Photo: Rob Carr
After Monday night’s anarchic attempt at a hockey game, the Washington Capitals held a 3-0 series lead. In 180 minutes of hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers took 96 PIMs. Washington’s power play was eight for 17. The Caps, it seemed, were in for a long layover before facing the winner of the Rangers-Penguins series.
“Everything they’ve gotten to a point we’ve given them,” Wayne Simmonds said in the minutes after Game Three ended. “We’ve got to stay out of the box.”
The Flyers have done that the last two games, reducing Washington to five power plays in Games Four and Five. Without that boost, the Caps fell when the series shifted back to Verizon Center Friday night. They outshot the Flyers 44-11 — shot attempts were 82-27 — but lost the special teams battle. Philadelphia had six power plays while Washington’s deadly man-advantage unit was limited to three.
“We were in the box a lot,” Tom Wilson, who did not receive any infractions, said. “Yeah, we had a lot of shots, but we have to do a better job of getting to the interior and staying out of the box. If we play 60 minutes five-on-five, I don’t think you see that team standing up by the end of it.”
Caps starting goaltender Braden Holtby left practice early on Tuesday after colliding with a teammate, setting off widespread internet panic. Barry Trotz later said Holtby, who had been seen favoring his left leg, was fine.
We got further confirmation of this fact from CSN Mid-Atlantic when they published video of Holtby. Holtby had no noticeable limp when walking away from the catering table. He looked perfectly fine.
But discussion of Holtby’s possible injury missed the real point: what was Holtby eating?
Braden Holtby has saved 91 of 93 shots this series, good for a .978 save percentage, which isn’t bad when you think about it.
Cut to Tuesday’s practice at Wells Fargo Center. Holtby reportedly left about ten minutes in after colliding with a teammate. Holtby was seen favoring his left leg.
Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their first game at Wells Fargo Center since their owner and founder Ed Snider died last week at the age of 83. Snider was not a moneyman who remained distant from the team he owned. He knew his players personally, he was outspoken, and he was a legend in Philadelphia sports.
Before Game Three, Snider will be honored with a tribute video while fans will be lit up with orange wristbands. His initials are painted behind both nets. Snider was a man who touched many Flyers players and fans deeply, including some who now play for the Washington Capitals. Home ice advantage can be overstated. The opening minutes of Game Three, however, promise to emotional and deafening.
“The last week was a little tough,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Monday’s morning skate. “I think it was tough on a lot of people, and that includes the organization, everybody that was ever involved with the Flyers. I think ex-players that have a relationship with Mr. Snider, I think it’s going to be pretty emotional.”
But, Giroux added, “We’re here to win a hockey game.”
So are the Capitals. Washington is looking to go up 3-0 in a best of seven playoffs series for the first time in team history.
Photo: Rob Carr
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
Photo: Rob Carr
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is stopping pucks this postseason at a rate of 98.4 percent. On the other side of the ice, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason is saving just 88.9 percent of shots on net. In Game Two of the first round on Saturday, Holtby turned aside all but one of Philly’s 42 shots. Despite the Capitals getting heavily outplayed at even-strength, they won 4-1.
Photo: Rob Carr
Steve Mason knew the questions were coming. He did not hide from them. For him, the only way out of one of the most embarrassing moments of his life was through it.
“I messed up,” Mason told reporters after a 4-1 loss in Game Two of the first round against the Washington Capitals.
Less than two and a half minutes into the second period, Mason allowed a rolling ground ball to pass through his legs. Mason had made an impressive save a minute earlier, possibly tweaking a muscle, but he denied that played any part in what happened next: a puck deflected by Jason Chimera at the redline that slid into the back of the net with Mason frozen in place.
“It’s my fault and I realize that,” Mason said.
Photo: Patrick Smith
This season, the Washington Capitals blocked just under 1,000 shots in 82 regular-season games. That averages out to about a dozen a game. In Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Caps got in the way of 23 shots. The usual suspects of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner did much of the work. But so did skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“Not even pain,” Kuznetsov said when a reporter asked him about a key shot he absorbed. ”I fake it.”
Photo: Al Bello
The Caps don’t have as large of an edge in goaltending in this series as people might think. This isn’t a knock on Braden Holtby but more so an acknowledgement that Steve Mason is a better goalie than he’s been given credit for.
Mason burst onto the scene in 2008-09, winning the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie. But then he floundered for a few seasons and was written off as a legitimate number one goalie in the NHL. But, since arriving in Philadelphia in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Mason has been every bit a legitimate number one goalie.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Mason has appeared in 171 games. According to War on Ice, 53 goalies have played 2,500-plus minutes at 5-on-5 during that same stretch. Here’s a list of the goalies with a better save percentage at 5-on-5 than Mason during that time: Carey Price.
That’s it. Masons’s 93.1 5-on-5 save percentage since 2013 ranks second among all qualifying NHL goalies. So yes, the dude is a very good goalie and is capable of stealing games and maybe even a series.
Mason has played only nine playoff games in his career, and his numbers are deflated by a disastrous outing as a rookie. In five playoff games with the Flyers, he’s posted a 93.9 save percentage. Mason has never stolen a series, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of going toe-to-toe with Holtby, whose numbers are as good as any goalie in the history of the NHL playoffs.
Let’s take a look at how each guy did this season.
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