Caps Face Flyers in First of Two

January 11 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center

Times: 7:00pm

TV: NBCSW extension

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan

Washington Capitals (23-14-6)

Philadelphia Flyers (16-18-7)

The Caps continue to stretch of games against Metro Division foes when they head north to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night date with the Flyers. The game is the front end of an extended (as in not back-to-back) home-and-home set of games with Philly; the Caps host the Flyers in DC on Saturday. The set of tilts against Philadelphia comes in the middle of a stretch in which Washington plays five of six games against Metro Division opponents.

Both the Caps and Flyers will be coming into Wednesday’s game in the wake of shutout victories in their previous games. Washington blanked Columbus at home on Sunday afternoon, getting a sturdy 37-save performance in goal from Darcy Kuemper to make Erik Gustafsson‘s goal at 2:43 of the first period stand up for the rest of the game.

Philly shut down the powerful Buffalo Sabers attack on Monday night in Buffalo, scoring three goals in the first period and relying on Samuel Ersson’s 28-save effort in the net – his first career shutout – to hand the Sabers their first shutout setback of the season.

With Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson both back in the Washington lineup for the first time this season on Sunday against the Blue Jackets, the Caps came out with some jump and plenty of emotion. Gustafsson’s goal came on their first shot of the game, and the first period was their best of the three; they managed a total of just 11 shots on net in the final 40 minutes and their total of 19 for the game is their lowest in 43 games this season. But Kuemper was solid throughout, notching his fourth shutout of the season and the 29th of his NHL career.

Notably, Sunday’s win marked the first time this season that Washington won a game in which it did not score three goals, and the first time it has done so since a 2-0 win over the Coyotes in Arizona on April 22, 2022 in its final visit to Glendale’s Gila River Arena.

Sunday’s game is certainly out of line with the way Washington has played over the last several weeks; the Caps are 16-4-3 over a 23-game stretch that started with a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers in the District on Nov. 23. But even though they weren’t close to their best on Sunday – and credit to Columbus, which played extremely well – it might be a good thing going forward that they were able to eke out a win without repeatedly lighting up the goal light.

“I think it means that we can find a way to win in any way,” says Caps center Dylan Strome. “Most of our wins this year have come with good goaltending, and then maybe we find a way to score some goals in the second or third [periods] and get those goals, and this game was just completely different.

“We got the great goal tending still, but we scored early in the game and then we didn’t have too many [scoring] chances after that, and we just buckled it down, and the [defense] played great. Sometimes, you’ve got to win 1-0, and we haven’t won too many games when scoring under three this year so it was nice for us to win a certain way like that.”

Now that we’re in the season’s second half, we can expect to see scores tighten up some. In the last two weeks, Washington has won by scores of 9-2 and 6-2, but those types of games are likely to occur with greater rarity with the All-Star break, the subsequent stretch drive and the NHL’s trade deadline just ahead on the horizon.

“I think it gets a little tighter around game 55 or 65,” says Caps center Nic Dowd. “Not that the games now don’t mean anything, but psychologically as you get closer to the end of the year, people start crunching numbers and you can see things.

“it’s funny. I always find that at the beginning of the year, everything is very tight defensively. And guys around the League are working really hard to play defense, and I don’t know if that’s because you come into the beginning of the year and coaches are harping on certain things and guys are trying to gain spots in the lineup.I find that it’s really tough to score goals early, and then I find that it loosens up a little bit as the season goes on.And then it tightens right back up when you get close to the playoffs.”

When the Caps handed Philly that aforementioned shootout loss in DC in late November, it was the eighth straight loss of what would become a 10-game losing skid (0-8-2) for the Flyers. Philly halted that slide with a 3-1 win over the Islanders at home on Nov. 29, but the Flyers weren’t able to cobble together consecutive wins until the turn of the calendar when they ran the table with three wins in California and came home to down Arizona immediately after coming back east.

A lackluster loss to the Leafs on home ice followed, but the Flyers got right back on the beam with Monday’s win in Buffalo. Philadelphia enters Wednesdays game with five wins in its previous six games, its best stretch of the season to date. The Flyers have permitted two or fewer goals against in four of their last six games.

A fifth-round choice (143rd overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft, Ersson made his NHL debut on Dec. 23 against Carolina. He was midway through the second period after allowing five goals, but returned late in the same frame when Carter Hart departed with an injury. Hart was saddled with the loss that night, and Ersson has won each of his four starts since, making him the fourth goalie who debuted with the Flyers to win each of his first four decisions. Ersson joins Bob Froese, Ron Hextall and Antero Nittymaki on that list.

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