After a disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, the Philadelphia Flyers desperately need a win in order to remain in the playoff picture. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy to get two points tonight, as the Flyers are in Washington D.C. to take on the rival Washington Capitals. The Capitals lead the NHL in wins, points, and goal differential, and are second in goals for. It took a couple of seasons for Washington to completely hit its stride, but they look to be unstoppable now; their winning percentage of 76% is far and away the NHL’s best.
The game will be broadcast nationally as a part of NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry special, with puck drop at 8:00. Here are 3 things to know for gameday.
1. Flyers Walking Wounded
The Philadelphia Flyers have been an overall healthy team in 2015-16, but critical injuries have struck at the least opportune time. Sean Couturier and Steve Mason each have lower-body injuries and will miss tonight’s game (Couturier’s third, Mason’s first).
There really isn’t a way to overlook the impact that Couturier’s injury has had on the Flyers. When in the lineup, Couturier plays at least 18 minutes a night in all situations, which is extremely cumbersome to replace.
The middle-six lines for the Flyers have been an unmitigated disaster without Couturier, relying on wingers to play center and forcing inferior players to take on larger roles. The top line of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds still drives possession and puts up points, but they could use a little bit of help.
The Flyers are also missing Couturier’s defensive prowess. Their penalty kill rate has been awful without Couturier, and facing a dangerous power play like Washington has can only spell trouble.
Meanwhile, Mason’s injury will force Michal Neuvirth to start his second straight game while journeyman Jason LaBarbera will back him up.
2. Returning Stars
A big storyline in Wednesday night’s game will be the return of Michal Neuvirth to Washington and Mike Richards facing off against the Flyers.
Neuvirth was a 2nd round pick by the Capitals and posted four and a half strong seasons with the club. Neuvirth was still raw when the Capitals traded him, but he was made expendable by the potential of Braden Holtby. Neuvirth found his way to the Flyers two years later, and has looked like everything that the Capitals pictured back when they drafted him in 2006. He leads the league in save percentage, is 7th in GAA, and always gives the Flyers a chance to win.
On the other side of the ice, new Capital Mike Richards will play against the Flyers as an Eastern Conference rival. Richards was a Flyer captain for three years and the team’s best player until his unexpected trade in June of 2011. He won two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, but saw his role reduced and his contract terminated last summer due to possession of oxycodone. Richards has been given a second chance by the Capitals, so look for “Richie” to be pumped to play his old club.
3. X-Factor: Limiting Washington’s Dynamic Offense
Simply put, the Flyers will only win the game if they score more goals than the opposition. But that’s a very difficult proposition against the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin is second in the league in goals, Nicklas Backstrom is always a thorn in the Flyers’ side, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie have played nice supporting roles, and young Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the Caps in points.
The Flyers will be hard-pressed to stop these guys, but they’re going to need a total team effort. Forwards will have to be defensively responsible, defensemen will have to mind their gaps, and Neuvirth will have to be stellar.
But the Flyers also cannot go into a defensive shell. The Capitals have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, so the Flyers will have to be persistent in all 3 zones. If the Flyers play like the playoff team that they can be, they have a chance versus the Caps.