Earlier in the year, there was an impending sense of dread about the road game the Caps wrapped up in Philadelphia tonight. Five games over a week and a half, against three of the last six Cup finalists, a division matchup in a noisy (albeit tiny) building and a trip to Long Island for a meeting with a team that always plays thee Caps tough... yeah, this was going to be a test. To come away with any points would be good; to come away with five of the ten available, a coup.
And that was before the Caps were fighting for their playoff lives.
To pull off that coup, they would have to muster at least a point against the Flyers and a suddenly-hot Ilya Bryzgalov - and they did just that, making a first-minute goal stand up all the way to the shootout and earning a hugely important point in the standings.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Can't imagine a much better start than the one the Caps put together, as the opening shift by Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich seemed to set the tone early for a physical, turnover-filled game. Ovechkin's goal will show up on the scoresheet as unassisted, but it was a product of some good work in the corner by Laich and a screen created by Brouwer. And the rest, of course, was pure Ovechkin magic, as he pounced on a loose puck, drove to the net himself and fired it past Bryzgalov.
- Ovechkin would have several excellent chances in this one, with 8 shot attempts (6 of which actually hit the net), including a golden opportunity that just caught Bryzgalov's toe on the open net. Take note of the term "missed opportunity", folks, that phrase will come up a lot.
- Missed opportunities were certainly numerous - on both sides - but it was the goalie battle that set this one up for the big finish. Both goalies had their great saves, their lucky bounces, their beloved posts, and that old standby, the pokecheck... although some attempts were perhaps a bit better than others.
- Even though Holtby is known to be a great puckhandler, he's also overly aggressive at times, and it cost him when Claude Giroux came barreling into the zone and eluded a stumbling Dennis Wideman. Holtby goes for the big pokecheck, misses, pulls himself way out of position and just like that Giroux has a wide-open net to shoot at.
- Of course that whole play likely doesn't happen if it wasn't for a - wait for it - missed opportunity at the other end. The Caps get Bryzgalov running around but fire it off the post, puck bounces to (*sigh*) Jaromir Jagr, who springs Giroux for the semi-breakaway and eventual game-tying goal. Missed. Chances. Kill.
- Not on board the missed chances train just yet? Noted scoring chance-counter (and dabbler in fancystats) Neil Greenberg tracked 19 scoring chances for the Caps tonight, to the Flyers' 13. Only one of them went in and it came less than 30 seconds into the contest. Everyone, altogether now: Missed. Chances. Kill.
- Hard to remember the last time the Flyers took a penalty against the Caps before this one... if you're curious, it was not the last time these two teams faced each other. So it was moderately shocking to see the Caps actually end up on the positive side when it came to power play opportunities against those angelic Flyers, 3 to 1. Less shocking? That they failed to cash in. They didn't look that bad trying, but again: Missed. Chances. K-...oh, you get it by now.
- One of the busier players tonight was Marcus Johansson, but perhaps not in the way he'd prefer. First there was the breakaway-turned-penalty shot that became a slightly embarrassing stumble after he
was tripped bytripped over Bryzgalov's stick; then there was the huge, clean, open-ice hit in the neutral zone by Matt Read that not only knocked Johansson down but caused his helmet to fly off.
- Maybe that first period nap refreshed the Flyers, because after the Caps dominated the early part of this game it seemed like Philadelphia gathered momentum until they were absolutely running the show in overtime. At that point the Caps had already secured at least a point, but there had to be a bit of a sigh of relief that the Caps survived the extra frame.
- Ending a game like this in a shootout - or any game, for that matter - is always a little disappointing. But at least it gave us yet another look at the Matt Hendricks special. And...y'know, Keith Aucoin .
So the Caps make their way home, and quickly, to face a Winnipeg team that has spent most of this week hanging out around the DC area, waiting for the Caps. After what has to qualify as a successful road trip, the Caps need to do what they do best at home, take control of their position in the Southeast Division and control what they can control - in this case, nailing the coffin shut on the Jets' playoff dreams.