A steady stream of trips to the penalty box undid the Capitals in Philadelphia on Monday night against the Flyers. Washington took an early 2-0 lead in the game, but six straight Philadelphia power plays resulted in five unanswered Flyers goals – four of them on the power play – in a span of less than 21 minutes. The Caps rallied late, but ultimately suffered a 5-4 setback at the hands of their Metropolitan Division rivals.
“In the second period there were just too many penalties and too many unneeded penalties,” laments Caps coach Barry Trotz. “If they happen like that [during the season] a lot of guys won’t be playing. It was a few ‘me’ penalties. So we talked about it after the second period.”
The first frame was filled with action. Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov had a prime scoring chance on the game’s first shift, thanks to a nifty backhand pass from behind the net from Troy Brouwer. Kuznetsov tried to squeeze the shot through on the short side, but rang iron instead.
Philadelphia received the game’s first extra-man opportunity when Garrett Mitchell was sent off for cross-checking at 2:22, coinciding with a pair of five-minute fighting majors doled out to Washington’s Liam O’Brien and Philly’s Derek Mathers. The Caps killed off the Mitchell minor without incident
Washington winger Eric Fehr drew a tripping call on the Flyers’ Vincent Lecavalier at 5:52, and the Caps cashed in with the precision of a hired assassin. Brouwer won the right dot draw back to John Carlson immediately following the penalty, and Carlson put it on a tee for Fehr, who opened up and fired a one-timer that sailed past Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery before Lecavalier could even warm the penalty bench seat. The Caps needed all of three seconds worth of power play time to light the lamp.
“I’ve been practicing it for two years,” says Fehr, of his power play bomb. “I don’t see myself getting a lot of [power play] time this year with the guys we have. But it’s nice to get an opportunity in preseason to try it and I definitely gave it my best shot.”
Shortly after the midpoint of the first, the Caps doubled their lead. Mitchell rolled the puck around the end boards, and Caps blueliner John Erskine crept in from the left point and pushed a shot toward the net. With O’Brien screening Emery, the shot sailed cleanly past the Flyers’ goalie for a 2-0 Washington lead at 12:34.
Mitchell was assessed a boarding call on Schenn in the final minute of the period, and the two forwards dropped the gloves as well. Philly halved Washington’s lead on that man-advantage opportunity on a goal from Jakub Voracek. Caps goalie Justin Peters made the save on Mark Streit’s slapper from the point, but the rebound caromed to Voracek. Peters was in position for the shot, but it glanced off the skate of Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy and past the Washington goaltender to make it a 2-1 game at 19:36.
The Caps limited the Flyers to five shots on net in the first, and only one of those came at even strength.
A lack of discipline led to Washington’s downfall in the middle frame. Kuznetsov was sent off for hooking at 10:03 of the second, just as goaltender Philipp Grubauer was about to enter the game in relief of Peters. Trotz wisely kept Peters in the crease for the shorthanded situation, but the Caps weren’t able to deliver a kill that would have protected their lead. A failed clear in the waning seconds of the minor enabled Streit to launch a shot from the point that flew over Peters’ right shoulder to make it a 2-2 game at 11:56. Grubauer came on in relief of Peters at that juncture.
Philadelphia took a 3-2 lead at 14:26 of the second on an even-strength strike from former Caps winger Andrew Gordon, a shot that squirted through Grubauer’s pads.
Less than a minute after the Gordon goal, Caps forward Chris Brown went off for roughing, and then Fehr was sent off for the same infraction just over a half-minute later, giving the Flyers a lengthy two-man advantage. Philly cashed in; Schenn deflected a Jones shot past Grubauer to make it a 4-2 game at 16:12 of the second.
Dane Byers was whistled for roughing at the 20-minute mark of the second, a call that was coincidental to a pair of fighting majors assessed to Oleksy and Jones.
Once again, the Flyers’ power play was up to the task. Seconds after Grubauer made a nice left toe save on Lecavalier, Streit fired a point shot and Lecavalier tipped it past the Caps goalie for Philadelphia’s fifth unanswered goal of the game, just 34 seconds into the final frame.
Washington got its first power play in nearly 40 minutes of action at 8:38 of the third when Gordon was sent off for hi-sticking. Once again, the Caps were economical with the extra man, scoring just 22 seconds after the penalty. Fehr rolled the puck behind the Flyers’ net, and Marcus Johansson received it at the right half wall. Johansson fed Brouwer in the diamond spot, and the latter fired it home to cut the Philly lead to 5-3 with exactly nine minutes left.
Less than four minutes later, the Caps pulled to within one. Oleksy’s shot from the point glanced off the glove of Flyers’ goalie Rob Zepp and went behind the net. Michael Latta collected the puck and curled around to the front, firing a shot high to the short side just before Zepp could get over and seal off the opening.
“I got a good bounce off the net,” says Latta of his goal. “I just came around the net, and I had no other options so I just sort of stuffed one right in.”
The Caps had some chances to draw even in the waning minutes; Johansson’s shot off the rush grazed iron behind Zepp. But Washington’s late rally wasn’t enough to overcome its second-period sins.
“We had some bad penalties and it cost us,” says Fehr. “We haven’t gone over too much in the PK and they really moved the puck around us well and found some holes. Obviously we are going to work on the PK and the PP, but it’s most important that we stay out of the box.”