Spying on the Saboteur: Can the Flyers find a way past the Capitals?

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The Philadelphia Flyers desperately need to find their groove in 2020-2021 but face a top Eastern Division opponent to right their ship.

Following a victory by the skin of their teeth on Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Flyers need to be better. A shootout victory versus the Buffalo Sabres, minus Jack Eichel, leaves a lot to be desired. The Sabres are dead last in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division. Tonight, the Flyers host the Washington Capitals, who are two points out of the division lead.

Tonight, the Capitals are clear favorites. Philadelphia hasn’t played their best hockey, and Alain Vigneault sent that message to his locker room. Brian Elliott will start in place of Carter Hart, who is struggling. Philippe Myers will represent a healthy scratch, inconsistent in his play. During the most complex era of professional hockey, the Flyers are battling to find their groove.

Philadelphia owns a 1-1-0 record versus Washington. While the Flyers have proven they can defeat the Capitals, they haven’t been able to keep them from scoring. Washington averages 3.5 goals per game versus Philadelphia this season. Defensively, Vigneault needs to make the necessary adjustments to damage control the Capitals.

Washington Capitals – Forward Spotlight

Nicklas Backstrom quarterbacks the top-six forwards in Washington. Against the Flyers, Backstrom creates scoring opportunities with any line. If the fourth-line is making a late change, Backstrom has notched an assist. Did Alex Ovechkin rip a one-timer for a goal? Backstrom likely had his fingerprints on that too.

The only way Philadelphia could mitigate the impact Backstrom has is through Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick. Lately, both have excelled in their defensive game. Patrick has become more physical, especially during games against Buffalo and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vigneault needs his forwards to win the majority of physical puck battles. It’s the only way to slow down the deadly set of forwards the Capitals possess.

Washington Capitals – Defenseman Spotlight

John Carlson is almost always the top defenseman circled on the watchlist when the Flyers face Washington. He’ll appear on the first powerplay group alongside Backstrom. When Dmitry Orlov scored the game-winning goal on Sunday, Carlson secured the assist. During even-strength hockey, Carlson threaded a beautiful pass to Orlov, who was crashing the net. Even the Capitals defensemen have ridiculous open ice vision.

Part of the adjustments Vigneault needs to make with his defense incorporates personnel. Myers, who played poorly in the recent loss to Washington, is a healthy scratch. Vigneault won’t carry a defenseman on the wing tonight, either. Everyone is playing the right position. Sometimes, simplifying the game helps performance.

Washington Capitals – Goaltender Spotlight

Ilya Samsonov should start tonight for the Capitals. Two nights ago, Vitek Vanecek earned a victory in overtime against the New Jersey Devils. It is likely that Peter Laviolette gives Vanecek a rest and starts Samsonov, who performed well against Philadelphia on Sunday.

Samsonov joins both Boston Bruins goaltenders in the conversation of, “who can the Flyers not solve?” Through the better part of two periods on Sunday, Hart was spectacular as Philadelphia had an early lead. Both teams thrive on high-percentage shots against opposing goaltenders. Which defense will help their goaltender the most?

Flyers Prediction

Elliott has played well this season. He’ll start against Washington for the first time in 2020-2021. Once again, the Flyers are inconsistent with their defensive lineup and feature Andy Andreoff on the fourth-line. Outright, Philadelphia seems outmanned. Hammer the o6 betting line, but with a Capitals victory, 4-3.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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