Sunday afternoon in Washington, the Caps coughed up a two-goal lead late and lost a critical Metro Division game to the Flyers. On Wednesday night, the Caps had a chance to return the favor in Philadelphia with essentially the team that will - or won't - make the most of the 20 games left in the regular season, the trade deadline having passed a few hours earlier and a few tweaks having been made.
The Flyers - gracious and classy hosts that they are - even gave the Caps the chance to come back from a two-goal deficit just like they had days earlier. In fact, Washington spotted Philly four goals before they got on the board, and while they were able to draw within one twice, ultimately the hole proved insurmountable as they dropped an ugly game by a 6-4 count in a game that wasn't as close as the score.
Nine more notes on the game:
- First things first - the new guy. Dustin Penner. He did pretty much nothing. Next.
- The Flyers opened the scoring just under seven minutes in when Claude Giroux was able to push Jack Hillen off the puck on the boards, out-skate Alex Ovechkin and abuse Brade Holtby for a goal that looked a lot easier than it was. Or maybe it was easy, considering the futile resistance the Caps put up.
- Soon thereafter, a cheap slash call on Troy Brouwer sent the Flyers to the power play. It didn't last long. The Caps won a draw and Karl Alzner had what should have been a relatively easy clear... that he failed to clear. Moments later, it was 2-0 Philly. Little things like that have killed the Caps all year, and they show no signs of letting up.
- At a tick before the 12-minute mark, all hell broke loose. A clean Luke Schenn hit on Ryan Stoa earned the former a visit from Tom Wilson, who was ready to elevate the discourse, but let up when he noticed Schenn's legs entangled with Stoa's. Cooler heads did not prevail, however, as the two eventually ended up chucking knuckles while John Erskine engaged with Wayne Simmonds and then Vinny Lecavalier... and Simmonds... and another Flyer. Somehow out of all of this silliness, Erskine and Lecavalier got tossed from the game, Wilson got 17 minutes in penalties and Simmonds got off ridiculously easy with a couple of minors.
- Back to actual hockey, the Flyers dominated pretty much every aspect of it in the first period, outshooting the Caps 13-3 (and 20-11 in shot attempts). As our pal Adam Vingan pointed out, that ran the Flyers' shot advantage over the Caps since the first period of Sunday's game to 43-15, and it was 29-6 since the second period of that game. Pick an explanation for it that suits you, but that's an absolutely brutal run at key times in big games and there's plenty of blame to go around for it.
- Everyone takes runs at Mike Green because, in part, Mike Green puts himself in bad positions more than just about any defenseman in the history of ever. That said, the Flyers do seem to target #52 a bit more than anyone else (except maybe the Rangers), and Wednesday night was no exception. At some point, you'd think Green and the Caps would need to better protect the blueliner... but he's been in the League for nine seasons and it hasn't happened yet, so don't hold your breath. Any team that doesn't pressure the hell out of the Caps' blueliners is wasting opportunities.
- Speaking of Green, five minutes into the second he went back to retrieve a harmless looking dump in his own end, but failed to sense (or, y'know, see) the oncoming Scott Hartnell, who pressured Green into gagging the puck up to Claude Giroux in prime real estate and Giroux didn't miss. Three-zippy.
- Then it was four and that was all for Braden Holtby (replaced by Philipp Grubauer), who surrendered four goals in just under 32 minutes. Reasonable minds can disagree about how many of those he could have or should have stopped, or how many Jaroslav Halak would've had, but the other piece here is that while Holtby gave up four goals, his teammates managed... four shots. Holtby got little help from his teammates in any zone and didn't help himself. That's no way to win hockey games.
Joel Ward picked up a power-play goal, Ovechkin added another, Brooks Laich added a third (!), Brouwer also scored, and a much better third period (score effects!) put a whole lot of lipstick on this pig, but make no mistake about it - it oinked.
Short of Halak stepping in and delivering a Cristobal Huet 2008-like performance down the stretch (unlikely, given this defense... and think about that for a minute), the Caps would appear to be in real trouble. The math is getting tough, the schedule tougher and this team is showing no real signs of turning this little skid around.
But maybe it's just the Flyers. After all, the Caps did have one of their better performances of the season on Saturday in Boston... where they'll be tomorrow night and showed some signs of life late on Wednesday. We'll probably know soon enough.