Playing in their second game in as many nights and facing one of the NHL’s most inconsistent teams, the Washington Capitals really needed the bad Philadelphia Flyers to show up Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.
They got the good Flyers instead, and the result wasn’t pretty. The Caps ended a long streak of scoring first by giving up the game’s first four scores, and only a late goal from Joel Ward prevented a shutout in a 4-1 loss.
The trouble for Washington started in the opening minute. Scott Hartnell was able to thread a pass across the Caps’ crease from his knees, allowing Claude Giroux to stride up and fire it home for a 1-0 lead.
Hartnell set up a second goal less than four minutes later, this time on the power play. Wayne Simmonds was rewarded for some hard work in front of the net, converting his second opportunity to put his team up by two.
Shots were 10-9 in favor of the Flyers at the first intermission, but both the shot and goal totals got more lopsided in the second period. Simon Gagne cashed in at the tail end of a power play for a goal in his first game back in a Flyers uniform at the 3:54 mark. Maxime Talbot added to the Caps’ misery with 5:05 left in the frame, taking advantage of some defensive indifference to wind up and power home a big slap shot that whizzed by Holtby.
That ended the night for Holtby and gave Philipp Grubauer a chance to make his NHL debut. Called up to fill in for an ill Michal Neuvirth, Neubauer was tested early but settled in to stop all 14 shots he faced.
Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was less than three minutes away from a shutout when Ward’s line, which was the only consistently threatening unit for the Caps, went to work. A point shot from Tom Poti resulted in a big rebound off Bryzgalov, and Ward had an easy put-back while driving hard to the net.
The two teams meet one more time at the end of March, and a play near the end of the game may stick in some players’ minds until then. Harry Zolnierczyk floored Mathieu Perreault with a questionable open ice hit, touching off a scrum that saw Zac Rinaldo and Alex Ovechkin sent off for roughing. Zolnierczyk got five minutes for kneeing and a game misconduct, and the NHL will almost certainly be reviewing his hit.
The Capitals get two days off to try to regroup for a long road trip to face the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. They’ll return home to Verizon Center for two games next week, hosting the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
The game was over when…
The Capitals came out with very little in the way of energy or fight. But it particularly hurt that the power play wasn’t clicking after being so dangerous over the past few weeks. Washington had chances to respond to the Philly’s first and second goals with quick power play opportunities but couldn’t get the job done.
The unsung Capitals hero was…
How could it be anybody but Grubauer? Called up to the big team and forced into action when Holtby got the hook, the rookie showed why he’s made it all the way from the ECHL to the NHL in one season. He appeared to have some nervous energy on some saves, but he kept the puck out of the net, and that’s what matters.