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 was interim coach with the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season and was coach of London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League and Syracuse of the American Hockey League.
The Philadelphia Flyers did some good things, but the Washington Capitals' versatility and special teams play proved to be the difference in a 2-0 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series. That was what stood out to former Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach Gary Agnew when he watched the game Thursday.
The Capitals lead the best-of-7 series 1-0. Game 2 is at Verizon Center on Saturday (7 p.m., CNBC, CBC, CSN-PH, CSN-DC, TVA Sports).
Video: Holtby, Caps shut down Flyers in Game 1 victory
What derailed the Flyers' efforts most, Agnew thought, were the six power plays they had to try to kill over the final two periods. They were still within one goal until Jay Beagle's 3-on-2 goal with 3:24 remaining sealed the victory for the Capitals.
"They were hanging around for a long time, but penalties tired them out. It tires your best players out and your penalty killers" Agnew said. "But I thought it as a good strategy by them. Especially with Washington on home ice, Philly did a nice job of staying in the game and hanging around and still had a chance to get the tie and maybe send it to overtime. So, the longer they can hang in there, the better off it is for them."
Overall, Agnew thought it was "a typical Game 1."
"Both teams were trying to impose their, sort of, physical will," he said. "You had Jakub Voracek finishing his hits, you had Alex Ovechkin finishing his hits, everybody trying to set the tempo. The interesting thing for me with Washington is they can play a lot of styles. They can play the physical game. They can play the skilled game."
The Flyers had their chances to take control early with three first period power plays but could not break through. They had five shots on Braden Holtby on those first three power plays; he made 11 of his 19 total saves in the first period.
Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Holtby makes pad stop, denies rebound
"Actually, I thought the Flyers did a nice job a couple times of finding Brayden Schenn in the slot there," Agnew said. "They found a couple of seams, but they're going to have to get more pucks to the net. If you're going to play a team like Washington, you're going to have to get more pucks to the net and create more scrambles. If you allow them to set up in their position strategically for the penalty kill, they're a hard team to get through, but I thought Philly did a nice job of getting a couple of nice shots and Holtby made two really big saves in the high slot there. So, the key is to capitalize early on those because you get some confidence and, if not, you still have to create some momentum off it."
That's exactly what the Capitals did on their first two power plays in the second period. They did not score on either, but generated four shots on goal on each, and then converted on their third opportunity to take a 1-0 lead with defenseman John Carlson's point shot deflecting in off Philadelphia's Chris VandeVelde.
"It's such a great power play," Agnew said. "If you give Nicklas Backstrom time, he can make those plays. Of course, everybody tries to take Alex Ovechkin away and now (Backstrom) starts dishing off to John Carlson or going down low and then they'll find T.J. Oshie in the slot. They've got a lot of clubs in their bag that they can choose from depending on what you want to take away and what you want to give them."
Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Carlson sneaks puck past Mason for lead
Although Carlson's goal stood up as the game-winner, the Flyers were able to kill off three Capitals power plays after that, including a four-minute high sticking double minor on Sam Gagner in the third period.
"Where I thought Philadelphia was great (on the penalty kill) was blocking shots," Agnew said. "I thought any time they got over to Ovechkin's side, they were going down and blocking shots. But they have to be more disciplined. You can't give them six power plays. Six power plays for that group, they'll find a way to score or create momentum and tire you out."
Agnew saw room for improvement for each team in the transition game at 5-on-5 play.
"When you catch a team in transition, before they have a chance to reset up after turning the puck over, you've got to challenge and try to get a scoring opportunity rather than entering the zone and delaying up and trying to make a cross-ice pass," Agnew said. "Both teams could probably attack quicker off the transition."
Agnew views the loss of Flyers center Sean Couturier, who appeared to injure his left shoulder on a hit from Ovechkin in the second period, to be a significant one for Game 2 on Saturday and going forward in the series. Couturier will be sidelined for two weeks.
Scott Laughton will likely take Couturier's place in the lineup Saturday, but Agnew noted that the Flyers were 35-18-10 with Couturier in the lineup this season and 6-9-4 without him.
"That's a tough one to swallow," Agnew said. "You're going to play with injuries throughout the playoffs, but to lose a guy of that stature in Game 1 is maybe a big blow. They've got Laughton sitting out that they'll probably bring in, but on the penalty kill and certainly in a checking role there's a significant difference when Couturier is in their lineup and out of their lineup."