Thursday, October 20, 2011

Caps hand Flyers 5-2 defeat, important lessons

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Maybe the Philadelphia Flyers thought they would all be like Tuesday's rout in Ottawa of the hapless Senators.

Whatever expectations were on the table, the Washington Capitals completely wiped them out. Bruce Boudreau's club featured better talent, a better gameplan, and most importantly, better execution on Thursday night.

The Caps extended their franchise-best start to 6-0-0 and sent the Flyers to their first regulation defeat of the young season behind 40 saves from Tomas Vokoun and a pair of scores from Alex Ovechkin.

Already up 2-1 entering the third against a home team showing signs of something -- whether it was lack of focus or fatigue or the unsettling realization that the visitors were a team to be reckoned with -- the Caps put home three daggers to lock up the contest.

First, it was veteran defenseman Hamrlik, whose left-point floater sailed by numerous bodies before settling in the net to Ilya Bryzgalov's left at 2:23.

Chris Pronger took a tripping penalty seconds later and Ovechkin made him pay with a rocket shot from between the circles off a Nicklas Backstrom dish that came with a Flyers defender draped all over his left side.

It was 5-1 for Washington 54 seconds later, as Joel Ward tallied his first goal of the season on a nifty deflection of a low point drive from Jeff Schultz.

Sean Couturier picked up his second tally in as many games in garbage time, though it was a gritty effort to tap the puck home through a mass of players atop the crease.

It might have been a slightly worse outcome, had the Capitals caught a break late in the second period.

Ovechkin drove the net after shaking off Matt Carle in the slot, and while trying to put home a Backstrom rebound, made contact with Bryzgalov's mask with his knee. Backstrom eventually followed the play as a trailer and managed to elevate the disc over the goalmouth scrum, but it was quickly waved off due to incidental contact.

That proved to be the lone bright spot for Washington in the middle period, as Vokoun was forced to make 14 stops.

On two occasions, a Flyers forward had the Czech goaler down along the ice to the right side of the crease and failed to elevate the puck high enough to hit the net.

It was a frustrating replay of many missed scoring opportunities over the last several seasons, when forecheckers rushed the net within a five-foot radius and tried to slide the puck into non-existent space.

Each side took well into the opening 20 minutes to feel each other out, and despite shots being even at 11 apiece, it was not a typical caution-to-the-wind start.

It did end with the Capitals ahead by a 2-1 count, but the Flyers got the jump thanks to some alert play in the defensive zone.

During a 4-on-4, Wayne Simmonds pressed Alexander Semin at the left point, and his poke check worked the puck loose into the neutral zone for a streaking Claude Giroux. Philly's leading scorer pulled Vokoun so far out of position on a deke that he had a half-open net to deposit his sixth goal of the season with 5:35 left.

But Scott Hartnell threw a pass right to Mathieu Perreault inside the final two minutes, and his shot slowed and changed direction off Braydon Coburn's stick and crossed the goal line inside the near post at 18:40.

Just 68 seconds later, Backstrom worked out of the right corner and stepped in front, fooling Bryzgalov -- who ended with 23 stops -- long enough to dish across for an easy score by Ovechkin.

Notes: Washington improved to 8-1-2 in its last 11 trips to Philadelphia...Ovechkin's pair of scores gave him 37 points (22G, 15A) against the Flyers in his six-plus year NHL career...Kimmo Timonen became just the third Finnish-born defenseman to reach the 900-game plateau in the NHL, joining Teppo Numminen (1,372) and Jyrki Lumme (985)...Former 2009 first-round pick of the Kings, Brayden Schenn, made his NHL debut on Thursday, finishing with a minus-3 in just over 11 minutes of ice time.

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