After a hilariously bad start to the season, the Caps have seemingly turned things around of late, winning five of their last seven and putting together what was easily their best game of the season just twenty-four hours ago. The hope was that the Caps would take the momentum from a big win over the Hurricanes, pack it onto the train and take it up to Philadelphia with them.
Apparently someone forgot to put it in their suitcase, though, as the Caps looked like the opposite of the team that outscored their last two opponents 8-1. In fact, if it's possible for a sixty-minute game to be over in twenty-three seconds - or even four minutes - that was the case tonight, as a mostly flat outing cost them early and often.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Remember that eight-game streak where the Caps had scored the first goal? Well, that’s done, and it ended pretty quickly as the Flyers capitalized on a weird bounce (and some sloppy play in front of the net) just 23 seconds into the game. As a road team, you always want to take the hometown crowd out of it...tough to do when they're busy celebrating a goal less than a minute in.
- That one-goal lead became two not long after as another streak (albeit a shorter one) came to an end, this time the Caps’ modest two-game run of not giving up a power play goal. With Mike Ribeiro in the box for hooking, Wayne Simmonds gave the Flyers a two-goal cushion a little over four minutes in. Not only was it a rare power play goal-against - just the third allowed in the last twenty-six times shorthanded - it was also the first time the Caps had trailed since February 7 against the Penguins.
- Things seemed to settle down a bit after that, with the Caps gradually finding their legs in the first. It looked as if the ship had been righted a bit - the Flyers stayed off the scoresheet, the Caps pulled almost even in shots...
- ...and then the second period started. Into the penalty box went Joel Ward, back to the power play went the Flyers, on went the red light and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Caps thanks to the returning Simon Gagne.
- This game was the opposite of everything the Caps have been of late. They gave up the first goal. Special teams were awful. Their opponent was allowed to crash the net. Ovechkin was subpar. Odds were that all of those things weren’t going to continue forever... but it might’ve been nice if just one or two fell apart instead of, you know, all of them.
- A fourth goal from Max Talbot would signal the end of Braden Holtby’s night, which on its own isn’t that interesting or surprising. To add a fun little twist, though, Michal Neuvirth was out sick - which means it was Philipp Grubauer time. If he wanted advice on getting his first NHL experience in Philly after the starter got the hook, he need look no further than the man whose place he took tonight...funny how things work out sometimes.
- One would imagine that being thrown into your first NHL game without much warning - in a place like Philadelphia, no less - is rather jarring. But if Grubauer was shaken up by the move, he certainly didn’t show it, and put together a very strong, solid performance that at the very least stopped the bleeding. He appeared calm and confident in net, made some big saves and gave us all a sneak peek at the very promising future this organization has between the pipes. Hooray for silver linings.
- It wasn’t Alex Ovechkin’s best game of the year (and nowhere near as good as he’s been in the last week or two), but he still managed to lead the team in shot attempts with 12, which is nothing to sneeze at. Didn’t help that his usual pivot Mike Ribeiro was downright invisible, which has to be the first time this year we’ve been able to say that.
- Good for Joel Ward for salvaging something in this game and preventing the embarrassment of being shut out by the Flyers. Pretty awesome goal, too, as he basically had Bruno Gervais hanging off of him and yet still managed to wrap the puck around a sprawled-out Ilya Bryzgalov to get the Caps on the board.
- Here's hoping that Mathieu Perreault is okay after taking a knee-on-knee collision (and we'll let you be the judge on whether it was intentional and/or worthy of the five-minute penalty it drew) with Harry Zolnierczyk at center ice. Dirty or not, not a big fan of that kind of hit so late in the game and with the score as lopsided as it was. Just unnecessary.
As has been the case for most of the season, the Caps are still experiencing some growing pains - and for every 5-1 and 3-0 win they're going to have these nights where nothing seems to go right. The important thing will be the recovery time. Bounce back right away, put together another two or three wins in a row, and this is just a blip; let it fester and turn into something more, and things are going to get really ugly really quickly.
This team has proven of late that they can do the former - they'll get their chance in a few days.