ON PAPER, Sean Couturier and the Flyers failed.
Couturier had one assignment: to prevent the NHL's most lethal Russian from scoring as best as humanly possible.
Since Alex Ovechkin - who has more career game-tying goals (seven) in the final minute of regulation than anyone - scored with 47.9 seconds left to tie the game, the Flyers must have had a breakdown, right?
They did. But that's not where the breakdown came in. Really, the game never should have gotten to that vomit-inducing finish - and would never have been in question if the Flyers didn't surrender two other goals in the previous 8 minutes.
It happened. And the goal sirens rang inside Verizon Center, with all that red rocking, and Ovechkin slamming himself against the boards in pure ecstasy.
The score sheet said Couturier was on the ice. If you judged his performance by that flimsy piece of paper - and didn't see a second of the highlights - you would say Couturier performed more like Tony Romo.
If you watched, you'd recognize that goal was far from Couturier's fault.
Ovechkin was on the ice for 1,508 seconds on Sunday afternoon. Couturier was on the ice for about 1,488 of those same seconds. It was only the third time under Capitals coach Adam Oates that Ovechkin exceeded 25 minutes in ice time - and Couturier's 25:43 was nearly 3 minutes north of his previous career high.
On Sunday, Oates beat Craig Berube's line-matching game the only way he could: by sending Ovechkin on the ice as the extra attacker for pulled goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
"I'll tell Oatesy to keep him on the bench next time," Berube deadpanned yesterday. "He's not allowed to put him out there."
Matt Read was in position to block the shot. Ovechkin flubbed, but called it a "perfect miss." It fooled Steve Mason. The Flyers didn't have a prayer in the shootout.
Couturier's only regret from Sunday was that he wished his line would have generated more offense, with Ovechkin so clearly focused on playing at only one end of the ice.
"I think he is only looking for offense," Couturier said. "That's when we should take advantage of it, getting pucks deep when playing in his end. He's probably not the best defensive player. We should have taken advantage more of that."
Sometimes, against Ovechkin, a good offense is the best defense. Couturier already ended up with one goal - the one that made it 3-1 in the third period, the insurance tally that should have been the game-winner of last resort. His linemate, Steve Downie, nearly scored in the first period on a shot that trickled through Grubauer and dribbled wide.
"For the most part of the game, I thought we did a really good job, except for the last part of the game, when they had good chances and quality chances on the net," Couturier said of his day against Ovechkin. "We didn't see him coming. I think 'Reader tried to block the shot. We were in the shooting lane. Nothing you can do about that."
Yesterday, the age-old debate between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby raged on in the Flyers' locker room. Both players, believe it or not, have ardent defenders in their division rivals' locker room.
Ovechkin, 28, is on pace for 72 goals this season. Crosby, 26, is on pace for 111 points. Couturier has shadowed both men intently in the last month.
"They are different players," Couturier said. "Crosby is solid, one of the best two-way players. He creates his offense from being in his own end. That might be where he is most dangerous, on the breakout, carrying the puck out.
"[Ovechkin] is more physical. He can hit. He can shoot the puck. He is probably the most dangerous guy when he has the puck in our end. He's got a dangerous shot from anywhere. It's different. They are different. You've got to adapt."
Couturier has adapted to both playing styles just fine. He now has as many goals this season (six) as Jake Voracek, who led the team in goals last season. His coach will have him back on the same assignment against Ovechkin tonight, just like that playoff series in 2012 against the Penguins when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held to one point in the final two games.
"[Ovechkin] had an assist on the power-play goal [in the first period], but he didn't have nothing going up to that last goal," Berube said approvingly. "You tell me."
Flyers chairman Ed Snider was not happy with his team's third-period meltdown in Washington on Sunday. Yesterday, Snider was asked whether his team needed perhaps another shakeup - via trade - to get on the right track.
"I think we have to take a long, hard look at where we are and where we're going," Snider said. "We always do that. We're going to continue to do that. Whatever we can do to get the team over the hump, we're going to do.
"Obviously, we're not happy with giving up third-period leads. This is something I think we can correct, something we're going to work to do - however we have to do it."
The Flyers have blown five third-period leads this season - three in the last month (Nov. 15, Dec. 9, Dec. 15) - which would suggest a confidence hurdle the Flyers have yet to get over.
"I thought our game is fine," Berube said. "We've got to close the deal. That's it. You've got to win those games, and our team is still obviously learning that."
7: Consecutive games in which Michael Raffl was scratched (Nov. 12-25) earlier this season. Raffl has seven points in his last six games — even more impressive, since he didn't register a point in two of those games.
3: Players who skated in their 400th career NHL game on Sunday: Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Washington's Troy Brouwer.
4: Straight games in which Voracek has scored (three goals, two assists) heading into tonight's game. Claude Giroux also has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last three games.
5: Blown leads for the Flyers this season after starting the third period ahead. According to HockeyBuzz.com, the NHL's winning percentage in that situation is .862 over the last 5 years.
11: Shootouts for the Capitals in 33 games this season (8-3 record), a ridiculous number.
Vinny Lecavalier was at the Flyers' annual company holiday skate yesterday at the Wells Fargo Center, but is still a bit of time away from returning to practice with the team. Lecavalier, 33, is out with a nondisplaced fracture in his lower back.
"There's nothing I can do, it's just time," Lecavalier said. "The spasms are definitely not like they were the first week. It's more localized; the spasms is the spine protecting the fracture."
Lecavalier skated by himself on Sunday, but was limited. The Flyers are 2-6-1 without him this season.
"I couldn't do any full strides or any bursts of speed or anything like that," Lecavalier said. "It was just nice to get out there and get the feel of the puck. We're used to playing every day and suddenly, then to stop for a few weeks, you want to get that feel."
Jose Toledo didn't watch a lot of hockey growing up in Wissinoming and was not a big Flyers fan — but is one now. Toledo, 17, has a cancerous tumor on his brain stem. He was surprised yesterday by Flyers forwards Zac Rinaldo and Lecavalier, who posed for photos and told his family they will help renovate his Northeast Philly home by March, in conjunction with local charity Michael's Way.
On Twitter: @DNFlyers