Capitals vs. Flyers: Breaking Down the Struggles Each Team Is Facing
But this season, DC and Philly have more important things to worry about than each other, as both teams are struggling.
Through Tuesday's games, the Philadelphia Flyers were 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with 19 of a possible 42 points. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals were 14th of 15 teams in the East, with 15 of a possible 36 points. If the Stanley Cup playoffs began today, both of these rivals would miss the postseason party.
So why are these two teams struggling?
Here is a breakdown of the struggles that the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are facing. This analysis will cover five different aspects of the game, with which both teams may in fact struggle.
Goals Against: Both
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Both the Capitals and the Flyers have struggled this season in part by failing to keep the puck out of their own net on a consistent basis.
The Capitals are even worse, surrendering 3.24 GA/G. That's good for fifth-worst in the league.
Goaltenders often receive the bulk of the blame for their team's goals-against-per-game rate. Rightfully so in the case of the Washington Capitals. On February 8, general manager George McPhee talked to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post about his goaltenders:
They’ve got to be better. We think we’ve done a real good job of developing them. They’ve had their time in Hershey. There is upside there with these goaltenders. But they can both play better and they know it. And it’s time for them to play.
In the case of the Philadelphia Flyers, B/R Featured Columnist Garrett Baker wrote on February 5 that defense is the biggest concern, not goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Whatever the reasons, the Caps and Flyers are both allowing too many goals and it's dragging them down in the standings.
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The importance of faceoffs cannot be emphasized enough. Winning a draw can guarantee possession, ignite a power play and fuel a strong penalty kill.
The Philadelphia Flyers are hurting their chances to do these three things and more with a faceoff percentage of 47.0, good for 26th in the NHL.
Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer (via philly.com) elaborated on the Flyers' problem back on February 9:
Claude Giroux needs some help. The Flyers captain went into Thursday's game among the NHL leaders by being successful on 55.4 percent of his faceoffs. Despite his success, the Flyers had won just 46.5 percent of their draws, putting them 28th in the 30-team NHL. Put another way: If you take away Giroux, the rest of the Flyers had won just 40.9 percent of their faceoffs. As a result, the Flyers are getting less zone time and frequently seem to be on the defensive side of the puck.
With an improvement in their faceoff percentage, the Flyers can improve their winning percentage as well.
5-on-5 Play: Capitals
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A team's ability to play at even strength, five-on-five, is an oft-ignored statistic in today's NHL.
This season, the Washington Capitals certainly wish this statistic was not only ignored but completely forgotten.
Through Tuesday's games, the Capitals had a five-on-five goals for/against ratio (5-5 F/A) of 0.78 (NHL.com). That earned the Caps the 26th ranking in the NHL for this underrated statistic.
Although power plays are welcome, they are not guaranteed to occur every game. Five-on-five action, however, is guaranteed to happen every game. And so far, the Capitals have struggled when playing at even strength.
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Taking too many penalties can stifle the offensive momentum of a hockey team, while also providing numerous power-play opportunities for the opposition. This could certainly be a reason for the Flyers' struggles.
After Tuesday's games, the Flyers as a team had 106 minor penalties, the most in the NHL. No other team has even reached 100 minor penalties (NHL.com).
Presented in a different way, this number equates to an average of 16.5 penalty minutes per game (PIM/G).
Wayne Fish of phillyburbs.com wrote that the Flyers had no one to blame but themselves for their transgressions:
Despite what the NHL minor penalty-leading Flyers might think, there really aren’t any new rules regarding interference and the like. Just the same old ones; the only thing new is an emphasis on enforcement. To say the Flyers don’t understand what the league wants is a cop out. The NHL has provided a widely circulated memo, made available a video with examples of what is/what isn’t allowed and put wording of the rules on its website. As is the case in general life, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.
That article was written on January 29. Nearly a month later, the Flyers still lead the NHL in minor penalties. If the Broad Streeters don't learn their lesson quickly, this short season could be over in a hurry.
Penalty Kill: Capitals
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The Capitals take significantly fewer minor penalties than the league-worst Flyers, ranking 16th in the league with 81 through Tuesday.
But the Capitals have proven to be quite deficient at killing penalties, and it's killing them.
The Caps currently rank 22nd in the NHL with a penalty-killing percentage of 77.0 (ESPN.com). By contrast, the frequently penalized Flyers kill 83.1 percent of their penalties, 10th in the NHL.
After a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on February 21 in the first leg of a two-game series at Verizon Center, Kellie Cowan of CSNWashington.com detailed the Washington Capitals' penalty killing issues and the ramifications:
For the second game in a row, the Capitals relinquished the win on a third period power play goal. Last night's dagger from Ilya Kovalchuk cut particularly deep considering the circumstances: a late-contest 5 on 3, the second of the period, handed to the Devils as the Caps' penalty kill unit was less than a minute into their fifth assignment in an eight minute span. It also marked the fourth time this season that a late power play goal delivered the Caps an L.
If the Capitals' penalty kill continues to deliver Ls, then the Caps won't be delivering a Stanley Cup to Washington this season.