PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Capitals didn’t want to dwell on the absence of leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. They viewed the star winger’s injured right shoulder as a challenge, an opportunity for others to take up the mantle of manufacturing offense.
In their first game without Ovechkin since February 2012, the Capitals seized the moment, putting on an impressive scoring display with goals from four players to rout the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0.
Joel Ward recorded his first career hat trick, Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer both added individual tallies in what was a show of strength against the worst team in the Metropolitan Division.
“It was good to win. To come in here, it’s a pretty hostile environment and we’re without Ovi,” Ward said. “Obviously a lot of people have sort of counted us out a little bit. It was a big game for us in the locker room.”
But as Washington continued to pummel the three-win Flyers, the contest devolved into the type of fight night that only seems to happen on Broad Street.
Off the faceoff immediately following Ward’s third goal, a melee broke out between veteran Philadelphia winger Wayne Simmonds and rough-and-tumble rookie Tom Wilson. As that bout unfolded Flyers goaltender Ray Emery skated from his crease and challenged Braden Holtby, who tried to avoid the altercation but was forced to fight when his counterpart lunged at him.
“He didn’t want to fight and I basically said, ‘Protect yourself,’ ” Emery said. “He didn’t really have much of a choice.”
Where the situation became concerning was when Holtby, who declined to comment on the altercation, couldn’t get his feet under him with Emery wailing away. Even as the Capitals’ starter was trying to avoid having his head knocked into the boards, referee Francois St. Laurent stood by and didn’t attempt to break up the fracas. Several other players paired off and ultimately five game misconducts were doled out on a night in which the teams combined for an unofficial 31 penalties and 164 penalty minutes.
“I really like the fact that we all stuck together, obviously they’re a very frustrated team and things happen when that occurs,” Coach Adam Oates said of the donnybrook of an interlude. Oates added that he wasn’t sure what guidelines the referees have for trying to break up a fight, but he wasn’t fond of the turn the contest took. “That’s not really where we’re going with the league.”
Before the extracurricular fireworks stole the spotlight in the third period, the outing was purely a demonstration in offense.
The Capitals made it through their now familiar slow starts, failing to record a single shot on goal until 15:05 was gone in the first period and managed to take a lead on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom despite struggling with possession in the opening period.
It was a nice play as rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt stopped a Flyers clearing attempt on the blue line with his skate and tapped the puck over to Martin Erat, who found Backstrom. Washington’s franchise center smacked a shot to the upper left corner of the net at the 17:28 mark for a 1-0 advantage and his third goal of the season.
“We worked hard. We worked as a team. We scored on our chances,” Backstrom said. “That’s what you have to do, especially when you have a good goal scorer out of the lineup. Lots of guys stepped up, and that’s exactly what we needed. It was a good game by us.”
Washington erupted for three goals in the opening 3:49 of the second period to take a 4-0 lead that only further demoralized the Flyers faithful at Wells Fargo Center who would soon chant that General Manager Paul Holmgren be fired.
The Capitals’ second and third tallies — Ward’s first of the game in front and then Chimera using his speed to create a partial breakaway — chased starter Steve Mason from the net after he allowed a trio of goals in a span of just eight shots. Emery received a similar welcome, though, as a long-range attempt by Backstrom on just the fourth shot he faced found the back of the net.
Ward’s second marker of the night with 16:25 gone in the second was a pretty shot that beat Emery glove-side and marked the ninth even-strength goal that the veteran winger and his linemates Chimera and Mikhail Grabovski have scored in six games as a line. Just less than two minutes later, Troy Brouwer made it 6-0 with a shot from out in front on the power play.
Then it was Ward, with his third and final goal to cap off a career evening and Washington’s thorough dismantling of the Flyers.
“It was a good feeling, I can’t deny that. I felt really good. I got a couple of good passes,” Ward said. “The fact that we got the big win on top of that was an even better feeling.”