Tyler J. Altemose
The Philadelphia Flyers took on the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center Sunday evening. The winner would take over as the leader of the Eastern Conference. While Bobrovsky and the Flyers were coming in with a stunning six-game win streak, the Caps themselves had started a winning streak of their own, winning three in a row.
Head coach Peter Laviolette decided to keep slumping forward James Van Riemsdyk out of the action again, but he had a tough decision to make. Danny Briere’s three-game suspension had ended and he was returning to action. The question was whether he would keep rookie sensation Eric Wellwood in action or sit him in favor of another player. Ultimately, Wellwood became a victim of the numbers game. He was benched alongside JVR and the injured Walker (hip), Laperriere (post concussion symptoms), and Leighton (back).
With Briere’s return, Jeff Carter returned to the third line right wing position. He would be centered by Giroux, with Powe on the left wing. The remaining lines were left unchanged, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky got his seventh straight start.
The Flyers tried taking advantage of the fact that the Capitals were starting rookie goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby, who just last season was playing in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays, was getting only his second NHL start, this time against an offense that had been outscoring its opponents 24-10 while on a six-game win streak.
Washington was able to maintain some offensive zone pressure just prior to the midway point of the first period. That was until Nikolay Zherdev scored around the ten minute mark. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and carried it up on a 2-on-1. He beat Holtby high with a wrister to put the Flyers up 1-0 early.
About a minute later, Scott Hartnell was hit in the face by the stick of Kimmo Timonen during a scrum for the puck behind the Flyers net. He would leave for the locker room but later returned.
Washington used its size and speed to maintain pressure on a clearly tired Philadelphia Flyers squad who, just 22 hours prior to puck drop, was playing the New York Islanders. The Flyers, meanwhile, seemed to be taking any shot they could on the Caps’ rookie netminder. A speedy Capitals defense made sure to clear the zone to not allow consistent offensive pressure for the orange and black.
The Caps would strike in the waning minutes of the first period. Eric Fehr took a high shot from the left. Bobrovsky, who went down into the butterfly, was beat high glove side. The Caps would tie the game at one goal apiece coming into the second period.
The second began much like the first period ended, with Washington controlling the pace of the game. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros would soon change that, however. Around the four minute mark he took a blast from the blue line. Forward Ville Leino, who had set up shop in front of Holtby, got just enough of his stick in on the shot to redirect it in net and put the Flyers up 2-1.
Much like the previous night’s game against the Isles, the Russian rookie goaltender kept the Flyers in the game. But the pressure increased as the Flyers continued to get into penalty trouble.
“I guess you could say Bob got us three points this weekend,” Pronger told the media. “You know, not our best hockey. There's a lot of stuff we did well and a lot of stuff we can work on. In order to get 3 points out of 4 after 7 of 12 is pretty good.”
Eventually the Caps would capitalize on the advantage. Alexander Semin would score on a power play that resulted from a high sticking infraction on Ville Leino. Semin picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired it past Bobrovsky who was caught out of position in the scrum. He would tie the game at 2.
Much like the first period, the Capitals were able to maintain some offensive zone pressure around the midpoint in the period. The Flyers, however, weren’t able to maintain that pressure because they continued the practice of firing as much as they could on Holtby, with the Caps’ defense easily able to clear the puck.
“I think you want more traffic than shots for a guy that's making his debut,” captain Mike Richards explained. I don't think we got enough scoring chances. I don't think we moved our legs to create enough scoring chances and to create enough bodies.”
The Flyers were able to find a second wind in the third period. They were more consistent and put more pressure on the Caps. However, neither team was able to put the puck in the net. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Chris Pronger took a 4:00 high sticking penalty with only 3:55 remaining. With only 18.1 seconds remaining, defenseman Sean O’Donnell was also penalized for boarding. The Flyers were able to hold on, however, and sent the game into overtime.
Overtime was short and sweet sour. Since the Flyers were two men down and typically overtime is played 4-on-4, this overtime had to start with a 5-on-3. Remember, NHL rules dictate that at least three men have to be on the ice. Mike Green scored on the power play just 29 seconds into overtime after taking a puck that drifted out to the point.
Laviolette spoke with the media and explained that while the team fell short, it wasn’t because they didn’t put forth a good effort.
“The heart was there to go out and compete and battle the way you need to in order to be successful. But at the end of the night, if we're on our game we're doubling up on scoring chances and doubling up on shots on net. That didn't happen tonight so I guess we could have been better. But I don't think it was from lack of effort or want or desire.”
The Flyers play the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC on Thursday.
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Stars of the Game
1. Sergei Bobrovsky
2. Ville Leino
3. Nikolay Zherdev