Beasts of the East Face Off in Philadelphia
Teams and fans across the NHL are getting themselves prepared for the playoffs. Tuesday night’s match-up between the Capitals and Flyers should provide some playoff-like fireworks. Washington has won 10 of their last 11 games, with their lone loss coming at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, the Flyers have gone 4-4-2 in their last ten contests. Philadelphia leads the second place Capitals by two games in the Eastern Conference standings, with two games in hand.
In the aforementioned 11 game stretch for the Capitals, they’ve scored three goals per game while allowing just over 1.5 goals per game. They are one of, if not the hottest teams in the NHL, and their recent success has helped erase the doubts that many had about the team earlier in the season. After last season’s disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs, the team placed much more emphasis on the defensive side of the ice. The shift in style has clearly helped them, as they rank third in the NHL in goals allowed per game, with 2.3
The good news for the Flyers is that the Capitals will be without superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau addressed Ovechkin’s undisclosed injury with reporters on Monday, “His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April."
Without Ovechkin on the ice, the Flyers will have to key on Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, the Capitals’ second and third top scorers respectively. Also, Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich give the Capitals quality offensive production.
With many concerned about Philadelphia’s recent play, the team won a shootout in Dallas on Saturday night. The game helped ease some of the concern, as the Flyers played arguably the best that they had in recent weeks. One of the keys to the game was their ability to play physical, starting with defenseman Braydon Coburn.
In what may have been Coburn’s best outing of the season, he showed the willingness to make his presence known on the ice by taking the body as often as possible. He has always played a physical game against the Capitals, especially when matching up with Ovechkin. Despite Ovechkin being absent from Tuesday’s contest, it’s important for Coburn to maintain his physical play and his teammates will most likely take note. Saturday, the team registered a season-high 40 hits in their victory and Coburn’s influence on that number cannot be overstated.
Despite their win on Saturday, the team has yet to have a game of which they can ‘hang their hat on’ since the All Star break. That has been due in large part to the lack of consistent play over 60 minutes of hockey. Saturday’s win was probably the closest the Flyers have come to such an effort since January. In an electric and playoff-like atmosphere in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the team will need to improve on Saturday’s effort by scoring early and dictating the tempo of play.
Coburn doesn’t have to step up from last game’s performance, probably because it was one of his best of the season. But, he does need to carry over that strong effort to Tuesday. Saturday, the line comprised of Ville Leino, Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell finished with a -1 rating. Contributions from that line would certainly be welcomed in what could become a high scoring affair.
Many will point to Tuesday’s game against the Capitals and Thursday’s game against the Penguins as benchmarks of how the team measures up heading into the playoffs. Although the Flyers certainly need strong performances on both nights, the results will probably be overanalyzed by some. The most important thing for the Flyers at this point is to play their brand of hockey, as preached by head coach Peter Laviolette. A point or two against Washington would help the team get closer to their ultimate regular season goal of holding home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.