Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals

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For the first time this season, the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals will square off for a chance at second place in the division.

This week has been one to forget for the Philadelphia Flyers. On Wednesday, a two-goal lead was given up in the third period before an overtime loss. In less than thirty seconds, the Flyers gave up a lead once again on Friday. In three of four games, Philadelphia came close to defeating the Boston Bruins. Now, they trail the Bruins by two points in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division.

At noon, the Flyers visit the Washington Capitals for the first time this season. A common opponent, the Capitals were conquered in regulation for the first time by Boston. If Philadelphia can become an elite NHL team in 2020-2021, they’ll have to defeat teams like the Bruins and Washington. A win today could catapult the Flyers, boosting their confidence within their division.

Puck drop for this pivotal matchup is slated for noon.

Washington Capitals – Forward Spotlight

Nicklas Backstrom leads the team in scoring. His talent is not exclusive to the top-line. A playmaker, Backstrom has elevated the fourth-line in transition. Jakub Vrana, who will be out of the lineup due to COVID protocol, is a skater who has benefited from Backstrom. Look for the Capitals to use line changes to create odd-man rush scoring chances.

Flyers need to play defense first

Backstrom will be on the first powerplay unit. Philadelphia will have to dominate defensively to limit the damage from Washington. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere must correct their play as of late. The Capitals will scheme to take advantage of turnovers in the neutral and defensive zone.

Washington Capitals – Defenseman Spotlight

John Carlson is an elite defenseman in the NHL. Last season, Carlson finished twelfth overall in scoring. Trailing Jack Eichel and Jonathan Huberdeau by three points, Carlson was the only defenseman to break the top-twenty in league scoring. His prowess makes him the best defenseman to play on the right side. Additionally, he is on the first powerplay unit.

Flyers need to stay disciplined

Carlson finished fourth in powerplay assists a year ago. Recently, Philadelphia has not been the most competent on the penalty-kill. A lot of the game plan remains the same for the Flyers as it did against Boston. Keeping out of the penalty box and playing disciplined hockey is a requirement to defeating the Capitals.

Washington Capitals – Goaltender Spotlight

Ilya Samsonov has yet to clear COVID protocol, which leaves Vitek Vanecek and Craig Anderson. It has been a strange year for goaltending in Washington. Originally, Henrik Lundqvist signed with the Capitals. Lundqvist will miss the season, recovering from heart surgery. The goaltender position is one that won’t survive without consistency.

Vanecek has been brilliant, considering the circumstances. In his rookie season, Vanecek owns a 5-2-2 record. His save percentage is 91.1%, including a goal against average of 2.95. Twice this season, Vanecek allowed less than three goals. Philadelphia should be able to light the lamp often at the Capital One Arena.

Flyers Phlight Deck

Could Couturier Return?

Sean Couturier has an outside chance of returning to the ice today versus Washington. He led post-practice stretches after participating yesterday. Alain Vigneault has communicated with Jim McCrossin regarding the health status of Couturier and Philippe Myers. Earlier in the week, Couturier was skating in drills with Mark Friedman.

Hart Will Start for the Flyers

Carter Hart will not miss a start after suffering back spasms on Friday. He was marked as day-to-day on the injury report but named the starting goaltender by Vigneault. His early exit from practice was a precautionary measure. Alex Lyon didn’t move from the taxi squad, indicating that there wasn’t a critical injury to Hart. After shaking off a minor quibble, everything is business as usual for Hart.

Myers Considered Day-To-Day for the Flyers

As noted earlier, Vigneault has communicated with McCrossin regarding Myers. Myers is day-to-day, but Vigneault has not ruled out his return. He skated in the morning session on Friday and returned to the ice during warm-ups yesterday. There is a high probability the Flyers return to full health.

Prediction

Philadelphia will reverse their recent misfortune, earning a victory on the road. If Couturier returns, his forechecking ability will help the Flyers win battles in the neutral zone. As long as Philadelphia doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot by committing many penalties, they’ll give themselves a chance. A lot of scoring could take place between the two high octane offenses. Flyers win, 4-3.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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