 appearances.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | March 23
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Flyers to look when they meet on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena, assuming everyone is healthy. Hagelin and Kuznetsov are both recovering from illness, and their presence in the lineup will be a game-time decision to be determined after warm-ups:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly
65-Burakovsky, 26-Dowd, 72-Boyd
6-Kempny (lower body)
23-Lindblom, 14-Couturier, 28-Giroux
25-van Riemsdyk, 19-Patrick, 93-Voracek
38-Hartman, 21-Laughton, 11-Konecny
12-Raffl, 10-Knight, 27-Bailey
30-Neuvirth (lower body)