The good news is that the Flyers held Alexander Ovechkin without a goal on only three shots. The bad news is they still lost, one more reminder that their margin for error in this series is even thinner than was Ken Hitchcock’s patience for Pavel Brendl.
If the Capitals’ 120 points and a President’s Trophy didn’t warn you what Dave Hakstol’s team is up against in this first round, Game One was your heads up. In a bruiser of an opener where both teams had to keep their heads up, the Flyers couldn’t have played any harder, or on four failed power play, done a better job of gaining zone time. Yet, they still had three good scoring chances in sixty minutes -- a Michael Raffl redirect early, then back-to-back opportunities by Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek that died in Braden Holtby’s left pad.
With ten power plays in all, that was not an even strength game. And still there was about as much room out there to maneuver as there is skin left uncovered on Jake Voracek’s face. The Caps were only up by a hair -- on a double deflection power-play goal by John Carlson -- with five minutes to go and won 2-0, a reminder of how teensy, weensy is that sliver of the slightest opening for Philadelphia to wiggle through.
The Caps might not play as well again, but they won’t dip that much, so how can the Flyers take it up a notch in Game Two Saturday?
“We will look to improve some individual things, a couple of things strategically, and just try to execute a little bit better,” said Coach Dave Hakstol Friday. “It’s a fine line.
“We came up a little bit short. We didn’t come here to come up a little bit short. I thought our intensity and work level was excellent. I think we can loosen up a little bit and execute better in certain situations.”
“You are not going to get a lot of opportunities against this team. They are excellent defensively. We have to work to generate one or two more opportunities and then at the end of the day find a way to capitalize on one or two of them.”
At the end of Thursday, the Flyers had exhausted six valuable minutes -- and themselves -- with three third period minors. This is no way to play catch-up, precisely what we are talking about when we point out the need to be more precise over the course of 60 minutes.
The Caps won the specialty team battle by scoring on one of six power play opportunities, which is 83 per cent penalty killing. That number would have gotten you in the top eight of the league in 2015-16, but it got the Flyers nothing in Game One of a first round against the league’s best team. The best way to kill ‘em remains not to take ‘em.
Cue the Al Pacino clip where he plays the football coach lecturing his squad about the fight for one more inch. One more good shot, one less penalty, one more break on a marginal delay-of-game call like the one taken by Brandon Manning (arguably a deflection), is what the Flyers need while the versatile Brayden Schenn, who was the Flyers’ best player in Game One outside Steve Mason, gets one more opportunity to prove himself invaluable in the two-week absence of Sean Couturier.
“The first time we were without Sean (missed six games in October-early November) we weren’t ready to handle that,” said Hakstol. “This time (actually nine games in February) we handed it very well.
“I think our presence in handing adversity over the last few months was excellent. And I don’t expect that to be an different in any situation.”
Losing your second best center, arguably your second-most indispensible player after Claude Giroux, is not just any old situation. The Caps are the favorites to win it all in large part because Evgeny Kuznetosov has given them a two-headed monster at center with Nicklas Backstrom, why Barry Trotz didn’t seem to mind whatever matchup he had in Game One.
Whether he decides to check Giroux or go strength-for-strength, Trotz has options, why its good to be coach of the regular season champions now going against an eighth seed that may be without a superior checking center who had 15 points in the last 22 regular season games.
The Flyers can match every ounce of intensity that the Caps have and still not matchup. That’s why they have to be a bit smarter and a wee bit more opportunistic than in Game One or the Caps will continue to be one goal better.