The Washington Capitals battled inconsistency earlier this season while trying to get accustomed to new coach Barry Trotz, but it now looks as though they're going to be in the mix for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs right until the very end.
Trotz and the Capitals are 13-1-4 in their past 18 games (they've outscored the opposition 57-34 over that span) and have moved within two points of second place in the Metropolitan Division heading into this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA, SN1).
"I don't believe it's a hot streak," Trotz said. "A hot streak is when you're winning games when you're not supposed to. I think our consistency has been good. Our commitment and our detail have been good. We're not just a team having a good month."
The Flyers will be looking to carry potential momentum gained from Monday when they scored five goals in the second period of a 7-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia has won three of its past four games. The Flyers hadn't scored five goals in a period since they accomplished the feat against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 19, 2013.
Here are five things to watch in the game between the Flyers and Capitals:
1. Ovechkin aims to extend record
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin broke a tie with his 22nd goal of the season via the power play late in the second period to give Washington a 2-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. It was Ovechkin's 74th game-winning goal, passing Peter Bondra on the Capitals' all-time list. Ovechkin has scored in six of his past seven games.
"I didn't think [Ovechkin] was particularly good for [Ovechkin] standards today," Trotz said after the game. "Missing the net a little bit, fumbling pucks and all that, but who scores the winning goal? Alex Ovechkin. There's something about that, when you need that goal, they find ways to score. And he does. That's a tribute to what he's done here in Washington."
2. Giroux's drive for five
Claude Giroux had two assists on his 27th birthday Monday, his 13th multipoint game of the season, to help Philadelphia cruise past Tampa Bay. It extended his point streak to four games; he has one goal and four assists over that span.
Giroux was named to his third All-Star Game last Saturday. He ranks second on the Flyers with 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 42 games.
3. Holtby extends streak to 20
Ovechkin is undoubtedly the face of the Capitals, but perhaps the biggest reason why Washington has been dominant over the past several weeks is because of the play of Braden Holtby.
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 2.23 | SVP: .923
The Capitals' No. 1 goaltender is expected make his 20th consecutive start Wednesday after he made 31 saves against Colorado, improving to 21-8-7 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
In 19 straight starts, Holtby is 13-2-4.
"We were playing great on the road, and we just weren't finding success at home. We want our building to be a real hard place for teams to come into and play in. I think we're starting to establish that now," Capitals forward Jay Beagle said. "We're just playing to our system, and obviously Holts standing on his head does a lot for us too. We all get a lift [when Holtby is playing well]. Everyone knows a huge save can change a game, and it's a big momentum boost for us. He's been playing great all year and we're feeding off it and trying to keep it rolling."
4. Zepp could get another start
It's been a long road to the NHL for Flyers goalie Rob Zepp. The 33-year-old made his debut in a 4-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 21, becoming the oldest player since the 1926-27 season to win his debut.
Zepp had to wait nearly a month for another chance and he made the most of it in a 21-save performance against Tampa Bay on Monday.
Goalie - PHI
GAA: 3.00 | SVP: .885
"Probably feels even better than the first time around," Zepp said. "What can I say? The guys played outstanding tonight; to build a 7-1 lead against a team like that is incredible. … They have a lot of offensive power and we hung with it today. Thought we did a really good job tonight."
Zepp will start again Wednesday, the Flyers' second game since starting goalie Steve Mason sat out because of a lower-body injury. Mason is expected to miss 2-4 weeks; with backup Ray Emery struggling this season, it's possible Zepp could start the majority of the games until Mason returns.
5. What happens if the Capitals score first?
History tells us it likely won't be good for the Flyers if Washington scores the first goal of the game.
Beagle gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead against Colorado when he scored at 7:34 of the first period on Monday. With the win against the Avalanche, Washington improved to 22-1-3 this season when it scores first and 20-1-2 when leading after two periods.
"There are a lot of these one-goal games that are happening now," said Beagle, whose team is 11-0-0 when he gets a point this season. "In the past we've kind of struggled with those, closing it off, and we're doing a lot better job about it [now]. We're finding a way to get the job done and get the win."