Flyers 4, Caps 1: Five Observations

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

1. Schedule loss! Okay, not really. The Capitals can’t use that as an excuse in their lethargic effort in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Yes, they had just played 24 hours earlier and the Flyers had a day off. But that’s not going to fly when every team in the NHL will have nights like this thanks to the lockout-shortened schedule. As coach Adam Oates told reporters at Wells Fargo Center after the game, his players just weren’t good enough. Maybe if the Caps make it through the first five minutes they settle down and find their legs later. But after conceding two quick goals to Max Talbot and then Wayne Simmonds on the power play it just wasn’t going to be their night. No jump at all.

2. There is also the issue that after a disastrous start to 2013, the Caps don’t have the luxury of nights like this. It was reminiscent of their game at the New York Rangers 11 days ago when a three-game win streak ground to a halt after they were badly outplayed. Braden Holtby saved Washington with a brilliant performance that night in a 2-1 loss. Starting his eighth game in a row, he had no such luck against the Flyers and was pulled after allowing a fourth goal. So instead of creeping closer to a playoff spot, now the Caps have to wait a few days and then find a way to win a game in Winnipeg on Saturday night just to get back to where they were at the start of the day.  Washington (7-11-1, 15 points) is four points behind Southeast Division-leading Carolina (9-8-1, 19 points), which now has a game in hand and only 29 left.

3. NBC-SN analyst Mike Milbury went off on Caps winger Alex Ovechkin during the second intermission. Hard to take him too seriously given he and Keith Jones have been running this shtick for years. Not saying you can’t be critical of Ovechkin, obviously. The numbers say his game has slipped the last two seasons and if a player isn’t giving full effort on a given night then have at him. But Milbury about lost his mind during the segment – as you can see here.

There must be a way to point out that Ovechkin’s effort is lacking without making it a referendum on the guy’s entire career based on two periods. I believe Milbury genuinely feels this way about Ovechkin and is frustrated by him. I also believe that he embraces his role as a hockey heel. Makes for better television, after all. Killing Ovechkin for going off on a line change when there are four teammates behind him in good position – and Holtby gives up a goal on a shot from about 40 feet out – is bizarre. Claiming he’s showing “no fight” during a clip where he is knocked to the ice by Philadelphia forward Zac Rinaldo and then appears to fight for the puck before it’s knocked away is…interesting. Ripping a “blind pass” from behind the Flyers net in the offensive zone is odd, too. Skilled players do it all the time. If it works, brilliant! If it doesn’t – well, the Caps just chase the puck down ice and maintain possession.

Again, criticism is fine. We’ve definitely seen Ovechkin whistled for embellishment before. He got two minutes for diving in the season-opener against Tampa Bay. He was legitimately hit in the face by Braydon Coburn with a high stick and there’s a difference between selling a call and flat out fakery that Millbury is choosing to ignore.  But it was an over-the-top reaction. Ovechkin probably did leave Claude Giroux…um…unattended on the first goal of the game 23 seconds in. Mike Green also botched a clearing attempt and Karl Alzner lost a battle in front to Scott Hartnell. That goal featured multiple sins.

4. A nice NHL debut for goalie Philipp Grubauer even if the game was long decided when he entered in relief of Holtby. But it’s a nice way to get his feet wet at the NHL level and 14 saves without a goal  allowed is a solid start for a player who began the season in the ECHL thanks to the lockout. Holtby, remember, started his career this same way two years ago. And so did Michal Neuvirth, who fell ill on Tuesday and didn’t accompany the team to Philadelphia. Hence the quick promotion for Grubauer, who is likely headed right back to Hershey to continue his development.

5. So referees and Mike Ribeiro don’t seem to get along too well. He was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct call in the third period and hit with a 10-minute misconduct to boot. Second time this year he’s earned one of those 10-minute penalties. Can’t believe Oates enjoyed seeing that even if the game was out of reach. The Flyers had already scored twice on the power play. Why would you give them another chance?

A couple of added notes: To start the third period Oates switched his lines. Jason Chimera was dropped to the fourth line. Matt Hendricks took his place on the top line. Think it’s pretty clear the Caps need another legitimate winger on that side.

And judging by his comments afterwards, Oates had no issue with the hit laid on Mathieu Perreault by Philadelphia winger Harry Zolnierczyk. It was whistled a five-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct. Oates told reporters at the arena he put the blame on Perreault for trying to stick handle through the entire Flyers team. Do that at any point in a game – up big or down big late – and someone will be waiting for you. Hard lesson learned for Perreault, who is reportedly fine despite needing to be helped to the locker roon. Still, the penalty will draw the attention of the NHL’s department of player safety. We’ll see if they have any added punishment in mind for Zolnierczyk.

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner