The Flyers have played 42 games, more than half the season, and have not yet played the defending Stanley Cup champions once. That will finally change Tuesday as the Flyers visit the Capitals.
There has been no shortage of news out of Philadelphia this season with the firing of general manager Ron Hextall, the firing of head coach Dave Hakstol, a never-ending goalie carousel and the Flyers' precipitous drop to last place in the Metropolitan Division. With everything that has gone on this season, Flyers fans may not have been able to turn their attention away from Philadelphia and may not know much about this year's Caps team.
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With both teams renewing their acquaintance Tuesday, here are three things Flyers fans should know about the Capitals.
1. There's a new man behind the bench
Barry Trotz led Washington to its first Stanley Cup in 2018 but resigned soon after when he and the team could not come to an agreement over a contract extension. As a result, the Cup champions were handed over to associate coach Todd Reirden, whose only head coaching experience was in the AHL.
Don't expect to see a new-look Capitals team Tuesday, however. Schematically, Washington does not look too different except on the penalty kill, which has gotten more aggressive. Reirden has largely taken an "if it ain't broke" approach to the season, so this team plays a similar style and has the same top three lines and top two defensive pairings from last year's Cup run.
Reiden's first season will ultimately be judged by what he can do in the postseason, but the early returns look pretty good. The Caps sit in first place of the Metropolitan Division midway through the season despite a number of challenges Reirden has had to navigate including the dreaded Cup hangover, a lengthy suspension to Tom Wilson and a number of injuries. At no point this season has Reirden had his full lineup available to him and yet Washington is 25-12-4 through 41 games with a two-point lead and a game in hand over second-place Pittsburgh.
2. Wilson brings a lot more than just big hits
Wilson has become one of the most polarizing players in the league. He is beloved in Washington, but outside of Caps' country, he is reviled. If you think there's nothing more to him than just big hits and controversy, however, you're in for a rude awakening.
Wilson has played in only 22 of Washington's 41 games this season after missing 16 because of an early suspension and another three because of a concussion. Yet, he sits tied for second on the team with 12 goals. He is averaging 1.85 goals per 60 minutes, tying him with some top offensive players around the NHL such as David Pastrnak, Steven Stamkos and Cam Atkinson. That also puts him ahead of others such as Joe Pavelski (1.79), Johnny Gaudreau (1.73) and Connor McDavid (1.54).
If he were a Flyer, Wilson would easily be leading the team. Sean Couturier and Wayne Simonds are currently tied for the top goals per 60 rate in Philadelphia at only 1.03.
3. The offense has suddenly gone cold
The Flyers will be playing the second leg of a back-to-back Tuesday, meaning the team will have to choose between starting 20-year-old Carter Hart in net for the second time in as many nights or making Mike McKenna - claimed off waivers only Friday - the seventh goalie to play for it this season. Neither choice is ideal, especially when facing a team that boasts offensive superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The good news for the Flyers is that they may be catching Washington at a good time as the Caps' top offensive playmakers have suddenly grown cold.
Ovechkin still leads the league in goals with 30, but he has scored only once in the last nine games. Both Backstrom and Kuznetsov saw their last goal come on Dec. 2 and Kuznetsov has only one even-strength goal this season. T.J. Oshie has scored twice in the past 12 games, but you have to go all the way back to Nov. 13 for his last even-strength goal.
What hasn't helped offensively is the team's struggles on the power play. Washington has only one power-play goal on its last 31 opportunities.
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