Oates on erasing deficit: 'Hockey can be weird at times'
News and notes as the Capitals [18-12-3, 39 points] complete a home-and-home series against the Philadelphia Flyers [14-15-4, 32 points] tonight at the Wells Fargo Center [7:30 p.m., CSN]:
Goalie matchup: Braden Holtby [13-9-1, 2.82, .920] returns to the nets tonight, with Philipp Grubauer serving as his backup. Michal Neuvirth will be a healthy scratch. The Flyers will turn to Steve Mason [11-9-4, 2.35, .924] with Ray Emery serving as backup.
Welcome back, Ovi: Alex Ovechkin sat out the Caps’ last visit to Philly on Nov. 1 with a shoulder injury. He says he likes playing in South Philadelphia: “The fans always love the game and it’s nice to play with that attention, especially when the crowd is hard on us and on them.” Is it the toughest place to play? “Everywhere I go they boo me,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a good sign. It tells me they pay attention to me.”
Who’s next for Stevie O?: In two games against the Flyers Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy has dropped the gloves against Vinny Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds. At 6-foot, 190 pounds, Oleksy gave a considerable reach to Simmonds, who stands 6-foot-2, 183 pounds. “Obviously, he’s bigger than a lot of guys I’ve fought,” Oleksy said. “He’s got a huge, huge reach. He’s a strong guy and he throws both hands. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get loose. That’ a guy you can’t let string you out because he can get you in trouble. Once he gets you out there, there’s no way to rein it back in, so I wanted to make sure I held on tight.”
Tighter under Chief: Several Capitals said the Flyers play a tighter checking game under head coach Craig Berube than they did under Peter Laviolette. “They’re taking a lot less chances,” Caps left wing Eric Fehr said. “They’re a much different team. A little more physical and smarter, sticking together as a team.”
Trending: The Caps are 4-0-1 in their last five games; the Flyers are 1-2-2. The Caps are 7-4-0 against teams in the Metropolitan Division; the Flyers are 5-4-2.
Special: The Caps are now second in the NHL on the power play [24.4 percent] and 12th in penalty kill [83.5 percent]; the Flyers are 17th on the man-advantage [17.1 percent] and 13th on the kill [83.3 percent].
Nick of time: Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has recorded the game-winning goal in each of the Capitals’ victories over the Flyers this season. He has two goals and nine assists in his last nine games and has recorded at least a point in 20 of his 23 career games against Philly.
Welcome, Wellman: Casey Wellman will play his first game with the Caps in place of fourth-line center Michal Latta. Center Mikhail Grabovski will also sit out with flu-like symptoms. Wellman, 26, has appeared in 23 games for the Bears this season and has seven goals and six assists with four penalty minutes. A native of Brentwood, California, Wellman has appeared in 41 career NHL games with Minnesota. He was acquired from Florida in exchange for Zach Hamill on Jan. 31, 2013.
Projected starting lineups for both teams:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr-Marty Erat-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti-Casey Wellman-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Mike Green
John Erskine-Steve Oleksy
Braden Holtby [starter] - Philipp Grubauer
Michael Raffl-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Scott Hartnell-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Steve Downie
Zac Rinaldo-Adam Hall-Jay Rosehill
Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn
Mark Streit-Nick Grossman
Andrej Meszaros-Luke Schenn
Steve Mason [starter] – Ray Emery