Philadelphia Flyers @ Washington Capitals
Washington: 9-4-0, 18 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 8-9-17 in 13 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, C Marcus Johansson, G Semyon Varlamov
Probable starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (8-3-0, 2.41, .914, 1 SO)
Player to watch: W Mike Knuble
Philadelphia: 9-4-1, 19 points
Leading scorer: Claude Giroux, 7-7-14 in 14 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.6%
Notable injuries/illnesses: Claude Giroux was hit in the ankle with a shot late Saturday night
Probable starting goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky (8-2-0, 2.11, .927)
Player to watch: G Sergei Brobovsky
The Capitals will be hosting a Flyers team playing the second of a back-to-back, having come off a hard-fought game with Scott Gordon's Islanders. Prior to that game, all was well in Philly, with the team riding a five game winning streak. The move to put Mike Richards as a pure defensive player, regardless of whether it was well executed or not, has correlated well with the Flyers' recent success, a six game winning streak, after an inconsistent start. Sergei Bobrovsky has taken the reins in goal and played pretty well, and with the depth up front and on the blueline that Philly boasts, they'll be able to play a tough, disciplined game.
1) Neuvirth vs Bobrovsky? Michal Neuvirth and Bobrovsky are the leading rookie goalies this year, and have put up similar "boxcar" numbers so far this season. Neuvirth is probably the better goalie, but he needs to make sure that it shows this time around.
2) Does Alex Ovechkin wake up? While Ovechkin has been putting up points recently, his even strength play hasn't been too great. Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, two of the top-20 defensemen in the world, and shutdown center Mike Richards will try and make that trend continue. No matter how good those two are, though, if Ovechkin and Backstrom lock in, they are nearly impossible to stop.
3) Can Semin spark the Caps? Since the start of the season, Alexander Semin has sparked every line he has played on. If he plays on the top line, the Caps risk that entire line and Semin's valuable secondary goal scoring being shut down. If he plays on the second line, the Caps risk Philly's second all-world pairing shutting down that line. Semin will have to have his best game of the season, unless...
4) Power versus power, depth versus depth. I'd bet the offensive power at the top of the Capitals' lineup isn't too effective against the defensive fortitude at the top of the Flyers' lineup, and vice versa. If the Caps' depth can come through and play a strong game--not exactly what has been happening as of late, though Fehr-Chimera-Gordon were brilliant against Boston--and outplay the Flyers' very, very impressive depth, it gives DC the edge it likely needs to win.
5) Special teams. The Caps and Flyers look like they'll play to a standstill at even strength. The Caps' power play will have a tough time with the Flyers' 6th-ranked penalty kill, and the Flyers' power play should have trouble with the Caps' PK as well. I have a feeling that the unit that breaks through first will carry its team to victory.
Well, either that or Sergei Bobrovsky learns what it feels like to face a team that actually has semi-decent shooters and can dominate like few other teams, and has a guy with a knack for making a goalie's life difficult--especially when the goalie is a rookie--and for scoring goals on Pennsylvania-based teams. Capitals 4, Flyers 3 (OT).