December 21 – Day 70 – No love for Washington

If you’re looking for a busy hockey schedule, you’ve picked the wrong night. Only four teams will drop the puck this evening, starting at 8 p.m. eastern time with Washington visiting Philadelphia (NBCSN/SN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Edmonton at Arizona.

The reasons for visiting Philadelphia are endless. It’s a rematch of one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals from a year ago, but it also features two very good teams that are only qualifying for wild card spots.

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

Sometimes the standings are misleading. This is one of those times. Sure, Philadelphia might be only the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division, and Washington an even worse fifth. That is certainly true when compared to the Penguins, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Those teams have been the standard of the league this season, especially with the puck on their stick.

But try this one on for size. If our featured clubs joined the Atlantic Division, they’d claim second and third place, with the Capitals barely beating out now “fourth” place Ottawa on the three-fewer games played tiebreaker.

It gets even more ridiculous when compared to the struggling Western Conference. The Central Division is similar to the Atlantic in that these clubs would also be second and third-best, again with Washington beating out St. Louis on four-fewer games played.

The Pacific? Philly and the Caps both drop division-leading San Jose to third, with Washington once again leading on three-fewer games played.

I think I’ve made my points. The Metropolitan Division, and more specifically for our Game of the Day, Philadelphia and Washington are very good.

Let’s play another fun game and look ahead to the playoffs. Regardless of who claims the top-three spots in the Metropolitan, it looks to be almost certain that the two Eastern wild cards will be from that division. For the sake of our situation, let’s assume the order of the Metropolitan standings remain the same. Currently the second wild card, Washington holds an six-point lead over Tampa Bay and Florida.

For earning that spot, they earn the distinct privilege of playing the best team in the East (and, in my opinion, all of hockey – whether it is the Penguins or Rangers). Philadelphia gets to face the top-seeded Atlantic seed – again, let’s assume it will be Montréal like it is right now.

If I’m Philly, I’m loving this. After a difficult series against the Habs, the Flyers‘ road to the Eastern Finals appears easy, as they get to play the weaker Atlantic teams. That sounds awesome! So awesome, in fact, that Columbus, the current three seed facing the Rangers, could even grow jealous. I’ll be very intrigued to see how the chips fall between the three and five seeds in the Metropolitan Division this March and April.

Keeping all that in mind, this is even more fun given the bad blood between these teams. Washington‘s six game Quarterfinals victory is only fuel on a fire that has been burning since the ’80s, when the Caps swept the Flyers in three games in the first round of the 1984 playoffs. Since then, Washington has amassed a 3-2 playoff series record against the Flyers, but it’s been Philadelphia who has won the regular season series, going 123-94-19.

Tonight is the first time these clubs have met since April, and the Flyers will be looking to defend home ice after losing the deciding Game 6 on the surface.

The 19-8-3 Capitals come to town sporting an impressive defense. They’ve allowed only 64 goals this season, the third-fewest in the entire league.

Of course, most of that credit usually belongs to the goaltender, and 14-7-2 Braden Holtby is no different. He has a .925 save percentage and 2.08 GAA to his credit, the 11th and seventh-best effort among the 14 goaltenders with a dozen or more appearances on their resumes.

While he’s good on his own, part of the reason he’s found such success is because of the defense playing in front of him. Allowing only 28.1 shots against per night, Holtby faces the sixth-fewest pucks per night. That effort has been headlined by Karl Alzner, who has 52 shot blocks to his credit.

That success has continued even when the Caps are short a man. Led by Alzner’s 15 shorthanded blocks, Washington prevents opposing power plays from lighting the lamp 84% of the time, the seventh-best rate in the NHL.

The 19-11-4 Flyers play host this evening at the Wells Fargo Center, the home of the league’s third-most potent offense, having scored 104 goals already this season. They’ve been especially good of late, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 contests.

Jakub Voracek can take credit for many of those scores, as his 34 points the most on the team. For those not quick with math, he has the same number of points as the Flyers have games played. He’s one of 10 skaters who can truly claim an average of that caliber or better. Unfortunately for Voracek, he can’t claim the goal-scoring lead. That belongs to Wayne Simmonds, whose 16 tallies are five more than his.

As might be expected with such an explosive offense, the power play has truly been ticking. The Flyers are fifth-best in the league with the man-advantage, scoring 22.8% of the time. This has been Captain Claude Giroux‘ forte, as he leads the team with 15 power play points. That being said, the final scorer of those goals remains the same: Simmonds has eight extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been a point of pride for Philadelphia this year. They’ve refused to allow a goal on 82.8% of opposing opportunities, the 10th-best effort in the league. Ivan Provorov has been incredible under these circumstances, as his 19 shorthanded blocks not only lead the team, but are tied for fourth-most in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (16 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (34 points, including 23 assists [both tied for sixth-most in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (2.08 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] for two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league] among 14 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

Although they have home ice to their advantage, Philadelphia is not the favorite to win tonight’s game. Don’t be alarmed though, Flyers fans: the line is only a +105. That being said, I’m sticking with Vegas tonight, because I trust the Capitals‘ offense to take advantage of Philly‘s defense with ease.

Hockey Birthday

  • Frank Patrick (1885-1960) – Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950, this defenseman played most of his career in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association with the Vancouver Millionaires, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1915.
  • Joe Kocur (1964-) – A Red Wings pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played 15 seasons in the league, 10 of which in Detroit. He won three Stanley Cups in his career, including two straight with the Wings in 1997 and ’98.
  • Steve Montador (1979-2015) – 10 seasons this defenseman played in the NHL, playing most of his 571 games for Florida even though he spent more seasons in Calgary. His life met an early end due to CTE caused by cumulative concussions.

Our third shootout in four games gave Florida a 4-3 victory over Buffalo in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Second Star of the Game Aleksander Barkov (First Star Jaromir Jagr and Jason Demers) waited to get the Panthers on the board until 3:51 remained on the clock in the first period. His backhander was the lone tally of the opening frame.

The second goal wasn’t until 12:14 had ticked off the clock in the second, and it also belonged to the home side. Keith Yandle (Barkov and Jagr) takes credit for the twine-tickling power play slap shot. Buffalo didn’t take too kindly to that, so Sam Reinhart (Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly) scored a power play goal of his own to pull the Sabres back within a score. The game was tied with 3:05 remaining in the period when Evander Kane (Brian Gionta and Cody Franson) tipped-in the third and final goal of the second period.

Ristolainen (Reinhart) broke the knot with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a tip-in, but Nick Bjugstad (Barkov and Jagr [That was the 1887th point of his career tonight, tying Mark Messier for second all-time in 94 fewer games played.]) buried his first goal of the season with 3:51 remaining on the clock to force a scoreless three-on-three overtime period.

As the home team, Florida elected to go second in the shootout…

  1. …forcing O’Reilly to take the first shot. Unfortunately for him, Third Star Roberto Luongo was not willing to yield a goal.
  2. Vincent Trocheck took Florida‘s first shot, and it was pure. 1-0 Panthers.
  3. Kyle Okposo tried to pull even with the Panthers, but to no avail. Luongo was once again there for the save.
  4. He scored the first goal of the game, and the last (shh, don’t tell him it doesn’t technically count as a game-winner, or even a goal!). Barkov buries his shot to earn the bonus point for the Panthers.

Luongo earns the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (91.7%), forcing Robin Lehner to take the shootout loss, saving 36-of-39 (92.3%).

That win gives the home teams a 38-23-11 record in the DtFR Game of the Day series to expand their lead to six points over the roadies.

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