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Flyers Gameday: 2-24-09 vs. Caps

February 24, 2009, 11:17 AM ET [ Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Preview

Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon, the Flyers (31-17-9) will face a tough test tonight when they travel to DC to take on the Washington Capitals (38-17-5). The Caps are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games and boast an imposing 24-5-1 record on home ice.

The clubs have split the first two games of the season series, with each team prevailing at home. The Caps won, 2-1, in a shootout the last time the teams met. Washington has utterly dominated Atlantic Division opponents this season, to the tune of a 12-1-3 record.

The lone regulation loss came to the Flyers on December 20. On that afternoon, Antero Niittymäki had arguably the best game of his NHL career and the Flyers were very opportunistic offensively. By the end, it was a 7-1 win for Philadelphia.

Shorthanded scoring prowess aside, it's crucial for the Flyers to stay out of the penalty box tonight. Over the course of the last 11 games, the Caps have clicked on the powerplay at a staggering 36.1% rate (13 for 36). It's impossible to focus solely on Alexander Ovechkin, because players like Mike Green or Nicklas Bäckström will carve up any penalty kill that gives them time and space to make a play. Overall, the Caps rank third in the NHL with a 24.1% powerplay success rate.

Meanwhile, the Capitals penalty kill has also been outstanding of late while the Flyers powerplay has been spotty. Washington has successfully killed 50 of its last 59 shorthanded situations for an 84.7% success rate. That includes nine 5-on-3 penalty kills of varying durations.

The Capitals are also plenty dangerous at even strength. The club is +26 (121 GF, 95 GA) when playing 5-on-5. The Flyers are even (103 GF, 103 GA).

Flyers players to watch: The traditional media has finally started to take note of Jeff Carter's post-All Star offensive slump. After being remarkably consistent in the first half of the season, Carter has scuffled for goals since the break. In his last dozen games, he has a pair of two-goal performances but has been held without a goal in each of the other 10 games. Tonight would be an opportune time for a breakout game. Carter has often risen to the ocassion against Washington, and has 13 points (six goals) in 11 career regular season meetings with the Caps. He has been feeling ill the last few days but will play tonight.

With all the praise (justifiably) heaped on the recent play of Mike Richards, it's easy to overlook the play of his linemates, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. The entire line has been dominating of late, and Gagne has been making some tremendous tape-to-tape passes. Gagne has usually enjoyed playing against the Caps. He's compiled 31 points (17 G, 14A) in 30 games against Washington. Knuble, who has scored goals in three consecutive games, owns a dozen career goals in 36 clashes with the Capitals.

Capitals players to watch: Alexander Ovechkin has scored 23 goals in his last 26 games and steamrolled opposing players with freight-train body checks. In his still-young career, he racked up 11 goals and 21 points in 14 regular season games against the Flyers.

Meanwhile, second-season NHLer Bäckström has tallied a pair of goals and seven points in four regular-season matches against the Flyers. Mike Green, who has a dozen goals and 26 points, and a +12 rating in his last 18 games, has two regular season goals and five points in 12 regular season games.

Potential starting lineups (Subject to change)

Flyers
Gagne - Richards - Knuble
Hartnell - Carter - Lupul
Upshall - Giroux - Powe
Cote - Metropolit - Asham

Coburn - Carle
Väänänen - Parent
Alberts - Jones

Niittymäki
[Biron]


Capitals

Ovechkin - Bäckström - Nylander
Laich - Fedorov - Semin
Fleischmann -Steckel - Fehr
Brashear -Gordon -Bradley

Schultz -Green
Morrisonn - Poti
Erskine -Jurcina

Neuvirth/ Theodore



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