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Laughton’s hat trick, Couturier’s return push Flyers past Capitals

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A win is a win.

Philadelphia Flyers v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Thanks to a Scott Laughton hat trick and two goals from Sean Couturier in his return to the lineup the Philadelphia Flyers grabbed a 7-4 win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon. Laughton’s first career hat trick and Couturier’s first two goals of 2021 were part of a seven-goal performance that featured a tally from James van Riemsdyk to extend his point streak to seven games and a blast from Robert Hagg to end his 32-game goal drought. The result extends the Orange and Black’s win streak over Washington to five.

With the score tied 4-4 early in the third period, Justin Braun decided to test Craig Anderson, who had just started his first period of NHL action since March of 2020, with a shot from the point. Anderson kicked out a rebound into the slot that Michael Raffl managed to slow down for Couturier to rocket into the back of the net just 31 ticks into the period for the game-winner. Laughton deposited his second of the tilt off a rebound from a Joel Farabee shot off the rush to ice the game and Couturier notched his second of the period with a long-distance empty-netter to finalize the score.

The story of the day was that both Couturier and Phil Myers returned to the lineup today. Head coach Alain Vigneault eased Couturier back into his heavy workload, as he started the game on the fourth line and seemingly got more shifts in the final frame. He had a helper and a hit to go along with his two goals in 15:40 of work. Myers’ return wasn’t as graceful, as he was embarrassed by Ovechkin (who made up for his zero points and 12 shots on goal in five games against the Flyers in 2019-20 with two goals on four shots and two assists for a four-point game) on Tom Wilson’s goal as the rearguard had two shots on goal, blocked a pair of Washington’s, and registered one hit in 21:17 of ice time.

Hart managed to get a piece of 32 of the 36 shots the Capitals fired his way, but those numbers may be doing a disservice to his day. The return of both Couturier and Myers was supposed to improve the club’s ability to minimize 5-on-5 chances against, but the Caps were doubling the Flyers in shots for the majority of the game and still hung Hart out to dry on a few of the hosts’ tallies.

Ovechkin reminded the Flyers it wasn’t the 2019-20 campaign anymore with a pair of elite plays in the first period. The Capitals’ captain gained a lead for the home team on a power play in the first period, as Wilson hit him with a cross-ice pass as he glided into The Ovechkin Spot to blast one past Hart’s glove. The Russian forward helped to double the lead by taking Myers for a walk with a nice between-the-legs deke before he threw the puck in front to Wilson, who was somehow left unguarded despite the trio of Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov, and Nolan Patrick being in the general vicinity.

That’s when Laughton single-handedly brought the Flyers back, as he put himself in the right spot to earn a fortuitous bounce on two different sequences in the middle of the contest. A give-and-go between Erik Gustafsson and Joel Farabee resulted in the blue liner’s shot clanking off the woodwork and settling in the blue paint for Laughton to slam into an empty cage with Vitek Vanecek out of the crease following Gustafsson’s attempt. He then leveled the score early in the second period, as a subtle pass from Farabee at the side of the net allowed Vanecek’s momentum to pull him away from Laughton.

Ovechkin continued to make up for his lack of point production against the Flyers last season when he restored the Capitals’ lead on a shot high in the offensive zone that somehow found its way past a sprawled out Hagg and a redirection attempt from Wilson before it tucked inside the near post. Luckily for the Flyers, their own number eight was destined to light the lamp today as well, as Nicolas Aube-Kubel served up a great pass for Hagg to launch a laser past Vanecek to make it a 3-3 contest halfway through regulation.

JVR, who extended his point streak to seven games with the secondary assist on Laughton’s second goal of the game, handed Philly the lead late in the middle frame with a snipe off the rush that beat Vanecek’s shoulder to end the goalie’s day at the office. Unfortunately, after JVR potted his seventh goal of the year and fourth during his point streak, the Flyers’ defense forgot about Nicklas Backstrom, who was wide open in front to receive a pass from Ovechkin before he slid the disc under Hart for a 4-4 affair with under a minute left in the second.

Two big questions

1. How different does this team look with Couturier back?

Couturier himself had a huge impact on the team, but his presence didn’t seem to drastically alter the team’s process overall. He beat Anderson early in the third for the game-winning goal and also drew a double minor out of Zdeno Chara, but the team was still massively outshot, the power play was a disaster, and there were still chunks of play where we wondered what certain Flyers were doing in terms of defensive responsibility. As he starts to get more and more ice time the team should start to improve.

2. Can the Flyers start this one a bit better? Or maybe finish it? (We’re not picky.)

Technically yes! Sure they handed Washington a 2-0 lead, but Ovechkin didn’t break the ice for 11:11 and it wasn’t a result of the Flyers sleepwalking through another start. As for the end of the game it seems like a positive to be scoring goals to pad a victory with a lead in the third period rather than painfully choking away crucial points in a shortened season. High fives all around!

The Flyers close out their back-to-back with the Capitals at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday.