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Agnew: Getting in front of Holtby key for Flyers

Former NHL coach says Philadelphia's game plan is fine, but need to 'take away eyes' of Washington goalie

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Gary Agnew to break down the action. Agnew will be checking in throughout the series.

Agnew, 55, was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, St Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also served as interim head coach with the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season and as head coach of London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League and Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

The Washington Capitals' 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Saturday followed a similar script to their 2-0 victory in Game 1 on Thursday. 

Although the Flyers played better in some ways in peppering goaltender Braden Holtby with 42 shots, they again had trouble converting 5-on-5 and on the power play. The Capitals, on the other hand, went 2-for-2 on the power play and are 3-for-8 in the series, which is one of the main reasons they lead 2-0 in the best-of-7 series heading to Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CSN-DC, CSN-PH, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm2: Holtby turns away Simmonds twice

"I like Philadelphia's game plan," Agnew said. "They've been getting the puck in deep to try to establish their forecheck and that gave Washington some issues, though Washington, they were exiting through the middle of the ice. Most teams when you're forechecking, you sort of take away the boards and you can force a team [into turnovers], and I thought Washington did a nice job of coming up through the middle of the ice. Whether it was their support centerman or net-front defenseman that was joining them, they found a way to exit the zone. So, that might be an adjustment that Philadelphia is going to have to look at."

The Flyers power play is 0-for-7 for the series after going 0-for-3 Saturday, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:07 late in the first period. Although the Flyers threw a lot of shots at Holtby, Agnew feels they're still not doing enough to make the Capitals goaltender's job difficult.

"Because Holtby is playing so well, they needed more of a net-front presence and I think that's 5-on-5 and on their power play," Agnew said. "When you watched that 5-on-3, they've got to outwork Holtby. To do that, you're going to have to take away his eyes and, even if he makes the save, create some scrambles in front of the net so that you can put it in the back of the net."

The Capitals have received results on their power play by putting screens in front of Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. Their first goal in each of the first two games, both scored by defenseman John Carlson, came on point shots through double screens.

Video: PHI@WSH, GM2: Carlson beats Mason from the point

"Mason was looking right and they shot left, from his viewpoint," Agnew said. "He was looking for the puck and that's what you need to make the goaltender do to score in this league."

Although the Capitals are ahead 2-0 in the series, coach Barry Trotz said Saturday his team will need to be better Monday. Agnew likes the way the Capitals have handled things so far.

"They're competitive composure is really good right now," he said. "They're in the game and they're not scoring and things aren't going well [at times], but there's no panic. They're playing the game. They're sticking with their game plan. They scored two power-play goals and the one-hopper that Jason Chimera got. So, yeah, they can certainly play at another level, but they don't have to panic to play at another level just because their composure is so good right now."

The goal Chimera scored on a chip-in from the far side of the blue line 2:26 into the second period upped Washington's lead and turned out to be the game-winner, but Agnew was impressed with the way the Flyers reacted to it and backed Mason.

They got a goal from Jakub Voracek at 9:37 into the second period to cut their deficit to 2-1.

"I thought the leadership on the bench for Philly was outstanding because that's a deflating goal," Agnew said. "You're working hard, the shots are 19-5 in the first period and then that goes in and you're going, 'Come on, really?' Well, I thought they cranked it up again. Mason had made some outstanding saves. He was keeping them in it. He made some big saves to keep the score the way it was. So, whoever it was on the bench, whether it was Claude Giroux or the coaching staff, and I have no idea, but probably said something to the effect of, 'Listen, this guy has made some huge saves for us. Let's get back into this.'"

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