The Philadelphia Flyers are swept in three games this week by the Washington Capitals, slipping further out of playoff contention.
Hockey is a game of momentum. Valleys and peaks accentuate a season. Currently, the Philadelphia Flyers are underachieving– stuck in a rut. They’ve struggled recently against three of the four teams claiming a playoff position in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division. Tonight, they went to battle against the Washington Capitals for the fourth time this season.
For the Flyers, answering with a victory is less about redemption than correcting their deficiencies. Philadelphia is the epitome of inconsistency on defense, which trickles down to goaltending. Throughout the season, the Capitals high powered offense has thrived, during a win or a loss, against the Flyers. Entering tonight, Alain Vigneault’s team has about a 50% chance of making the playoffs. Did Philadelphia learn from their performance against Washington on Thursday?
Catching Elliott Off The Rebound
By the end of the first period, the Capitals owned a two-goal lead. Both goals resulted in Washington taking advantage of rebounds. Early on, Jakub Vrana put a puck on the net, which wasn’t gathered cleanly by Brian Elliott. Daniel Sprong jabbed at the puck with his stick, popping it just over Elliott’s shoulder. The puck slid down his back, just beyond the goal line.
Expanding the lead, Carl Hagelin capitalized on another rebound. When planning to make a move to improve the defense, the Flyers must trade for a defenseman with size. Shayne Gostisbehere, who otherwise played well in the period, couldn’t budge Hagelin from the crease.
Philadelphia was efficient in winning puck battles in the offensive zone behind Ilya Samsonov. Unfortunately, those small victories couldn’t translate into scoring chances. The Capitals stacked the crease and slot defensively, leaving room on the outside. Except for Gostisbehere, the Flyers blue-liners weren’t able to capture the puck. Too many start-stop momentum killers in the offensive zone put Philadelphia on the defensive.
Hart Brings Flyers Energy; Sanheim Drains It
Vigneault hadn’t planned on Carter Hart logging any minutes tonight. Again, Washington had Elliott playing on his heels. Nick Jensen, who had an assist during the Capitals’ second goal, kicked Elliott to the bench. The awful “Philadelphia gives up a goal under two minutes after scoring” trend continued. Hart entered the game to cheers from the Flyers faithful.
To this point, Washington led 3-1. James van Riemsdyk became the first to solve Samsonov tonight. His sorcery continues, firing the puck between two defensemen. Samsonov never saw the puck leave van Riemsdyk’s stick. Once Hart took over, Nolan Patrick blasted the puck past Samsonov.
Everything seemed to be figuring itself out for the Flyers. Down by one, Philadelphia was on the powerplay. Unfortunately, Travis Sanheim served a holding penalty to disrupt needed momentum shifting to the Flyers. Alex Ovechkin scored on Hart, converting a dangerous powerplay chance.
Down 4-2, Philadelphia did respond to Hart substituting Elliott. The Flyers had opportunities to tie the game. Considering the score, Philadelphia played the Capitals closer than the deficit shows. An untimely penalty from Sanheim could be the straw that breaks the Flyers back.
Flyers Cannot Complete Comeback
Again, Philadelphia improved in the third period. Sure, Washington added another to the scoreboard. The Flyers added two. Except for a few untimely, undisciplined plays or flukey goals, this was a winnable game by Philadelphia.
Nic Dowd received credit for the Capitals game-winning goal. Hart blocked 95% of that shot, which made it gut-wrenching to see the puck lazily trickle across the goal line. He and Elliott both had a goal count against them that usually don’t go in. If it weren’t for bad luck, some teams wouldn’t have any at all.
Later in the third period, the Flyers scored on the powerplay. Then, one more. Claude Giroux and Gostisbehere combined to put Philadelphia within striking distance. Hart left the net to create a man-advantage, but Samsonov made the crucial saves to hang on. Washington sweeps the Flyers this week, winning 5-4.
Next, the Philadelphia Flyers visit the New York Rangers on Monday. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm. All of the action will be televised on NBC Sports Network.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre