It's the most anticipated game of the season: the first meeting between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The last time these two teams met, the Flyers sent the Capitals out of the playoffs in overtime. They then went on to the conference finals, where they failed to put away the Penguins.
A lot has changed since the Caps and Flyers last met. The Capitals are no longer a "Cinderella team" that is lucky to be a playoff contender. The Flyers retained their core roster despite losing players such as R.J. Umberger.
Is "Vengeance Now!" the theme for the Capitals locker room? Can the Flyers really be "Broad Street Bullies," when this guy is the face of your team? Will Alex Ovechkin try to punch anyone in their fig nuts?
All this and more when the Capitals take on the Flyers tomorrow afternoon!
Washington Capitals (20-10-3, last game 4-2 win over St. Louis)
Philadelphia Flyers (17-8-6, last game 5-2 loss to Montreal)
The story so far...
What did I just say about poor work ethic! Aw hell, at least we got the two points, but we may have lost much more. With Semin's back acting up again, who knows when this kid will be truly healthy. Green's hurt again, but it's not quite as serious as the Semin injury, and Schultz is on his way back. Just don't take Alzner from us! Re-injured but winning, the Capitals can't afford to get lazy against the Flyers. The Capitals love a challenge, and Saturday's game will be an indicator of how far the Capitals have come since that fateful Game 7.
WSH: Nicklas Backstrom
Backstrom just took the team lead for assists (24) and has continued to feed Ovechkin with great scoring opportunities. Let's not forget, Backstrom was stymied by the Flyers at the beginning of the playoffs, but turned on along with Semin near its end. Backstrom isn't a physical player by nature, and the Flyers love to rattle finesse guys with checks. A cool head along with his typical smooth passing will help lead the Capitals to victory.
PHI: Jeff Carter
He's the Flyers goal-scoring leader, although on a team with six 10-goal scorers he can't be singled out as the biggest threat on the ice. What will make Carter dangerous is his ability to open the game up for his teammates. With so much focus on Carter and his goal-scoring abilities, the Capitals will need to focus an equal amount of attention to players such as Simon Gagne and Mike Richards. Carter leads the Flyers in shots and goals but stands at just +1.
Games of importance
Carolina vs. Boston - If the Caps win and Canes lose, the Capitals take a commanding 10-point lead in the Southeast. A loss for the Caps and a win for the Canes, and we go back to square one.
New York Rangers vs. San Jose - The Caps are slowly but surely reeling in the Rangers for second in the Eastern Conference. The Sharks are still unbeaten at home and the Rangers are mad as hell about losing Mats Sundin to the Canucks.
Goalie Simeon Varlamov was sent back to Hershey today as Jose Theodore is healthy enough to play again. While this isn't the most popular move among Capitals fans, it's the right move. Tarik El Bashir reports that GMGM Boudreau wanted Varlamov to learn to play on a nightly basis, but that his stint in Washington was a successful one. The Bears have three games this weekend and if Varlamov really believes the AHL talent is inferior to the former Russian Super League talent, then he'll have no problem closing the door, right Simeon? Theodore won't get the start, but last season Theodore's play was kicked up a notch after losing the starting job in Colorado. With Johnson and Varlamov having just led the Caps on a win streak despite lazy play, Theo should either be motivated to return or desperate to see ice time to prove himself. Expect a different Theo in the coming games.
Dirty Jobs with Boyd Gordon
How 'bout them third and fourth lines? The Capitals scored some ugly goals against the Blues, earning praise (and a thinly veiled jab at the top lines) from Coach Bruce Boudreau. The Capitals top line has been cuter than My Little Pony recently, and with cupcake opponents such as the Islanders and Blues out of the way, Backstrom and Ovechkin may not get to enjoy that style of play against coming opponents. While it's great to see a beautiful Ovechkin goal from a behind-the-back pass, the Caps will live and die by the trash goals. To avoid becoming a one-dimensional (and one-line) team, the Caps will need to crash the net, and let grinders such as Gordon, Bradley and Laich muck it up.
Simon Gagne's season has been nothing short of great. After missing most of last season to injury, Gagne now has 16 goals and 21 assists in 2008. He is also tied in for first in plus/minus at +20 in the NHL.
Mike Richards for MVP
Well, at least it's not your typical political-styled ASG commercial
No spearing tonight!
Flyers star/spearing expert Danny Briere is on injured reserve with a strained groin. Relive the Ovechkin/Briere rivalry here.
Stat of importance
I can't remember the exact date, but CSN flashed it during the game last night. The Capitals have not lost a game when Alexander Ovechkin scores a powerplay goal since December of 2007. Wow.
Johnny on the spot
Brent Johnson will get the start in net against the Flyers. While Johnson was not a part of the playoff series (he watched from the press box), he hasn't put up great numbers against the Flyers. He's 2-6 with a 4.54 GAA in his career against the Flyers. But this is a different Caps team and a much different Brent Johnson. Johnson will likely eclipse his games-played amount from 2007 by the end of December (19) and so far this season has a .920 save percentage. With Theo watching from the bench, and a crucial two points on the line, the Caps will rely on Johnson to carry the team through a tough matchup with the Flyers.
LET'S GO CAPS!