Sammi Silber

Flyers keep confident as playoff push continues

WASHINGTON – How will we respond? That was the message in the Flyers locker room on Saturday as they again found themselves in a critical position against the Capitals.

After falling 5-0 to the Devils on Thursday, Philadelphia seized the opportunity to not only rebound from one of the toughest losses of the season, but to continue their playoff push and keep momentum alive.

“There’s not much to say. When you get to this level, you should know when you have one bad loss, you need to regroup and get back to it,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We talked about coming out of bye week, if we lose one, we need to regroup and get the next one, so hopefully it’s something we’re going to do for the rest of the year.”

It’s that mentality that helped the Flyers pull together one of their best overall performances. They dominated Washington at both ends of the ice en route to a commanding 7-2 victory to tie the Hurricanes for the second wild card spot in the East.

Their play was evident of a team that could pose a major threat come April. The Flyers dominated in the face-off circle, winning over 70 percent of their draws, while they also got key performances from critical players – most notable Giroux, who was able to end a four-game scoreless drought, notch his first goal since Jan. 2 and register his 800th career point with a goal and two assists.

[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]

“The win feels the best… and I haven’t been playing that great lately,” Giroux admitted. “t’s good to be able to contribute to a team win and we have to keep it going here.”

Beyond their stars, though, they also got a strong offensive performance from all four lines, from Sean Couturier’s two goals to a Gordie Howe hat trick for Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

Even more impressive was the defense. In his return to Washington since being traded to Philadelphia in the offseason, Matt Niskanen and Robert Hagg – who led the team with four blocked shots — helped lead the blue line put together a wall that shut down Alex Ovechkin, who was held at bay as he approaches 700 career goals, and kept Washington scoreless on three of four power play opportunities.

Brian Elliott also had another strong showing in net, stopping 25 of 27 shots for his third win in five games.

“Really proud of the guys. I think we approached it the exact right way that we needed to,” Niskanen said. “We acknowledged how embarrassing and how bad we were the other night and brought one of our best efforts of the season… that’s a good sign that we have a lot of character in here and something to build on.”

“You’re going to have a game now and then where it doesn’t go your way, you have a stinker – whatever it is – but if you can bounce back and get a couple wins the next time out, that’s a good quality.”

Although the Flyers are tied with Carolina in the standings, the Hurricanes currently hold the tiebreaker, meaning Philly is still looking from the outside in and can’t afford to slow down, with the division race tight and the wild card race even tighter.

“[This] was important… this time of year, you really can’t lose two, three in a row,” Couturier said.

“It’s Saturday night in a tough rink, and we wanted to bring it. I thought we came [to D.C.] with our A-game, you could tell everybody was into it right away,” Elliott added. “That’s what we want to bring every night. It’s tough in an 82-game schedule, but these are the types of games and this time of year that you need to bring it.”

Heading into another tough matchup on Monday against the Panthers – who are in a major playoff push of their own – the Flyers’ mentality stays the same as they look to not only collect points, but maintain the same play and success they’ve shown against top teams so far this season.

“We’re a good team. This is a tough league and there are no bad teams and everybody works hard and everybody prepares,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were fortunate we capitalized on some of our looks and got a big game from Giroux and Couturier, so [we’ll] build off that.”

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Sammi Silber is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @sammisilber.

Capitals seek consistency as Metro race tightens

WASHINGTON – For the Washington Capitals, Saturday’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers was poised to be a key matchup. While the main attraction was Alex Ovechkin, who remains within two goals of 700, the team had the chance to face off in a potential playoff and improve on what’s been a so-so start to the second half of the season.

In the end, the game lived up to the promise of being significant in result, but it wasn’t in the way Washington hoped.

Entering the second period of Saturday’s game tied 1-1, Washington gave up seven unanswered goals, including three early over a span of 1:45. The night ended in a 7-2 loss and a lackluster effort that’s become something of a pattern of late.

Since the bye week, it’s been a tough stretch for the Capitals, who are 3-3-0 in their last six games, five of which they saw themselves trailing at one point or another. In three of those, Washington faced multi-goal deficits, and all of those – despite comeback efforts – resulted in regulation losses. 

“We’re where we are in the standings, but I’ve said it and said it a number of times that we’re not where we need to be,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “[Saturday’s 7-2 loss] was a really good example of it. So if you’re going to lose in all areas of the game, then you’re not going to pull out wins. We didn’t deserve that win. We deserved what we got.”

The Caps’ inconsistency isn’t exactly something that can be attributed to one issue; in fact, there are several problem areas that need fixing. Offensively, the main issue is the power play, which is 4-for-21 since the break. On the other side of the puck, their defense is struggling, as the team has given up at least three goals in six of their last 10 decisions.

Their woes have led to several changes to the lineup, including shuffled defense pairings and different assignments on the man advantage, from Ovechkin being moved to the right side to defenseman John Carlson being swapped out for Dmitry Orlov.

Washington has even made changes in goal, giving rookie Ilya Samsonov more playing time as Braden Holtby continues to struggle and have a career-worst season in net with a .893 save percentage and 3.21 GAA.

Despite tweaks and changes to their systems, the Capitals continue to fall into the same tendencies, and the main solution is to address the lack of proper execution by putting together a full 60 minutes and simplifying their overall game, according to Carlson.

“I think we’ve had enough dominating efforts from our team like we’re capable or used to. We’re clawing back, we’re showing a lot of fight, a lot of resiliency making some great plays and putting together some great stretches of hockey, but I just don’t think we’re where we need to be in terms of a full effort,” Carlson said. “I think certainly we’ve been talking leading up to this game and meeting and now we’ve just got to continue to find ways to keep ourselves accountable and figure it out.”

Washington still sits among the top teams in the league, their once-comfortable cushion is slipping away; the Bruins have claimed first-place in the league thanks to a six-game winning streak, and the Penguins are just four points out of first in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals will look to respond when they face the New York Islanders on Monday, a game they believe will give them the chance to put changes in motion as they brace for the postseason.

“I think [we’re] definitely not panicked, but we would really like to see a better, consistent game out of ourselves,” Carlson said.

You can catch Ovechkin’s pursuit of 700 goals when the Capitals host the Islanders Monday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Sammi Silber is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @sammisilber.