In Thursday night’s matchup of the Flyers and Capitals, two teams unbeaten in regulation, Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun was hot enough to win on his own, but the Flyers made it a little easier with penalties and turnovers. The Caps left the Wells Fargo Center with a decisive 5-2 win to hold on to first in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers were on the board first with a spectacular Claude Giroux goal, his fifth of the season, that saw him receive a pass from Wayne Simmonds streaking up the ice. Giroux blew through the Caps defense and deked Vokoun to give the Flyers a boost. It was a big goal to get things started, but things wouldn’t remain strong for the Flyers.
Reminiscent of last season’s sloppy defensive play, the Flyers let up two quick goals to end the first, each within 1:08 of each other. One came on a turnover by Scott Hartnell, and the other off a pass through the blue paint when Russian winger Alex Ovechkin pounded in his first of two goals on the night.
After two periods, the Flyers looked poised to get back into the game, but Vokoun, who stopped 40 of 42 shots on the night, kept his team in the game, while undisciplined play by the Flyers led to turnovers, penalties and three third-period goals by the Caps, each within 2:25 of each other. It was a disappointing night for the Flyers, and several holes were exposed by the Caps.
One in particular, is the lack of a shutdown line. Centerman Brayden Schenn had been called up to play in his first NHL game for the Flyers earlier in the day, and he centered the checking line for the team. He finished the night with 11:03 of ice time, a minus-3, and 4 hits on the night, while playing on a line with Hartnell and Jakub Voracek. The line didn’t offer much, and Schenn’s first chance to shine as a Flyer was anything but successful.
Prior to the season, Schenn was showered with praise by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and was considered by many to be a candidate for the Calder Trophy, as well as the Flyers’ replacement for their recently traded captain, Mike Richards. He began the season in the AHL for salary cap reasons, but was always expected get a call-up to the big club. In his first game, there were likely jitters, so hopefully he’ll quickly adjust and earn the praise he’s received.
Penalties again plagued the team. The Caps scored only one power-play goal on seven chances, but Flyers coach Peter Laviolette admitted the number of penalties hurt the flow on the bench, as several players sat during the kills and got cold, while others were over-used.
The Flyers are now second in the league in times shorthanded at 36, second only to Tampa Bay, who have been shorthanded 38 times. The Flyers’ penalty kill is ranked 17th in the league, having allowed six goals on 36 chances (83.3 percent).
Penalties have been an issue for the Flyers organization for years, but if they want to compete against the best teams in the league, they’ll need to get a handle on their loose sticks, especially center Danny Briere, who leads the team with six minor penalties in as many games.
The Flyers are back in action this Saturday against the St. Louis Blues, a struggling Western Conference team.