The Washington Capitals have made a habit out of scoring first. The Philadelphia Flyers have been almost as reliable at digging themselves an early hole. Sounds like a recipe for a Caps road victory tonight at Wells Fargo Center, right?
Except it’s not quite that simple, because while Washington’s 2013 season can be neatly divided into two parts–one where the team looked awful and one where it played well–Philly has been more like the NHL’s version of Jekyll and Hyde. Last week was a perfect example of the Flyers’ inconsistency, as they followed a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a dreadful 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. Still, they’ve been able to rally on multiple occasions when they’ve been behind the eight ball, so they’re dangerous even if they end up trailing tonight.
The Flyers will have a new but familiar face to help with any comebacks in the form of Simon Gagne. The forward spent the first 10 years of his NHL career in Philadelphia before heading to Tampa and Los Angeles, and even though he’s been struggling offensively this season, injuries to Matt Read and Tye McGinn prompted the Flyers to trade for him on Tuesday.
He’ll be joining an attack that has somewhat surprisingly been led by Jakub Voracek. With 24 points in 21 games, he’s on a pace to beat his career highs set during 82-game seasons, and he’s posted 13 of those points in his team’s last five games. Claude Giroux is also rounding into form after a slow start, while Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds are also having solid campaigns.
Scoring on the Capitals hasn’t been easily in recent weeks, thanks mostly to a step up in the play of goaltender Braden Holtby. He paid back his team’s confidence in signing him to a new two-year deal on Monday with a shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, his second of the season. Holtby is expected to be between the pipes tonight even though he hasn’t had a rest since February 7, when he entered in relief of Michal Neuvirth in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington got some unexpected offensive contributions against Carolina, with defenseman John Erskine (also re-signed for two more years on Monday) and John Carlson scoring, and Nicklas Backstrom finding the twine for only the second time this year. No matter who is putting pucks in the net, the Capitals’ power play remains one of the most fearsome units in the NHL, going 13-for-30 over the last 10 contests.
So while most signs might point to a Capitals win, a lot is going to depend on which Flyers team takes the ice. The fun part is that we won’t know which one it is until the puck drops.
Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers
Start time: 7:30 pm
TV: NBC Sports Network