The Washington Capitals led the Philadelphia Flyers in just about every statistic on the game sheet last night. Except where it counts. Ilya Bryzgalov made 34 saves, sending the Caps to their second consecutive home shut out loss, 1-0, in front of a fairly mixed crowd at Verizon Center.
The Flyers came into tonight’s contest missing two of their key defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, both ailing with lower body injuries. For the home team, Mike Knuble was back in the lineup after being scratched for four games and Michal Neuvirth got the start after Friday night’s fiasco against New Jersey.
During his first shift, Karl Alzner did a nice job of keeping Jaromir Jagr and his signature mullet out of Neuvy’s territory. Alzner was just one of his teammates to ramp up the physical play that is ever so present whenever the Flyers come to town.
The Flyers took exception to a legal but brutal hit by Troy Brouwer on Eric Gustafsson. Gustafsson then fell into the open door of the Caps’ bench. The antagonistic Scott Hartnell, bent on retribution, met Brouwer at center ice for a round. Hartnell got in a few punches but Brouwer brought him down to the ice and both went off to serve their time for the scrap.
Unlike the team we saw disintegrate against the Devils; the Caps came into this game with plenty of snarl. Plenty of pushing and shoving took place after each whistle, and Hendricks and Wayne Simmonds almost came to blows as well.
Jason Chimera was charged for slashing with seven minutes left in the period and would later do the same undetected by the guys in stripes. On the PK, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hendricks put plenty of pressure on the Flyers and kept their power play scoreless. Mike Knuble was a welcome sight for Caps’ fans as he battled hard in the corners and made his presence felt on the forecheck. Meanwhile, Jay Beagle, Matt Hendrick and Joel Ward were the poster boys for lunch pail hockey as they swarmed Ilya Bryzgalov like planets spinning around a gymongous universe.
Despite the Caps’ amped up effort with 12 hits and period-leading 12 shots on goal, the first period ended with no score for either team.
The Caps came out strong in the second period as well, keeping Bryzgalov on his toes. Alex Semin had a rocket that jolted Bryz right in the chest and the boys kept up the pressure with a barrage of shots toward the Flyers’ eccentric net minder.
Mike Knuble had one of the better opportunities of the night, stealing an errant slap shot from former teammate Scott Hartnell and speeding cross-ice. The timing of his shot was just a tad too late and was stifled by Bryzgalov.
Alas, it was the feisty Flyers who would score first. Following a time out to regroup, regroup they did with Eric Wellwood tipping in a puck courtesy of a redirect form former Bolt Pavel Kubina.
Though Beagle, Alzner and Orlov had exceptional shifts through the second period, Alex Ovechkin only played one shift in the final 12 minutes of the period. On the ice (and almost directly responsible) for the Wellwood goal, it seems the captain took a seat under Dale Hunter’s direction. Meanwhile, Jay Beagle stepped in playing alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. The Caps again led the Flyers in shots (10-6) in the middle stanza but were unable to score.
Ovechkin got the memo and started the third period with a lovely toe drag that came within inches of permeating Bryz’s pads. Fellow countryman Dmitry Orlov continued to pound opposing players against the boards, one of the evenings’ prime targets being former Penguin Max Talbot. Ovi, seemingly regenerated from his rest on the bench, continued to create prime chances and delivered his wrath in the form of a crunching shoulder check on Wayne Simmonds.
The Caps played the first two periods with more energy and physicality than Caps’ fans have seen since Montreal but despite crashing the net and shooting from all angles, they could not buy a goal. Neuvirth had a strong game minus the Wellwood goal but Bryzgalov frustrated the home team all night, handing the Caps their second consecutive shut out. After the game, Dale Hunter denied that Ovi was benched but attributed his reduced ice time to “line matching.”
The loss only adds to the playoff pressure for a Capitals team that can’t seem to find the back of the net. Florida’s win over Ottawa puts them a solid five points ahead of Washington and the race to the post-season is getting tighter by the day.