PHILADELPHIA – After an eventful trade-deadline day in which they landed goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Washington Capitals reminded everyone once again that they have plenty of problems beyond the goal crease in a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Five thoughts on the loss on Broad Street.
1. Turnover, missed assignment, goal. The Capitals had cut Philadelphia’s lead to one at 4-3 9:25 into the third period on a goal by Troy Brouwer, but even after waking up from a horrid opening 40 minutes and threatening to tie the game the visitors couldn’t shore up their play with the puck to complete the task.
Jack Hillen had cleared the puck out of the defensive zone and up to Eric Fehr near the red line and then went for a change. It should have been an easy play up ice but Fehr bobbled the puck and gave it away to Jakub Voracek, who sent a pass the other way to Scott Hartnell. As Hartnell carried the puck over the blue line Karl Alzner, having just come on to replace Hillen, spun to face his opponent and Mike Green drifted back into the slot.
Fehr had scrambled back into the defensive zone as well but made the incorrect decision to focus on Hartnell, while Voracek snuck behind him on the play. With Fehr out of position Hartnell sent a pass back to Voracek, sending him cutting through the slot before Fehr could react. Voracek drove the net and the only resistance he received was Green reaching with his stick – but never coming close to the Flyers’ forward – before firing a shot past Holtby.
Voracek’s goal, his second of the night, gave Philadelphia a 5-3 lead and while the Capitals did record another goal that tally staunched their momentum. Those types of defensive breakdowns, when they occur often enough, are costly no matter who is in net.
2. Penner. The burly winger didn’t have the most eventful Capitals debut what with one shot in 16:50 of ice time in Philadelphia, but he was front and center on one of their goals. As Washington mounted a comeback in the third period, Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal that came with Penner providing the type of traffic in front this team hasn’t had consistently all year.
Penner skated 2:51 on the power play and the vast majority of that time was spent standing in the blue paint jockeying with some penalty killer and causing all types of problems for Steve Mason. Oates mentioned that a few of John Carlson’s point shots wound up hitting Penner, rather than finding a way past, so perhaps having that true net-front presence will require slight adjustment from the rest of the players. While Ovechkin’s release has been more than enough to beat NHL netminders consistently this season, having that screen in place should only make his, and others’, shots more dangerous.
“In and around the front of the net is usually where I end up,” Penner said. “It’s something I’ve been able to pride myself on in the NHL to have a net presence and make room for other players.”
3. A Green target. It’s been discussed here before that teams tend to target Mike Green for relentless physical punishment knowing that the defenseman puts himself in vulnerable positions and is prone to make more mistakes under the pressure. But there are some teams, namely the Flyers and Rangers, that seem to do it more consistently and thoroughly than every other team. The official stats from Wednesday’s contest lists Green as having received four hits but that seems low for a game in which he was crunched into the boards, bumped or otherwise run into on every shift.
It’s a wise strategy for opponents because it leads to plays like Green’s turnover with 5:26 gone in the second period. Green retrieved a puck from behind his own net and with Hartnell closing in, coughed up the puck and sent it out into the middle of his own zone all but gift wrapping a second goal for Giroux.
4. Hillen returns. Over five months since he suffered a fractured tibial plateau on Oct. 3 in the second game of the season, Jack Hillen was back in the Capitals’ lineup Thursday night. He, like the rest of the team, didn’t have the best start. Hillen was shoved off the puck by Sean Couturier in the neutral zone just above the defensive blueline, in a play that created a breakaway opportunity for Claude Giroux who put the Flyers up 1-0 6:48 into the contest.
While the Capitals would have liked to monitor his minutes a bit more, John Erskine receiving a game misconduct at 11:59 of the first and leaving them with five defensemen the rest of the way made that all but impossible. Hillen skated 21:10 in his first game back and as the contest went on appeared to find a rhythm – he even had a nice primary assist on Brouwer’s third period goal. It will be interesting to see how Oates manages the blueliners after Dmitry Orlov has served his two-game suspension. Hillen’s strongest asset is his skating ability but for a defensive group that makes costly mistakes on a daily basis, there’s little room for error as he tries to get back in the swing of things.
5. Line brawl. Three games in Philadelphia this year and two have included line brawls – Did anybody bet the under? — they just don’t play hockey like they do on Broad Street anywhere else in the league.
This one started when Luke Schenn leveled Ryan Stoa, who was playing in his NHL debut, and then was met by Tom Wilson for fisticuffs. Meanwhile in the corner, Erskine was tangled up with Vinny Lecavalier and then Wayne Simmonds jumped in though of those three players he was the only one not to receive a game misconduct. Jay Beagle, Connor Carrick and Stoa were all piled up with a mess of orange jerseys too.
“I made a hit and got asked to fight. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Schenn said. “Obviously you don’t want to see guys get kicked out of the game like Vinny. It’s a bad tradeoff for us for sure but sometimes guys are standing up for each other and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
It’s worth noting that Lecavalier, who has never recorded more than 89 penalty minutes in a single season in 15-year career, has 30 against the Capitals this year in his first this season with the Flyers. His only two fights this year have come against Washington’s Erskine Wednesday and Steve Oleksy back on Nov. 1. Something in the water perhaps?