Washington still has a chance to finish first in the East Division, but it will need to do a better job Saturday night against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers, a team that won’t be going to the playoffs but which beat the Capitals on Friday.
The Capitals (34-15-5, 73 points) sit two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (36-16-3, 75 points) after the Flyers scored a 4-2 victory over the Capitals on Friday.
Washington has two games remaining — the Saturday matchup with Philadelphia and a Tuesday game at home vs. Boston. Regulation wins in both games will give the Caps the division title and home ice through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh will finish at home Saturday against Buffalo.
Washington struggled throughout Friday’s loss as the Flyers’ defense was tough, and the Capitals missed on most of their scoring chances.
“Well, we were focused on (the battle for first place) tonight, but what we were saying and what we were doing were two different things,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “(We) were too inconsistent with the game. I thought we turned the puck over way too much. We’ll talk about it and get ready for tomorrow.”
Washington’s T.J. Oshie scored his fourth goal in the past two games — he had a hat trick in the win over the Rangers on Wednesday — and Daniel Sprong continued his late-season hot streak with a goal. Goalie Vitek Vanecek gave up three goals and made 25 saves.
Washington continues to face injury and illness issues. Alex Ovechkin (lower body) sat out for the sixth time in seven games. Justin Schultz (lower body) also did not play, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov have been on the COVID-19 protocol list for the past few days.
The status of all four players for the final two games remained unknown after Friday’s game.
Oshie has dealt with an especially difficult week, as his father died on Monday, but the Washington veteran returned to score that hat trick in New York just two days later. He had family in the stands cheering as the veteran notched a goal in the second period Friday night.
“It’s been an emotional (time),” Oshie said. “It’s pretty amazing to see the support I’ve gotten. I thank everyone for that.”
One other big question is who will start in goal for the Caps on Saturday. Will Laviolette start Vanecek again or go to 39-year-old backup Craig Anderson, who’s been in only three games this year?
The Flyers got a solid effort in net from veteran Brian Elliott, who made 28 saves and earned his first assist this season.
Elliott made a long pass to start the play that Sean Couturier finished on an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the victory.
Philadelphia also got good work from its younger players, especially Wade Allison, who scored twice. Allison’s goals came in the second period and gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead over the Capitals.
Allison has three goals and an assist in his past three games. Joel Farabee scored the other Flyers’ goal against the Caps.
“There’s no doubt that guys have been very positive and very good with the young players brought in here lately, and tonight I thought our whole group skated well,” Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said. “I like the energy we brought to the table, and I hope we can do the same thing tomorrow.”
Defenseman Cam York made his NHL debut and played nearly 21 minutes. He finished with a blocked shot and a shot on goal. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was out as part of his two-game suspension the NHL gave him for boarding in Tuesday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Gostisbehere also will be out Saturday and is eligible to return for the last game of this season.
–Field Level Media