As good as the Washington Capitals looked in their 3-0 home shutout of Carolina Tuesday night, that’s how bad they looked most of the night on the road in Philadelphia, where they were outplayed, outworked and outclassed by the Flyers by a 4-1 final score. The Caps fall to 7-11-1 with the loss.
In fact, the Caps played so poorly the announcers of NBCSports had a field day with them, using words like “mailed in”. Long-time Caps-basher Mike Milbury took special exception to the play of Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, of whom he said, “When you have great talent it comes with great expectations and accountability,” Milbury said during the second intermission. “If you put him up to those two standards tonight, he fails the test miserably.”
“God almighty, that’s just so disheartening to see a player with that kind of talent fall that short in terms of effort,” Milbury said.
While Milbury has a flair for the dramatic and has long earned his reputation as someone who doesn’t appreciate the Caps — and Ovehckin in particular — he wasn’t far off. The Caps were routinely knocked off pucks, pinned in their own end, and sluggish through the neutral zone. The Caps went an almost 10 minute stretch during the second and third periods without a shot on goal, and had just 13 shots total midway through the third.
Caps head coach Adam Oates was almost as pointed as Milbury in his critique.
“We had a terrible start. The first shift and then down quick, playing against a team that needs it as bad as us and we had no answer for them.”
“It’s our first bad game in while and I think it was all of us and we looked a little tired,” Oates continued. “We didn’t have enough fight to fight back through them. I think it’s a little bit of the produce with the league right now because of the lockout with scheduling. Teams are tired. We will chalk it up to that and find ways to work on stuff.”
It didn’t take long for the Flyers to get on the board, as Claude Giroux — all alone on the far post — banged home a pass from Scott Hartnell just 23 second into the contest. Karl Alzner and Mike Green were both occupied by Hartnell in a scrum to the left of Caps goalie Braden Holtby and Giroux was able to just hang at the top of the crease until the puck was worked free.
Wayne Simmonds made it 2-0 Flyers just a couple of minutes later on a power play. Hartnell’s shot was blocked by Holtby, but Simmonds earned inside position and flicked the backhanded rebound past Holtby.
The Flyers dictated play in the first period, despite only outshooting the Caps by one, 10-9. But the even strength shots (9-6 Philly) and hits (11-4 Philly) start to explain the advantage the Flyers held in play. Overall, the Flyers outshot the Caps 32-24 and 28-19 at even strength.
Philadelphia made it 3-0 just 3:54 into the second period with another power play goal. The Caps actually looked good on the PK for the first 100 seconds, but a breakdown in the defensive end led to a deft backhand pass from Brayden Schenn to a wide open Simon Gange for his first goal of the season. Gagne was playing in his first game with the Flyers, having been recently acquired by his once-former team.
The nail in the coffin came at 14:55 by old nemesis Max Talbot, who fired a wicked slap shot from the high slot to beat Holtby and end the young goalie’s night. Defensemen Alzner and Green seemed to part at Talbot crossed the blue line and lined up to shoot; neither player made any effort to impede either Talbot or the puck.
Phillipp Grubauer, recalled earlier in the day due to an illness to Michal Neuvirth, entered to make his NHL debut, and ended up being the only bright spot for the Caps in this one. Grubauer, who started the season at ECHL Reading turned away all 14 shot he faced from the Flyers, including two sparkling saves against Brayden Schenn in the third.
“It was a dream come true,” the 22-year old rookie explained. “I dreamed about this since I started playing hockey. It was amazing. I try to step up and give those guys confidence and show the organization that I can do something as well.”
The Caps were able to break up Ilya Bryzgalov’s shut out bid with 2:08 left in the game. Joel Ward, who perhaps was the Caps hardest-working skater all night, banged home a rebound from Tom Poti before Bryzgalov could cover. The goal was Ward’s sixth of the season.
The Capitals have until Saturday to stew about this one, when they travel to Winnipeg to face the Jets. Hopefully head coach Adam Oates or one of the more veteran players on the team will step up and let everyone know this level of effort is simply not acceptable. The Caps seem to be willing to call out former teammates for their lack of effort. Let’s see if anyone has the gravitas to do the same for the current ones.