Flyers 7, Capitals 4
Scott Laughton and Alex Ovechkin went head-to-head scoring big goals on Sunday. Ultimately, the underdog Laughton prevailed, bringing the Flyers back into the win column. (Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Touchdowns scored so far today: Buccaneers – 0, Chiefs – 0, Flyers – 1. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN the most important sports game of the day, 7-4, over the Washington Capitals. You heard it here first, folks: Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have nothing on Scott Laughton. Well, at least when it comes to hockey.

One of the biggest reasons to remain calm during the Flyers underwhelming start (in terms of how they played, not record) was their injury situation. Sean Couturier left the team’s second game with an injury after playing just 45 seconds. At least one top four defenseman has been unavailable for most games. And of course, the Flyers didn’t have Carter Hart or Phil Myers available for Friday’s heartbreaking loss.

For the most part, things are getting better. Hart, Couturier, and Myers all returned to the lineup today. The only bad news was a surprise late Travis Sanheim scratch for undisclosed reasons. He’s officially listed as day-to-day, so hopefully he’ll be back soon.

Besides, Washington’s plight has arguably been much worse than Philly’s. The Capitals entire second line, starting goalie, and several depth players are either injured or on the COVID list. Despite that, they went their first nine games without losing in regulation, before losing two straight heading into this matinee.

The Flyers got off to a pretty good start, trading chances with the Capitals for the first ten minutes. This seemed like the type of game the Flyers would win by attrition considering Washington’s depleted depth. Then a too many men penalty opened the floodgates. The second Alex Ovechkin received a cross-ice feed from Tom Wilson off the rush, I instantly thought of this pre-game Tweet:

Yeah, there goes any doubt the Great 8 was gonna miss. Career goal number 710 for the best to ever fire the puck gives the Capitals an early lead.

Unbelievably, that wasn’t even close to Ovechkin’s best moment of the period. After leaving the ice gingerly following a big hit, Ovechkin returned better than ever. Ovi straight up schooled Phil Myers off the rush, going through the legs around the young blue-liner. From there, it was an easy stickhandle and centering pass that (sigh) actually good hockey player Tom Wilson slammed in.

This felt like it might be one of those games where the Flyers never find their stride and get rolled over. But a huge goal by Scott Laughton, burying a rebound off the post after Erik Gustafsson jumped up in the rush, gave the Flyers life late in the first. Sergeant Scott kept the pressure on early in the second, too. A great defensive play by JVR at the Flyers line led a chance the other way. Washington was unable to settle down the puck in front of their net, and Laughton made something out of nothing, tying the game from a sharp angle.

Laughton’s second goal was the beginning of a wild second period. Ovi buried his second of the game moments later, scoring from so far out that Carter Hart would probably like that one back. The Flyers would get one back, courtesy of their own great number eight. I’ve written before that Robert Hagg has an underrated shot (no, seriously, I’ve written that before), and he showed the cannon off on a Flyers odd-man rush less than three minutes later. NAK set the table perfectly, and a Bobby Blast (TM) knotted the game once again.

Washington outright dominated the second period, outshooting Philly 15-6 and generating over 75% of 5-on-5 expected goals. Yet the Flyers nearly came out of the period ahead. A hat-trick bid from Ovechkin missed the net by so much, it acted as a perfect stretch pass for JVR. It was basically the exact same play Robert Hagg made that burned the Flyers last Saturday (told you Hagg and Ovi are basically the same). The James van Revenge-tour continued with a perfectly placed wrist shot high glove, chasing Vitek Vanecek from the game and giving the Flyers their first lead.

Unfortunately, astute readers may have noticed the key word in that last paragraph: “nearly.” Ovechkin was clearly too shaken from that last miss to fire another shot, so instead he recorded another jaw-dropping assist. This time, it was a shot-pass to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom. The Swede turned Hart inside out, slipping home the tying goal with just under a minute to go in the second.

For the sixth time in their last seven games, the Flyers entered the third period even. In other words, win a period, win a hockey game. Philadelphia did go 4-1-1 in the first six, but none of their wins came in regulation. When you’re always playing teams you’re competing with for playoff spots & seeding, preventing them from getting a point is crucial.

The Flyers certainly looked like they understood that message today. Philadelphia outshot the Capitals 9-7 and posted a strong 65.93% expected goals% at 5-on-5. It didn’t take long for a good process to be rewarded, either. Alain Vigneault eased Couturier back into the lineup, starting him on the fourth line. But Coots started the third period with Jake Voracek on his right, and the move paid dividends. After several point shots didn’t connect, Couturier buried a rebound off James Trevor van Riemsdyk, restoring Philly’s lead 31 ticks in.

The third period was easily the most uneventful of the game; the teams combined for 2.41 expected goals in the 1st and 1.96 in the 2nd, but just 1.14 in the third. The Flyers were able to find an insurance marker thanks to a heady play by Carter Hart, keeping the puck in play in the face of a tempered Washington forecheck. The Flyers turned their goalie’s confidence into a 2-on-1. Scott Laughton tried to hit Joel Farabee, who couldn’t get a shot away (bad). But the puck bounced off Craig Anderson’s pad and right back to Laughts, who finished off his first NHL hat-trick to put the game out of reach.

This entire game was basically just a revenge tour for the Flyers. Laughton, a former first round pick who looked to be on the verge of busting four years ago, scores three goals. van Riemsdyk, who was healthy scratched multiple times in the 2020 playoffs, stayed red hot. Couturier, playing in just his second full game of the season, scored the GWG and added an empty-netter. And despite allowing four goals, Carter Hart’s afternoon was full of brilliant stops. He was much better than the numbers indicate.

This game was far from a masterpiece for the Flyers. But if nothing else, Couturier’s return (and two-goal third) show stability could be on the way. The Flyers first five to ten games or so once Sanheim returns, assuming everyone else stays healthy (*profusely knocks on wood*), will be very interesting. They should tell us how much this roster has in them, and how much help Chuck Fletcher needs to provide.

But for now, a win’s a win a win. It’s hard to complain about scoring seven goals and a regulation victory, so I won’t bother trying. Enjoy the Super Bowl, everybody!

Before the big game begins, check out some of the major headlines from across the NHL.

Lindies

For whatever reason, the Flyers had the Capitals number last year. Philadelphia went 4-0-1 against Washington in 2019-20 (including the round robin), outscoring them 19-9. Hopefully today’s win is the start of an encore.

Ok, I take it back: there’s one thing that needs to be criticized today: the power-play. For some reason, Michel Therrien put Shayne Gostisbehere AND Ivan Provorov on the top unit, dropping the (tied for) league’s leading power-play goal scorer JVR in the process. The numbers show that two defensemen/three forwards aren’t as effective as one/four on the man advantage, but even they probably didn’t anticipate a PP as bad as Philly’s was today. I know I said I wanted Ghost to get a look on PP1, but not at this cost.

Maybe it’s a stretch to call Joel Farabee the streakiest player in the league, but if so, it’s not by much. Farabee has scored a point in just five of the Flyers thirteen games, but he’s put up three-plus points three times. If he has the same career as the last Flyer to do so (excluding the terrible trade to another team part), that’d be nice.

The Flyers are lapping the league in hat-tricks; no other team has more than one, but Philly already has three (Konecny, Farabee, Laughton).

Congrats to Sean Couturier on achieving quite the milestone this afternoon.

https://twitter.com/avappleyard/status/1358462834145902594

Same for James van Riemsdyk, who scored his 100th goal as a Flyer today! He’s tied for sixth in the NHL with seven goals, and his 18 points rank fourth.

Today was the fourteenth time brothers James and Trevor van Riemsdyk have gone head-to-head in the NHL. JVR has now come out of top on eight occasions, including each of their last three matchups.

Check out a crazy trip through time, featuring two of the top players in the Metropolitan/East division over the last decade and a half.

Super Bowl Sunday has not been kind to the Flyers… well, ever. Until today, of course. The win boosts Philadelphia to 4-10-4-2 all-time on Super Bowl Sunday. They’re now 1-4-2 against the Caps on this occasion.

Of course, it’s impossible to write an article about any sport on Super Bowl Sunday and not make a prediction. The Bucs front four is going to need to dominate KC’s banged up offensive line to have a chance. I think they’ll do enough to keep it close, but this game feels like a passing of the torch to me. Bucs 27, Chiefs 34.

3 Stars

3rd: Sean Couturier – 2 Goals (1, 2), Assist (2)

2nd: Alex Ovechkin – 2 Goals (4, 5), 2 Assists (6, 7)

1st: Scott Laughton – 3 Goals (2, 3, 4)

Next

2/9, 6 PM: PHI @ WSH

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