Carlson, Beagle help Capitals beat Flyers in Game 1
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It took awhile, but the Capitals broke through against goalie Steve Mason and notched a 2–0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening game of their Eastern Conference matchup (box score | recap | highlights). John Carlson and Jay Beagle scored for Washington while Braden Holtby recorded 19 saves. Mason was strong for the Flyers, stopping 29 shots.
Here are three thoughts on the Caps' victory:
Coming into the game, the clear advantage in net went to the Caps. Holtby is the odds-on Vezina Trophy favorite. Mason had a decent season, with a 2.51 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. His career has been up and down, with flashes of brilliance with baffling displays of ineptitude though he has been much steadier since leaving Columbus and working with now former Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese. On Thursday night, Mason was magnificent. Washington pelted him with shots and the Caps' first goal, at 16:21 of the second period, was a fluke, a bouncing puck that went in off Flyers forward Chris Vandevelde. The second was a point-blank blast by Jay Beagle. In his last playoff series in 2014, Mason was stellar, with a 1.97 goals-against and .939 save percentage in a seven-game loss to the Rangers. He has the ability to thwart the Caps’ attack and keep things close, and that could lead to some frustrating nights for Alex Ovechkin and Company. Of course, it doesn’t help when the Flyers offense can’t find a way to crack Holtby. If Philly can’t score it's going to be a short series.
Philadelphia’s power play has been potent—ranked 11th in the league at an 18.9% clip. Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere produced 22 points on the man advantage; veteran center Claude Giroux had 27. In this game, the Caps gave the Flyers a huge gift: five power plays, including three in the first period. That Philly could not capitalize on any of them is a bad sign. The Capitals are clearly the better team—if there was ever a chance to sneak up on them while on the road, it was in that first period. The Flyers will replay that one often in their heads, and quite possibly with increasing regret.
Tip the scales
From the second period on, the Caps dominated, taking 12 more shots than the Flyers. That doesn’t even include the ones the Caps missed or had blocked. They controlled possession, with many more quality chances. If not for the strong play of Mason and good shot-blocking from the rest of the Flyers, this could’ve easily been a blowout. Going forward, it will be interesting to see two things. First, how long can Mason keep the Capitals more or less at bay? Second, can the Flyers’ offense pick up enough to prevent Washington from controlling the play? If we see more disappearing acts from Giroux and Jakub Voracek, this series could be over in four. Holtby is too good of a goalie to not be challenged—he faced just seven shots in the final two stanzas.