Washington remains undefeated in six games in 2011-12.
There is an array of anecdotes, reactions and story-lines to be discussed, but the Flyers Four-Check boils the game down to these four noteworthy observations and analyses.
1. Good Defense Wins Championships; Bad Defense Loses Games
The Flyers looked outmatched in the first period, finding themselves unable to maintain consistent offensive pressure and looking nervous handling the puck in their own zone.
The new-found nerves were costly when Scott Hartnell’s blind clearing attempt, which could have sent the Flyers on an offensive rush, was intercepted by Mathieu Perreault, who put the puck off of Braydon Coburn’s stick and into the Flyers’ net.
The Perreault goal knotted the game at one, but the Flyers continued to play back in their heels, and another defensive zone turnover found its way to Alex Ovechkin at the top of the crease. The Great 8 buried the puck with 11 seconds left in the period to give Washington a lead, one that seemed largely preventable.
The third period saw Washington add three more goals, two of them the result of continued poor defensive play.
Roman Hamrlik took an easy shot at Bryzgalov that Andreas Lilja decided to wave at with his stick. Lilja’s deflection sent the puck past Bryzgalov’s shoulder to make the score 3-1.
After adding a power play goal, the Caps scored again when Bryzgalov turned the puck over himself and failed to react when Jeff Schultz threw the puck at the net, off Joel Ward and in.
2. Sean and Schenn
Sean Couturier saw limited ice time in the game, largely as the result of being moved to the fourth line to make room for the newly-recalled Brayden Schenn.
Schenn centered the third line, Couturier’s position in the prior five games.
Laviolette likely made the move because Schenn, who scored eight points in four AHL games this season, has found himself onto the roster permanently, while Couturier could still be sent back to juniors before the 10th game of the year without this season counting against his entry-level contract.
Couturier has had a great season thus far, especially considering his age (18). But playing fourth-line minutes in the NHL will hinder Couturier’s development more than prime minutes in juniors, so Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette will need to figure out just where Couturier fits into the system.
Tonight’s game saw Couturier make his way onto the stat sheet with a late goal, and he played a good game overall. But it became painfully clear that his true potential will not be reached if he isn’t given the opportunity to produce offensively.
Brayden Schenn saw time during even-strength matchups, and while failing to register a point, Schenn was a presence on the ice. He threw the body around and found ways to create scoring chances; had he not been playing on a line with the underproductive Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek, Schenn’s name likely would have been inked on the scoresheet.
3. Brotherly Love?
Ilya Bryzgalov got his first taste of life in a hockey-crazy city when the Philly faithful sarcastic cheered an easy save he made after giving up his fifth goal of the night.
The score is not indicative of Bryzgalov’s performance, but fans may have been frustrated by his lackluster effort in net that led to the fifth goal.
Bryzgalov turned the puck over behind the net and was lackadaisical getting back in front of the net. Joel Ward nearly swept the puck in as Bryzgalov slowly returned to his crease, and when the puck was sent back to the front of the net, off Ward and in, Bryzgalov barely reacted.
He may have been frustrated with the sloppy defensive play that had put his team in a 4-1 hole, but the lazy attitude did not sit well with Flyers fans.
Frustrations were abound in Philadelphia.
4. Goalies and Greenbacks
Earlier in the day, I wrote a preview piece exploring the similarities and differences between Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun, the two big free-agent goaltenders from this past summer that signed incredibly different contracts.
No doubt Flyers fans will be grumbling after this game, as Vokoun stopped 40 of Philadelphia’s 42 shots.
Bryzgalov only managed to save 23 of 28 Washington shots.
The season is a marathon, not a sprint, so to consider this game a statement that the Flyers went after the wrong goalie is foolish and shortsighted.
But for what it’s worth, considering the cap hit of each goalie, the Capitals paid Vokoun $457 per save in the game, while Philadelphia paid Bryzgalov $3,004 per save.
For tonight, it appears Washington got their money’s worth.
Of course, fans in Philadelphia and Washington would rather measure success by money paid per playoff victory, so the full story remains to be told.