With a 9-2 record since a clunker against New Jersey nearly a month ago, the Flyers have been the NHL’s hottest team.
Their surge has propelled them into second place in the Metropolitan Division and set up a showdown Wednesday in Washington, as the first-place Capitals hold a three-point lead over the Flyers with 17 regular-season games left.
“The general theme with us lately is to stay hungry,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said after the Flyers’ 5-3 win Sunday over the Rangers, “… Keep pushing for more.”
After dropping a 5-0 decision to the visiting Devils on Feb. 6, the Flyers were (barely) out of a playoff spot. Now, they’re fighting to finish first or second in the Metro and trying to get home-ice advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs.
The Flyers have won a season-high six straight, during which they have outscored opponents, 27-13.
“We’re playing hard, trying to play the right way, and obviously our power play lately has been a big weapon for us. It’s gotten big goals at big, big moments,” said coach Alain Vigneault, whose team went 3-for-5 on the power play Sunday in Madison Square Garden.
During their winning streak, the power play, which has been much sharper with Claude Giroux back on the left side, has clicked at a staggering 46.7% rate (7-for-15). The power play is 10-for-23 over its last eight games and has climbed to 11th in the NHL, clicking at 21.6%.
“We’re starting to get in a groove; we have a lot of set plays, a lot of options,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’re using them right now, and we’re executing. It’s good to get our confidence back, and now we just have to build on that and keep going.”
The players had a day off Monday while the coaches went over video.
“Our players will obviously reenergize. We’ll have a good practice [Tuesday] and get ourselves to Washington and expect a real good performance,” Vigneault said.
The Flyers are 2-0-1 against the Capitals this season, including a 7-2 win in their last meeting, Feb. 8 in Washington — their first game after the loss to New Jersey. The Flyers scored three unanswered second-period goals against Caps goalie Braden Holtby and pulled away from a 1-1 tie.
Couturier had a pair of goals and Giroux had three points in the victory, one in which the Flyers got goals from all four lines. Three of their goals were scored from players on the third line (James van Riemsdyk) or fourth line (Michael Raffl, Nic Aube-Kubel). Aube-Kubel became the first Flyers rookie since Eric Lindros in 1993 to have a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight).
Goalie Brian Elliott won that game, but Carter Hart, who has been superb since returning from an abdominal injury, is expected to get the call Wednesday.
“Our last game there, we were good, we were sharp,” Vigneault said. “We’re going to need to be the same way. Obviously, [the Caps] will be fired up. It’s going to be a great hockey game.”
The Flyers have had success against Washington because they have virtually shut down its dangerous power play, holding it to one goal in 12 chances. They have also held superstar Alex Ovechkin without a goal in the three meetings, thanks in part to Couturier’s strong defensive play.
Ovechkin has 45 goals, tied with Toronto’s Auston Matthews for second in the NHL. Among the seven opponents that have faced the Caps at least three times this season, the Flyers are the only team to hold him goalless.