Back in the middle of February, we looked at some potential first round playoff opponents for the Washington Capitals. Almost a month later, we now have a much better picture as to who the Caps are likely to face in the opening round come April.
The Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils – two of the three teams with the highest odds to face the Caps – have fallen and are likely not going to make the playoffs. Instead, one surging team in particular has become the new odds on favorite to face the Washington Capitals: the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Caps and Flyers have a long history, and have seen a bit of a renewed rivalry since finding themselves in the same division once again. Much of this animosity is centered around a collection of tough players on each team, including Tom Wilson and Wayne Simmonds.
The Flyers aren’t close to the Washington Capitals in terms of points right now, but that doesn’t mean that a playoff matchup with Philly would be a walk in the park. Let’s take a look at how these two teams stack up.
Washington Capitals (3.18 Goals For Per Game – 2nd in NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers (2.55 Goals For Per Game – 21st in NHL)
The Caps and the Flyers are at two ends of the spectrum offensively this season. Washington has likely put a strain on Papa Johns with the amount of four-goal games they had (not as much as of late), while the Flyers have struggled at times to find their groove.
Philadelphia does, however, generate shots (30.5 shots/game) at a similar rate as the Capitals do (30.7 shots/game). The Flyers also have several very capable offensive players, specifically Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. Voracek is having a down year with just 10 goals, but if he gets hot, he could put up a few goals in a hurry. Sean Couturier is another player of note, as one of the best young two-way forwards in the NHL.
The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, have one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Their top two lines can easily produce multiple points on any given night. Their third line goes hot and cold at times, while their fourth line is a formidable shutdown line.
The Caps, despite recent struggles, still hold the league’s top power play at a 23.7% conversion rate. The Flyers sit 13th at 18.9%.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has emerged as one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, posting 68 points so far this season. This type of production was not necessarily expected, but after his playoff performance last season, you could tell that his hyped up potential had the chance to be fulfilled sooner rather than later. As usual, Alex Ovechkin is leading the league in goals, and Nicklas Backstrom is quietly posting point-per-game numbers.
While the Flyers’ offense certainly has the potential to perform, the Washington Capitals have quite an edge from this standpoint.
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Washington Capitals (2.27 Goals Allowed Per Game – 2nd in NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers (2.56 Goals Allowed Per Game – 14th in NHL)
The Washington Capitals have the edge here as well. They have held their spot near the top of the league in goals allowed per game all season, despite having several injuries to key defensive players.
The Flyers are a middle of the pack team defensively, but they have arguably the best rookie defenseman in the entire league in Shayne Gostisbehere. If you haven’t watched this kid, then it would benefit you greatly to catch a Flyers game sometime to see what this young player can do. He has the potential to be really special.
Looking at their defensive roster, it isn’t necessarily impressive by name. However, first year coach Dave Hakstol has them playing the right way at this time – at least well enough to keep winning, thus keeping themselves firmly planted in the playoff picture.
At full strength, the Washington Capitals clearly have the advantage on paper. They will get John Carlson back soon, hopefully at 100%, which will do great things for this defense. The defense will be that much more impressive if Nate Schmidt remains in the lineup.
The Capitals also have the fourth ranked penalty kill in the NHL. It has bailed them out on numerous occasions. At 79.8%, the Flyers PK sits 21st in the league, and would be something that Washington would look to take advantage of in a big way.
Again, the Washington Capitals get the edge defensively. though the Flyers certainly have weapons of their own on the back end.
Washington Capitals (.921 team save percentage – T-2nd in NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers (.917 team save percentage – 9th in NHL)
One thing that has really benefited the Philadelphia Flyers this season has been their goaltending. Between former Capital Michal Neuvirth and starting netminder Steve Mason, the Flyers have found a way to win games between the pipes. Neuvirth’s .925 save percentage is 9th in the NHL (min. 10 games played), though Mason (.916 sv%) has played in ten more total games. Neuvirth’s 2.29 goals allowed average is also very impressive, while Mason sits at a more pedestrian 2.96 GAA.
The Washington Capitals have a more clear cut starter in Braden Holtby. His 2.25 GAA has slowly regressed from the torrid pace that he started the year on, but he is still in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. His .922 save percentage is also indicative of one of the league’s top goaltenders.
The thing that sets the Caps apart from the Flyers here is their backup. Of goalies appearing in more than 10 games, Philipp Grubauer has the third ranked save percentage (.930). If you bump that number up to the a minimum of 15 games, Grubauer’s mark is tops in the league. His 2.02 GAA is also more than impressive.
There is no goaltending controversy in Washington despite these stats, however. What it does mean, however, is that if Holtby were the go down, they have probably the best fall back option in the league. This battle is a little bit closer than the rest, but the Washington Capitals do hold an edge here.
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