Earlier this season the Philadelphia Flyers appeared to be finished. Fans were calling for general manager Ron Hextall to fire head coach Dave Hakstol. (That was a mouthful on the radio call-in shows, especially with a piehole full of cheesesteak).
But then the Flyers got organized with the help of steadier goaltending from newcomer Brian Elliott, who posted a 2.15 goals-against average in 13 December games. “I think over the last month, this group has done a really good job of narrowing our focus and the task at hand,” defenseman Brandon Manning recently told reporters.
The Capitals, on the other hand, have been strong all season. Forwards Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana have stepped up to provide scoring depth behind top guns Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
Why The Flyers Will Win
The Sean Couturier/Claude Giroux tag team is one of the hottest things going in the NHL these days. Couturier has been scoring at a 47-goal pace after filling a third-line role for most of his previous six seasons.
Couturier stepped in as the No. 1 center after Hextall traded Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues and Hakstol moved Claude Giroux to the wing. Couturier also centers the top power-play unit and he leads the penalty-killing charge as well.
“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’” teammate Wayne Simmonds told reporters, referring to Hall of Fame winger Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”
Philadelphia is also getting great production from Giroux (26 points in a 20-game span), defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (18 power-play points in 45 games) and Simmonds (points in six straight games).
Why The Capitals Will Win
They are due to get rolling on the power play again. They converted just one of 14 opportunities during a four-game span dating back before their bye week. Obviously this unit has too much talent to stay cold for long.
Due to travel delays, the Capitals didn’t have a chance to practice coming out of their break. And it looked like it during a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils Thursday.
“We just weren’t sharp,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “When you have that many days off, I thought they stalled us out through the neutral zone. A couple of our decisions at the blue line weren’t great. We’ll get a chance in the next few days to work on it again, but timing was a little bit off. They did a good job. We didn’t execute and our power play has to get going.”
Friday’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens gave the Capitals an opportunity to get their timing back before the Flyers visited.
Back in October, the Flyers put an 8-2 beating on the Capitals. Couturier and Giroux went crazy on them. It’s been a while, but here’s guessing that Trotz will have his guys ready to deliver some payback.
Flyers-Capitals pick: Capitals 4, Flyers 2