The Capitals didn’t play its best hockey once they had clinched a spot in the postseason going 6-4-3 since March 18. The Caps had the Conference wrapped up by March 22 and the Presidents Trophy won on March 28. The last seven games meant nothing to Washington, but Braden Holtby was trying to set the total number of wins for a goaltender in a season. He wound up tying the record of 47 wins shared with Marty Brodeur.
The Flyers struggled out of the gate, which could have been due to learning Dave Hakstol’s new system. The team really start to turn things around when rookie defenseman, Shayne Gostisbehere was brought up from the AHL, due to an injury to Mark Streit in November. Philadelphia battled back and almost every game was a must-win/playoff game for them down the stretch, which could help them. The Flyers will also be playing for Ed Snider, the team’s former owner, who pass away Monday at the age of 83.
Washington and Philadelphia are both entering the postseason pretty healthy. Michael Del Zotto, who is out because of a wrist injury, is the only injury for the Flyers. The Caps may have some players nicked up, but should have its regular roster ready to go for game one on Thursday night.
The Caps were the best overall offensive team in the Eastern Conference and second in the NHL in scoring. The offense came from every line with eight players score 10 or more goals in the regular season. Alex Ovechkin chipped in 50 goals in the regular season. The key player to watch on offense for Washington is Evgeny Kutznetsov, who can score or set up a teammate with a pretty pass. The Flyers will need its top line of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek to score big time goals. The Orange and Black had nine players who scored 10 or more goals on its roster, and that balanced attack will need to continue if they have any chance of beating the Capitals in the first round.
The Flyers’ defense as whole can move the puck, block shots and be physical, when needed. The Caps forwards will need to pay attention to Radko Gudas, who isn’t afraid to lay a hit in open ice. Gostisbehere could be a difference maker on the blueline for Philadelphia since he has an uncanny ability to move the puck, whether skating it up ice or make the pass out of the zone. Washington’s defense can put up points in the offensive zone and have been decent in their own zone. Philly needs to get in on the forecheck to force the Capitals’ defense into turnovers.
The goaltending will be the x-factor for both sides in this series. If Steve Mason can continue carry over his game from the last month of the regular season then the Flyers will have a chance at winning the series. Braden Holtby will probably be in the running for the Vezina Trophy this season, and this series could be over early if he continues his play from the regular season. It will be interesting to see how rookie coach, Dave Hakstol, reacts to the matchups and in-game adjustments that’ll need to be made while facing veteran coach Barry Trotz.
The special teams have been good for Washington all season with both finishing in the top five of the NHL. The Caps lethal power play finished fifth (21.9%) so it may be a good idea for the Orange and Black to stay out of the penalty box. The Capitals penalty kill (85.2%) finished second to only the Anaheim Ducks. The Flyers penalty kill rebounded after an atrocious start and finished at 80.5% for the season. Philadelphia will need to figure out how to get shots through on the power play since the Caps will most likely try to take away Gostisbehere at the point and Giroux at the side wall. The Orange and Black will have to have quick puck movement, screens in front of Holtby and player movement to have success on the power play.
The Flyers are underdogs in the series that can play without the expectations and pressure that the Capitals will have on them. It will be a fast-paced, forechecking, physical series that the Capitals will win in seven games.