From the start it was a tight game that had the air of a playoff battle and pitted the Flyers’ Ilya Bryzgalov (30 saves) against rookie goalie Braden Holtby (27 saves).
Gaining a point at Wells Fargo Center allowed Washington to close out a grueling five-game road trip having captured five of 10 possible points. Considering that the team has gained points in only 18 of 38 road games, it could have been worse. The Capitals (37-30-7) slightly improved their tenuous grasp on eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, improving to 81 points, one ahead of ninth-place Buffalo.
When every point is critical, though, allowing one to slip away is tough to accept.
“It’s bittersweet,” Karl Alzner said. “We’re happy we got that point, played a pretty good game, should have scored a few more.”
The ending stung a bit more after Washington surged quickly to start the contest, winning puck battles and displaying a tenacity not always present on the road. Just 26 seconds after the opening puck drop, Alex Ovechkin gave Washington a 1-0 lead when Bryzgalov poke-checked the puck right to the winger.
The tally was Ovechkin’s 33rd, surpassing his career-low total from last season, and is his sixth in the past five games.
Ovechkin finished with six shots, including a smattering of quality scoring chances, but neither he nor his teammates connected in the following 59 minutes 34 seconds.
“We had our chances, we hit a few posts,” Coach Dale Hunter said. Bryzgalov, who is 9-1-1 in his last 11 starts “played well too. . . . It’s one of those things it was kind of a goalies’ battle tonight.”
Entering the second period still holding that advantage, Ovechkin was presented with one of what would be a smattering of prime chances for the Capitals.
Just more than four minutes into the second, a one-timer from Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle seemed destined for the back of the net but Bryzgalov managed to get a piece of the puck. Shortly after, the Flyers evened things up.
From his spot on the half-wall in the Philadelphia zone, Jaromir Jagr sent the puck through the neutral zone to Claude Giroux. The all-star winger quickly danced past Dennis Wideman, prompting Holtby to come out and challenge. Holtby’s aggressiveness left plenty of space and time for Giroux once he pulled the puck around the netminder and shot into an empty net to make it 1-1 at 6:05 of the second.
“I just kind of did a halfway effort and didn’t slide in, go aggressive as I needed to and that’s why it got around me,” Holtby said of Giroux’s goal. “That’s a play I’d like to have back but one I’m not going to dwell on.”
Washington wouldn’t be without opportunities to pull ahead again, but it didn’t find a way to cash in. Marcus Johansson was awarded a penalty shot just less than 13 minutes into the second when he was hauled down by Matt Carle on a breakaway. Johansson never got a shot off, though, as Bryzgalov swatted at the puck and the center’s skates to prevent any damage.
It was one of a handful of examples of the Capitals working to create a scoring chance only to watch it pass anticlimactically.
“We didn’t finish our chances,” said Troy Brouwer, whose failed shootout attempt sealed Washington’s fate. “We had a penalty shot, we had Ovi with an empty net, [Keith Aucoin] hit a post, [Mike Green] hit a shot right down the pipe. Bryzgalov played a good game after he settled in after that early goal. I thought we were still getting chances, I thought we were still doing the right things. I think we limited their chances quite a bit but he played well throughout the rest of the game.”
Capitals notes: Alexander Semin did not face the Flyers because of a lower-body injury that caused him to miss two consecutive practices as well. . . .
Nicklas Backstrom, who has missed 36 games with a concussion, skated for roughly an hour Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, the ninth of the past 10 days he has been on the ice.