After an embarrassing performance in their first game following the Olympic break, the Philadelphia Flyers bounced back in impressive fashion. But with a murky goaltending situation, they could be vulnerable against one of the league’s hottest offenses.
Philadelphia will try to slow down Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Sunday before returning home to complete this home-and-home set Wednesday.
The Flyers (31-24-6), who lead Washington by one point for third place in the Metropolitan Division, had matched a season best with four straight wins entering the break. That streak was snapped with a 7-3 home loss to San Jose on Thursday as they surrendered five goals in the second period and "didn’t compete hard enough to win," according to coach Craig Berube.
Philadelphia responded with a 4-2 home victory Saturday over the New York Rangers, who had won six of seven and own a one-point edge over the Flyers for second place. Wayne Simmonds tallied a goal and an assist and Kimmo Timonen was credited with two assists after sitting Thursday to rest after returning from Sochi.
"I think our guys have good character," Berube said. "I was pretty confident we’d come out and play hard."
Goaltender Steve Mason stopped 33 shots after being pulled against the Sharks when he yielded four goals on 16 shots.
"It feels good," Mason said. "But I wasn’t going out there (thinking) Steve Mason versus Henrik Lundqvist. I was trying to help the Flyers beat the Rangers, and that’s what we did."
Backup Ray Emery was unavailable due to a lower-body injury he suffered after replacing Mason versus San Jose and won’t travel to Washington. Berube didn’t announce a starter for Sunday, though Cal Heeter served as Mason’s backup against New York after being called up from the AHL. Mason has started back-to-back games just once this season, stopping 59 of 62 shots in victories over Winnipeg and Nashville on Nov. 29-30.
For the Capitals (29-23-9), a win would be their season-best fifth straight and also clinch the season series against Philadelphia for the first time since 2009-10. Washington is averaging 3.7 goals while winning seven of 10, including a 4-2 victory at Boston on Saturday. The Capitals had previously totaled eight goals during a seven-game losing streak.
Ovechkin recorded two power-play goals against the Bruins, pushing his career point total to 800. He also scored the winner and was credited with two assists Thursday at Florida and has nine goals and eight assists over his last 11 contests.
"I think we’re just playing more solid right now," said Ovechkin, who leads the league with 41 goals and had scored in each of his last three matchups with Philadelphia. "We don’t have time to make mistakes. Every point right now is very important for us."
Washington won two of the season’s first three meetings, including a 7-0 blowout on Nov. 1 despite being without Ovechkin due to injury.
Mikhail Grabovski missed Saturday’s contest versus Boston after reaggravating his left ankle against the Panthers. He missed eight games prior to the break due to an injury to the same ankle.
Washington is 10-11-2 against divisional foes and 19-12-7 against all other clubs.