Flyers-Capitals: 1st Round Preview

It is time for playoff hockey again in Philadelphia, and really it has been too long. The Flyers begin their first round series with the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

The Flyers had to labor down the stretch just to even get here while the Capitals have been essentially locked in all season to the top spot in the East.

We'll break down each game on game day, starting with Game 1 later this afternoon. But here is an overall scope of the series and keys to both sides coming out on top.

How the Flyers will win:

The Flyers biggest edge will be having played meaningful hockey for the last two months while the Capitals have comfortably rested on the top spot in the East for nearly two months. That said, on the ice, this will be about an edgy style of play that forces Washington into mistakes. The Flyers really played a near perfect game against these same Capitals two weeks earlier in their 2-1 shootout win on March 30. Use that as the blueprint for success.

How the Capitals will win:

Flip the switch to playoff mode and keep doing what you were doing all season long. Washington has deadly special teams and the likely Vezina Trophy winner in goal. Looking back at that March 30 game, the Flyers really played well enough to earn a two or three-goal win. Braden Holtby drives this team's success. If he's on his game, the rest of the Capitals will be tough to beat.

Five Things to Watch

  1. Goalies – We've already touched on Holtby's success, but Steve Mason has been the guy between the pipes for the Flyers for the last month exclusively. Make no mistake about it, he is a primary reason the Flyers are in the playoffs to begin with. Now, he must continue that success to give the Flyers any shot. Without the netminder playing well, any chances of winning this series won't last.
  2. Increased Physical Play – On one end, you have Radko Gudas, Wayne Simmonds and Ryan White. On the other, you have Tom Wilson, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. If the first night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was any indicator — Lightning-Red Wings, anyone? — emotions are running higher than ever and with two teams that have been known to provide entertaining games, the physical play and hard-hitting action should only continue.
  3. The Sean CouturierAlex Ovechkin matchup – For the Flyers, so much of their success runs through this matchup. Doing what they can to suppress Ovechkin in the scoring column could very well be the main key to victory. A lot of that effort falls on Sean Couturier, the Flyers forward who has become well known for his strong defensive play on the NHL's best forwards. Ovechkin's got tons of talent and plenty of goals, but perhaps the Flyers are carrying the secret weapon to beating him.
  4. Flyers Top Power Play Unit – The Flyers top unit lost some momentum towards the end of the season. Forget the 3-for-4 game against the New York Islanders as well where half of the top unit sat out. This is where Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Shayne Gostisbehere need to shine. Power-play opportunities can come few and far between and can't be wasted. The Flyers power play needs to find an early rhythm and some early momentum.
  5. Depth Scoring – Once you get past Ovechkin's 50 goals, you find seven other players who scored at least 17 goals this season for Washington, extending into the third line. Andre Burakovsky and Jason Chimera are examples of this, and while power-play success has a lot to do with these numbers, the Flyers really can't take any shift for granted. There is scoring presence all over the ice for Washington, with six players — Ovechkin, Chimera, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov — posted 20-goal seasons. The Flyers similarly come equipped with several players who have found the net their share of times. Nine players finished in double-figures in goals, and not you usual suspects. Shayne Gostisbehere came from out of nowhere to set a Flyers rookie record for defensemen with 17 goals. Ryan White and Matt Read, both bottom-six forwards, finished with 11 goals each. It's one thing for Ovechkin and Giroux and Kuznetsov and Simmonds to be the ones scoring a goal that swings a game. It's another when White, Mike Richards, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Daniel Winnik are the ones that score the game-changing goal.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

Go to top button