PHILADELPHIA — The outcome was decided early, before the first period was over, in fact. That the visitors were outmanned and outgunned was obvious to everyone — except the visitors.
Washington scored first last night but Philadelphia scored almost at will after that and romped to an 8-1 victory, running its home record against the Capitals to 0-14-1 since January of 1998.
“We were playing against bigger, stronger players,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “We’re young men, they’re big men. It wasn’t a lack of effort on our part or a lack of execution, it’s just that we couldn’t get the puck away from bigger, stronger Flyers.”
The Caps were playing shorthanded — the team dressed seven defensemen instead of the usual six because there were not enough forwards to fill out four lines. Three forwards who normally would have played were at home with injuries.
One of the defensemen who was pressed into service as a forward, Nolan Yonkman, played one shift in the first period and did not return, leaving the Caps’ short bench even shorter.
Yonkman had been recalled earlier yesterday from a conditioning stint in Hershey. A team spokesman said the player was day-to-day with a hip pointer, not nearly as painful as the two major knee injuries Yonkman already has suffered.
Nonetheless, the Caps did not mail the game in. Despite a huge deficit in experience against a team many believe will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, plus the obvious manpower shortage, Washington attempted to make a game of it. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it got downright ugly.
For instance, Washington trailed just 3-1 coming out of the first period but less than 90 seconds into the second period Simon Gagne attempted to center the puck with a pass from behind the goal line. The puck glanced off Caps center Jeff Halpern, who was skating past the front of the net, and it shot past goalie Brent Johnson before he knew it.
It was that kind of night and it got no better as time went on. For every mistake the Caps made, Philadelphia made the visitors pay. Philadelphia overcame an early 7-1 shooting deficit to pull even after one period and take a commanding lead in the second both in shots and goals.
The Flyers knew precisely what to expect from Washington, that injuries and inexperience limited it to a one-line team and one player on that one line, Alex Ovechkin, had been involved in more than half of his team’s offensive output.
Correctly, Philadelphia figured if Ovechkin could be neutralized, the chances of Washington creating any significant offense would be greatly reduced. The assumption was 100 percent correct.
Ovechkin was hounded and double-teamed, penned up in corners, reduced to a secondary role. With other Caps far less of an offensive threat, the Flyers elected to let them shoot when they wanted as long as the major force was bottled up.
Washington’s early score came 3:40 into the game when Chris Clark spun around at the inside edge of the left circle and fired the puck past Robert Esche’s left elbow, with Brian Sutherby and Brooks Laich assisting.
For the Flyers, Jonathan Sim had two goals to go along with the two hat tricks he had in the exhibition season against Washington. Gagne also had two for the winners.
“We do the same thing every day,” Hanlon said. “We challenge them to play within the system and keep on focusing on the process and all the things that you imagine you do with a young team that’s in the development stage. The other thing we do is learn from this game, we look at the size of the players and how they competed and we usually use positives from other teams’ success.”
Notes — The medical scratches included Stephen Peat, broken hand. Dainius Zubrus and Matt Bradley, groins; Petr Sykora, back; Ivan Majesky, knee. The healthy scratch was defenseman Mathieu Biron. … Yonkman and left wing Tomas Fleischmann were recalled earlier in the day from Hershey. For Fleischmann, it was his NHL debut; he has just 63 games of American Hockey League experience.