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Gameday Vs. Washington: Flyers Face Ovechkin-less Capitals

Philadelphia Flyers (3-8-0) vs. Washington Capitals (5-7-0)
Wells Fargo Center —Philadelphia, Pa.
TV: CSN Philly - Radio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic - 7:00 p.m.

Setting the Stage

It is now officially the worst start to a season in Flyers history. An inability to score coupled with horrific turnovers and bad breaks have plagued this fragile team. Just once have the Flyers scored more than three goals in a game.

On Thursday, GM Paul Holmgren pulled off a deal with the Colorado Avalanche. Max Talbot was swapped for former Flyers first round pick Steve Downie. Downie is now tied for the lead in points by a Flyer with Vincent Lecavalier (7).

The Capitals are coming off of a disappointing 5-2 loss to a hardworking Calgary Flames team over the weekend. It was announced earlier this week that captain Alex Ovechkin would miss Friday with an upper body injury. Capitals officials deny that it is a concussion.

In his place, Nicklas Backstrom, Mikhail Grabovski and Jason Chimera have played admirably. They will have to step up tonight for the team in red and white. However, not all is well in Washington. Goalie Braden Holtby said of their latest struggles, "we're paid to prepare, not to have a dance party before the game."

What to Expect

Make no mistake about it. This is a critical matchup between two Metropolitan Division foes looking to rise once again. Even a three point game could be beneficial to both teams.

Without Ovechkin dressing, Flyers defensemen can take a deep breath. Without Ovechkin's ten goals, defending the top line and the power play will be significantly easier. Behind Ovechkin, Grabovski's five goals lead the team, and three of them were scored in one game.

That said, this is a very winnable game.

The Masked Men

Philadelphia: Steve Mason (3-6-0, 2.25 GAA, .925 sv%)
Mason is playing out of his mind to start the year. This will be his tenth start of the season. Mason played well against Anaheim on Tuesday, stopping 34 shots. He has been busy in his starts as well. In six of his starts, he has had to face more than 30 shots against.

Mason's start tonight begs the question—will Ray Emery start in tomorrow's back-to-back contest with New Jersey?

Washington: Braden Holtby (4-5-0, 3.07 GAA, .917 sv%)
Holtby clearly isn't happy with losing. He gave up three quick goals in twelve minutes before being replaced by backup Michal Neuvirth, swearing at his coach and teammates before taking a seat. He also said an aforementioned quote about dance parties.

Before his latest loss, he had played tremendously. In those four prior starts, he had won three of them with a save percentage of .950. He might be a tough nut to crack after a loss like Saturday's to Calgary.

Keys to the Game

1. SCORE. GOALS. It has his the disgraceful stage of being unable to score. Will Claude Giroux get his first goal? He is the only heavy hitter than does not have a goal this season. Can they get more than three?

2. Puck Security. Three turnovers resulted in goals against Anaheim on Tuesday. Flyers forwards faired pretty well in causing Ducks turnovers as well. Will this trend continue? They will need to keep critical turnovers to a minimum from here on out.

3. Steve Downie. Downie will return tonight. Will he be a factor? He only has one goal on the year. Could he be the final piece to a top line with Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier? Tonight will be a good first test for Downie.

Quotable

"I got chills when I walked into the rink this morning. There aren't many markets like this." - Steve Downie on his return to Philadelphia.

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Jordan Kuhns
Featured Writer
Twitter: @MSBN_Kuhns; @TCLFlyers
Email: jordan@thecheckingline.com