The Washington Capitals managed to salvage their brutal season-long road trip on Thursday night, squeaking out a point against the Philadelphia Flyers inside Wells Fargo Center as they fell 2-1 in a shootout. After Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring less than 30 seconds in to the game, the Flyers took control or most of the next 64 minutes, dominating long stretches of play in both the rest of regulation and overtime. Braden Holtby made 27 saves in the loss. With this result, the Caps secured five points out of a possible ten on the road trip, which has to be deemed a success. They are still eighth in the East, one point up on the Sabres.
Washington got off a brilliant start, scoring after only 26 seconds as Alex Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck from a bad turnover and rifled it over Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulder in tight. The Caps kept pressing after that goal and got a power play after four minutes when Kimmo Timonen was boxed for boarding. The power play looked good, with solid puck movement and good chances in front of Bryzgalov, but the Russian stood his ground to keep the Caps from doubling their lead in the early going.
As the midway mark of the period passed, Washington continued to keep up their pressure, outshooting the Flyers by a comfortable margin. Eventually, however, the talented Flyers forward corps began to pick up the pace and started to control long stretches in the Washington zone; it was only come fortunate bounces and missed chances that kept the score 1-0 in favor of the Caps. But the visitors were able to hold off the charge, and ended the first period up 1-0.
The second period opened up like the first one, with Alex Ovechkin getting a great chance early off a pass from Mike Green; this time, however, he was unable to convert as he missed an open net. Washington continued to pressure and with six minutes left Keith Aucoin hit a post. But on that same play, Claude Giroux broke free of the Caps defense, abused Dennis Wideman in open ice, and sidestepped a challenging Braden Holtby to backhand an equalizer into the open net.
Philadelphia’s goal gave them a ton of momentum, and they began to dominate the pace of play again. With seven minutes left in the period, though, Marcus Johansson used his great speed to generate a breakaway for himself; he was tripped from behind, giving him a penalty shot. And although Johansson was able to out-deke Bryzgalov, the Russian netminder tripped Johansson with his poke check denying Washington a 2-1 lead. The Caps got a power play for a minute at the end of the frame to try and go back on top, but were unable to do so and the period closed 1-1.
On the power play for just under a minute to start the third period, Washington again failed to score with the extra man, failing to even get extended zone time. Right after the penalty expired, Philadelphia got a power play of their own, but the DC shorthanded unit was stellar, not even letting one of the best units in the NHL get a shot off. After that power play, though, the pace really began to slow down, with chances few and far between.
Inside six minutes remaining, it became apparent that both teams were content to get a point, particularly the Capitals, and the last portions of regulation ticked down with no activity. In overtime, the home team had control for most of the first 2 minutes, camping out inside DC’s crease, but they were unable to get a goal. The game opened up in the final two and a half minutes and both teams got chances, but nary a goal was scored, and the game moved to a shootout.
In the skills competition, Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read scored in the shootout, while Matt Hendricks was the only Capital to convert; that meant Philly took home the extra point.
Braden Holtby was good tonight. The Giroux goal was a very poor decision by his part, but other than that, he stopped some very tough shots and put his team in a position to win. For your third string goalie, you can’t really ask much more than that, especially in such a tough building against an elite offensive club like the Flyers. The future is indeed bright in the Washington goal.
Alex Ovechkin has now scored six goals in his last five games. The Captain had his second good game in a row, creating some chances and trying to finish others; he also missed a yawning cage on one occasion in a game that would have given Washington a huge two goal lead. He is now seventh in the NHL in goals. His ability to keep this up will make or break DC’s season.
I said at the beginning of this road trip that we would know what was up with this team at the end of it. I lied. The Caps had a .500 road trip, which puts them exactly where they were at the start of it. They had awful games and they had okay games, and they’ve had great games, like the one in Detroit. I’m still not convinced that this team can win in the playoffs, which is all that matters at this point for this franchise, but we’ll see.
The Caps are right back at it Friday night with a critical game against the Jets. I will be in the press box for that one; make sure you follow me on Twitter here for news and updates throughout the day and into the evening.