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Caps survive slugfest with Flyers to extend home win streak

Caps survive slugfest with Flyers to extend home win streak

Final score: Washington Capitals 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1

How it happened: Both teams battled to a scoreless tie through 40 minutes. The Flyers looked like they had taken control with a goal from Sean Couturier less than two minutes into the final period, but Dmitry Orlov answered right back just 1:21 later to tie it at 1. A Michael Del Zotto penalty in overtime proved to be Philadelphia's breaking point as Nicklas Backstrom netted the game-winner.

What it means: The Caps extended their franchise record home win streak to 15 games and their home point streak to 17. They have not lost at Verizon Center in 2017. Washington finished the regular season series against the Flyers with a 3-0-1 record.

Goals

Flyers goal: Sean Couturier from matt read and nick cousins at 1:19 in the third period. A Caps turnover in the offensive zone turned into a rush the other way for the Flyers with Couturier deflecting finishing off a tic-tac-toe play with a deflection to the top shelf. Caps 0, Flyers 1

Caps goal: Dmitry Orlov from Matt Niskanen at 2:40 in the third period. Niskanen forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Orlov pounced, carrying the puck past the blue line and unleashing a monster slap shot to beat Mason. Caps 1, Flyers 1

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom (power play) from Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Ovechkin at 3:25 in overtime. Caps 2, Flyers 1

3 Stars

1. Tom Wilson: These are the kind of games Wilson was made for. Against a team full of irritants, Wilson doled out about as much as the Flyers gave. He was laying out hits (nine for the game) and drew the crowd to its feet after blocking a slap shot off his backside. He also had some great offensive opportunities, sliding the puck through the legs of Steve Mason and wide of the net at one point in the second period.

2. Braden Holtby: The Flyers are a team that likes getting traffic in front of the net. Holtby had to battle a lot of traffic to make his 30 saves on Saturday, but it didn’t seem to affect him at all. Holtby looked smooth in net despite all the pressure from the Flyers.

3. Steve Mason: Mason's career has been plagued by inconsistency, but when he's on, he's on. On Saturday, he was on saving 22 of the 24 shots he saved including a phenomenal save on T.J. Oshie in overtime that hit off his mask.

Look ahead: The Caps finish their three-game home stand on Monday as they host the Dallas Stars. Then it’s off to the west coast for the California road trip where the Caps will visit the Sharks, Kings and Ducks starting on Thursday in San Jose.

Tell us what you think:  Finding goals has not been a problem for Washington on their home win streak. Wins of 5-0, 6-0 were frequent. The last two games at Verizon Center, however, the Caps were held scoreless through the first two periods of the game and managed only three goals combined. Are you worried about the offense?

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Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Caps Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Braden Holtby wasn’t “as sharp as he can be” in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Penguins.  

Trotz also said he hasn’t given any thought to his Game 3 starter.

“Way too early to talk about that,” Trotz said, asked if he planned to return to Holtby on Monday night. “I haven’t really thought about it at all.”

Holtby allowed three goals on nine second period shots in Game 2 and was pulled at the intermission. Saturday's performance followed a Game 1 effort in which he allowed three goals on 21 shots and a first round series that saw him surrender 14 goals in the first four games.

RELATED: 3 observations: Missed opportunity leads to tough questions

Philipp Grubauer entered Saturday’s game at the start of the third period and promptly allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced.    

“I thought we just had to chance the mojo in that situation,” Trotz said of pulling Holtby. “He’ll tell you he could be better…and he will be.”

Pressed on what he thought of Holtby’s night, Trotz added: “I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. And when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit, that’s all.”

“Braden is our backbone and he has been all year,”Trotz continued. “We got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby. We got to find some goals in our room right now, and we haven’t found enough.”

Holtby said he didn’t like the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Jake Guentzel, who finished a 2-on-1, sniping a shot over his left pad and under his glove.

“The playoffs are made of big moments and on that third goal, that’s a big moment,” Holtby said. “That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t. Obviously, I was frustrated that I didn’t do that.”

Through eight playoff games, Holtby has a .911 save percentage—13th out of the 14 goalies who’ve played at least 5 postseason games. Holtby entered the playoffs with the best postseason save percentage in league history at .938.

So, yeah, it’s fair to say that none of this was expected...getting pulled as the Caps fight for their postseason lives or being asked by a reporter whether he thinks he'll be in net for the next game. 

“I expect to start every game until I’m told otherwise,” an exasperated Holtby said.

MORE CAPITALS: Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps fall 6-2

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3 key observations from Game 2: Missed opportunity leads to questions for Caps

3 key observations from Game 2: Missed opportunity leads to questions for Caps

A devastating Game 2 loss has the Caps facing a massive 2-0 hole in the series. Here are three key observations from Saturday’s game.

1. This game was lost in the first period

The Caps dominated Pittsburgh through the first 20 minutes in every statistical category save the most important one, the score. Despite leading in shot attempts 30 to 8, shots on goal 16 to 5 and scoring chances 12 to 5 through the first, the score was still knotted at zero. The biggest difference in this series is that every time the Caps give Pittsburgh an opening, the puck ends up in the back of the net. The first period was Washington’s chance to take control and they couldn’t.

RELATED: Penguins fans take over near Verizon Center

2. Was making the switch in net the right move?

Braden Holtby has now allowed six goals on 35 shots this series for a save percentage of .829. Obviously, that’s not very good. Barry Trotz made the switch to Philipp Grubauer to start the third period, but that didn’t seem to work out too well either as he allowed two goals on just eight shots finishing whatever hopes the Caps had of a comeback. Whether Trotz made the right call in taking out Holtby was a hotly debated topic among the media after the game. Look, with all due respect to Grubauer who has been great this year, the Caps cannot win the Stanley Cup if Holtby is not the backbone of the team. So what do you do? Let him try to play his way out of the slump or make the change to Grubauer and  open the door for speculation as to who will start Game 3?

3. You’ve got to give it to him

Caps fans don’t want to hear this, but Sidney Crosby put on a show, declaring himself to still be the best player in the NHL. With the score tied 1-1, it was Crosby’s two assists that made the difference turning a tight game in which the Caps had dominated into a 3-1 lead for the Penguins. On the first goal, he took a pass that was a bit behind him, tapped it through his own legs to gain possession, and then fed Phil Kessel as the Caps collapsed on him. The next goal was set up by a shot-block from Crosby which he then fed to Jake Guentzel with a diving play to set up the 2-on-1 on the goal. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the guy. This was one of those games.

MORE CAPITALS: Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps fall 6-2