Caps 3, Flyers 2: Five Observations
1. Don’t say the Flyers never gave you anything. Nicklas Backstrom and Wojtek Wolski both beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on breakaways. Backstrom’s goal was an absurd 3-on-0 break where the two Caps players behind him didn’t even matter. He had so much time and space that he gave a quick glance back, saw no one was close to him and glided towards Bryzgalov before deking left and roofing a backhand shot into the net.
“With Nicky’s goal I’m not going to get too excited about it because you’re not gonna get a full blown 3-on-0 very often,” teammate Troy Brouwer joked. “I don’t know what happened there. But I’ll take it.”
“I can’t necessarily say that I meant to put it on his tape like that,” defenseman John Carlson said of his pokecheck of oncoming Flyers forward Sean Couturier that sprung Backstrom. “But I was just trying to make a defensive play at the blue line and it worked out pretty well.”
“We’ve given up some chances like that,” Wolski said. “It’s nice to have one go our way this time.”
2. Wolski, meanwhile, blew up a neutral zone faceoff win by the Flyers at 6:44 of the third period, stealing the puck from defenseman Luke Schenn and driving in on Bryzgalov. The two were teammates for parts of two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10 and 2010-11 so there was a bit of high-speed cat-and-mouse going on.
“I just started thinking I’ve got it on my backhand, I’m outside already, he’s gonna assume I’m coming back,” Wolski said. “I’ve faced him a lot in practice when I was in Phoenix and I knew that he probably thought that I wanted to pull across. So I had it on my backhand. I just wanted to get it off as quickly as possible.”
He did and the insurance goal gave Washington a 3-1 lead and ultimate held up as the game-winning tally.
3. As the Caps tried to tie the game late on Thursday at Toronto, they had a golden opportunity when defenseman Mike Green, above the right faceoff circle, saw Brouwer down low at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. But his hands worked faster than his brain and his rifled pass clicked off Brouwer’s stick and into the stands. Green smashed his stick in frustration.
Friday night, again at the top of the right circle, he threaded a pass just past a couple of Flyers’ sticks to Brouwer alone on the left circle. Bryzgalov appeared to have the near post covered, but Brouwer had time to wait a beat and then ripped a shot short-side and in for the go-ahead goal at 3:57 of the third period.
“Their d-men, I think, were trying to take away the pass because Mike sucked a lot of guys over to that side of the ice and was able to find a seam,” Brouwer said. “And thankfully it didn’t ramp off my stick and go into the 14th row today.”
“Exact same play,” Green said, still a little miffed about the missed opportunity against Toronto. “I guess the hockey gods were with us tonight.”
4. So what worked well for the Caps on Friday? This time they were the ones forcing turnovers in the neutral zone. Wolski’s on Schenn, Carlson’s fine pokecheck on Couturier, which was coupled with one of the worst line changes of all time and allowed Backstrom an easy goal.
“We were really good in the neutral zone. I think the last couple of games in the third period we seemed to break down and get away from what we want to be doing in the neutral zone,” Wolski said. “I think tonight we really stuck together and reminded each other on the bench to stay wide [as forwards], especially so the d-men can clog up that middle of the ice. And we did that really well. We got a lot of turnovers, a lot of pucks going the other way.”
5. Alex Ovechkin didn’t record a point – he missed a chance at another empty net in the final seconds – but that didn’t matter to Oates. Ovechkin skated 22:16 on 23 shifts and was a force all over the ice. He had a game-high seven shots on goal with four more attempts blocked and another missing the net. He was also paired with skilled players again in center Mike Ribeiro and Wolski on the left wing. Oh, no – the Ovechkin at right wing experiment isn’t over yet. It just took a hiatus for four games while he skated back on the left wing alngside grinders Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.
“I thought it was the best game [Ovechkin has] played this year, quite honestly,” Oates said. “He was involved in the whole game.”
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