The Washington Capitals fell to their worst loss since 2011 in an 8-2 thrashing against the Philadelphia Flyers.
By Glynn Cosker – DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
The last time the Washington Capitals allowed eight goals in a regulation NHL game was January 25, 2006. Tonight, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, they let in eight during one of the club’s worst performances in recent memory. In short, the Capitals made an average Flyers team look really good.
Hopes were high after the Capitals outplayed the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Friday night, but this game in Philly was a dud – practically from the offset. There may be some pundits who will point to the Capitals having to play back-to-back nights on the road and four games in six days as the reason for tonight’s messy showing, but the buck (and the puck) stops with the whole organization – especially its veteran core players who are well-accustomed to a busy NHL schedule.
Capitals Defensive Problem
The Capitals officially now have a defensive problem. Their best blue-liner is out for at least 10 games because – regardless of how injured he is – the Capitals’ super-tight salary cap space meant that in order to bring up a player from the Hershey Bears, Matt Niskanen had to go out on injured reserve, and that triggers the lengthy absence for him. Head Coach Barry Trotz and the entire club must now figure out a way to get some synergy and cohesiveness into the defense – and quickly. The Caps have enjoyed a fairly healthy team in recent years, but there is now a gaping hole in front of the goaltender that must be filled in a hurry. With respect to the team’s current young-gun D-men, they won’t cut it in the long run this season. Losing Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner – all at once – was as devastating as it was necessary. What happened tonight is an illustration of things to come unless a solution is found fast.
Capitals: All Around Poor Performance
Brought up from the Bears to replace Niskanen was 22-year-old Madison Bowey – who looked a little shell-shocked at times in his NHL debut. He was outpaced by the Flyers’ forwards on occasion – especially on Philadelphia’s third goal when Jakub Voracek sailed past him to slot the puck to a waiting Wayne Simmonds; Bowey also gave the puck away in the build-up to the Flyers’ fourth goal. Philadelphia – at home and in control of the on-ice match-ups – ruthlessly exposed the rookie third defensive pairing of Bowey and Christian Djoos – who have a combined two NHL games on their resumes.
However, Bowey, or any other defenseman, should not become the scapegoat; the whole team looked drowsy and passive at times. Capitals’ goaltender Philipp Grubauer got little help from anybody as the puck was poorly cleared from in front of him – if it was cleared at all. One might jump to the conclusion that it was simply a bad day at the office, and the Capitals should ‘burn the tape,’ lick their wounds and move on to Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s a fair analysis, but Trotz should make the team study the tape first. There were missed assignments, standing-still moments, and a team-wide lack of energy and determination. The Flyer’s top line of Voracek, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier exploited weaknesses in the Capitals’ back-check and defense to combine for 10 points.
Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie Have A Bad Night
Among the mire, there were a few bright spots for the Washington Capitals, including Jakub Vrana and Devante Smith-Pelly. Vrana skated all over the ice and also scored his second goal of the season, while Smith-Pelly stepped up and leveled four shots on target (a rare occurrence on the night). Vrana also had four shots. Another player who showed up was Brett Connolly. In fact, he was the Caps’ most invested forward in both skating speed and hitting; he registered a team-high five hits.
However, the Capitals’ on-fire players, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T. J. Oshie fizzled out in Philadelphia. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov each took home a minus-four plus/minus rating, while Oshie was held at a zero plus/minus rating. Nicklas Backstrom’s contribution was the Capitals’ second goal – which was the only highlight worth watching a second time. The Capitals took a full eight minutes to record their first shot in the second period and tallied 23 shots on the night. The Flyers had 37 shots and were stronger in every department on the ice.
Ultimately, this game was a major wake-up call for the Washington Capitals. It showed, almost embarrassingly, that the team cannot rely on its offensive firepower, because when the top-six has a bad night, they can no longer rely on a firing-on-all-cylinders defense. It’s just not there anymore and likely won’t be there for some time.