As much as the National Hockey League would like divisional rivalries to become more the norm, the Washington Capitals seem to be an anomaly that Gary Betteman probably didn't consider. Even though the Caps have been sent to the Southeast Division in the '98-'99 season, old habits die hard. It's still a Patrick/Atlantic Division rivalry that has now the whole league seemingly on the edge of their seats to see.
Even though the Flyers took the first game decidedly 7-1, that hasn't seemed to cool the jets of head coach Bruce Boudreau.
"They have 50 points and we have 55. ...a) we don't like them and b) the importance is continually getting ahead of them in points," Boudreau told reporters Monday morning at practice in the Kettler Iceplex. "It's either going to be a three point lead or a seven point lead. We want to be the first place team. If we want that to happen, we have to go through the Flyers."
For the Flyers, this is more about ending a road trip healthy. It's a different attitude for the Philly side, who are coming off a long holiday road trip that saw them finish their last five games 2-2-1. And while venom is spewing from D.C., Paul Holmgren paid a compliment when asked what he thought about the All-Star selections: "The fans must not have been watching Ovechkin."
While the rivalry seems more low key from the Philly camp, Alex Ovechkin is getting his house pelted with eggs for a 7-1 defeat to the Flyers, the head coach is looking for just desserts over last game's loss and urinals will be filled with Flyers' faces at the phone booth.
Even in the rookie game, weeks before the season was to start, Caps fans were ravenous for a Capitals win at Kettler over the Flyers' rookie team. It was a charged atmosphere that the Caps' camp attendees fed off of and beat their guests 7 to nothing. The Caps fans took some consolation in that win. It was not a suitable vengeance win over the Flyers who had ended an amazing Caps' season-ending run. While it doesn't avenge the game seven's overtime sting back in April, it did feel good to see that score.
The rivalry isn't one sided, maybe just more intense on one side more than the other. It is clear that the Flyers don't care for the any Capitals, and the Capitals don't care for any Flyers. Even when the Flyers took Steve Eminger during the summer, they couldn't get rid of him fast enough to Tampa Bay. Just because he still had that Capitals' smell to him (in all fairness, I am almost certain that is not the case, but it is funny to surmise it).
Simply put, the Flyers are now an elite Eastern Conference team. For the Capitals to climb atop the conference, Boudreau hit the nail on the head: they have to go through Philadelphia to get there. And a rivalry is only good if both teams are at or near their peak.