February 22 – Day 126 – Guess who’s found their stride

Like most Wednesdays, the NHL is not exactly an active place this evening, as only three games will be contested. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Edmonton at Florida (SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Boston visits Anaheim (SN/SN1) at 10:30 p.m. to act as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.

Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve featured either the Capitals or the Flyers? There’s no way we’re missing this rivalry!

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

For those looking for holes in the 39-12-7 Capitals‘ game, I wish you the best of luck. There’s a reason they lead the Presidents’ Trophy race, as they play extremely well on both ends of the ice. That being said, the main reason Washington has the best scoring differential in the NHL is because of their exemplary defensive play, which has allowed only 121 goals this season – the fewest in the NHL.

Of course, orchestrating that effort is 29-8-5 Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Although it certainly helps to have an offense like the Caps do, Holtby has earned every win to his credit this season, as his .926 save percentage and 2.01 GAA are (t)fourth and (t)best in the NHL, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

He also has the benefit of one of the best defenses in the league, too. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 112 shot blocks, Washington‘s blue line allows only 27.9 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the sixth-best rate in the game.

The theme of sixth-best continues on the penalty kill, where the Caps neutralize 84.3% of opposing power plays. Just as he does at even-strength, Alzner is an unstoppable force when his club is down a man, as he leads the squad with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Oh yeah, and the power play is the better of the two special teams units. Scoring a goal on 21.8% of opportunities, the Caps are eighth-best in the league with the extra man. That effort is headlined by Nicklas Backstrom and his 23 power play points, even if it is Alex Ovechkin scoring all the goals (he has a dozen tallies with the man-advantage).

That’s a lot for the 28-24-7 Flyers to handle. After a good start to the season, Philadelphia now finds itself in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Florida for the second wildcard.

A dried up offense is the main reason Philly has seen its stock drop so dramatically in the past month. At one point one of the best in the league, the Flyers have accounted for only a total of 154 goals this year – the 10th fewest in hockey. Jakub Voracek is trying his hardest with his team-leading 49 points – as is Wayne Simmonds with his team-leading 25 goals (both have registered a point in four of the last five games) – but the rest of the squad is in a major funk that will be difficult to break against tonight’s opposition.

Don’t let the overall drop in production fool you, though. The Flyers are still one of the best in the league – tied for eighth-best, in fact – on the power play, as they convert an impressive 21.3% of opportunities. Philadelphia employs a two-headed attack, as both Captain Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn tie with 23 power play points for the team lead, but Schenn has been most impressive: 14 of his points are goals, the highest mark on the squad.

Tonight’s contest is the third in the four-game season series between these clubs, and both have won their respective first matchup on home ice. That being said, Washington still has a 1-0-1 advantage over the Flyers thanks to forcing a shootout before falling 3-2 on December 21. The last time they met was January 15, when the Capitals knocked Philly around for a five-goal shutout victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Radko Gudas (192 hits [leads the team]), Ivan Provorov (124 blocks [leads the team]), Simmonds (25 goals [leads the team]) and Voracek (34 assists for 49 points [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (44 assists [second-most in the league] for 61 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (seven shutouts [tied for most in the league] and 2.01 GAA [tied for best in the NHL] on a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league] for 29 wins [fourth-most in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) T.J. Oshie (+24 [10th-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]).

Only one team has a positive (read: bad) line next to their name tonight, and it’s the Flyers with their +138. Unfortunately for them, I don’t know if it would matter if they were hitting on all cylinders coming into this game, the Capitals are, as usual, just plain better than most every other team in the league. I figure Washington should win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Sid Abel (1918-2000) – Spending most of his playing days in Detroit, this forward played in the NHL for 14 seasons. It was a successful career, as three All-Star selections, the 1949 Hart Trophy and three Stanley Cups landed him in the Hall of Fame.
  • Tim Young (1955-) – Selected 16th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, this center played 10 seasons in the league, most of which with the North Stars. His lone All-Star appearance was in 1977.
  • Pat LaFontaine (1965-) – A long time Islander, this Hall of Fame center was the third-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never hoisted the Stanley Cup, he did play in five All-Star games and won the 1995 Masterton Trophy.

It’s hard to lose with a three-goal period, and the Blackhawks proved that with a 5-3 victory in Minnesota in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Surprisingly for a contest that featured eight markers, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until 20:58 had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews (Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk) takes credit with his wrist shot, but Second Star Mikael Granlund (Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu) leveled the game 3:22 later with a power play wrister. Thanks to a wrister from Richard Panik (Toews) 41 seconds after Granlund’s tally, Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

You know how the goal song at the Xcel Energy Center is Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy?” That’s exactly what happened during the third frame, as five goals were struck. Third Star Nick Schmaltz (Toews) buried the first tally of the period only 33 seconds after it began, giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Zach Parise (Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville) pulled the Wild back within a tally at the 6:41 mark, but Toews (Schmaltz and Panik) buried the eventual game-winning backhander only 102 seconds later. Granlund (Niederreiter and Koivu) scored his second power play goal of the night with 6:51 remaining in regulation to once again pull Minnesota within a tally, but Toews’ (Schmaltz) hat-trick-completing wrister on an empty net sealed the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-38 (89.5%).

The winning ways for the 64-43-21 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series won’t stop, as their four-game winning streak has propelled them to a three-point lead over hosts.

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