WASHINGTON — From playing their first game against the expansion Seattle Kraken to embarking upon their first Western Canada road trip since 2019, the Flyers have experienced plenty of milestone moments to start the 2021-22 regular season.
Saturday night, however, brings a matchup against a familiar foe.
The Flyers will look to leave their 2020-21 season record against the Washington Capitals — 2-5-1 — in the past as they make their first visit of the season to Capital One Arena.
“They’re a big, physical team that has a lot of skill,” center Sean Couturier said. “Their power play’s really dangerous. Obviously, they have [Alexander] Ovechkin. That’s always a threat. But they have a lot of players throughout their lineup. So we need all four lines, everyone stepping up and bringing their A game.”
Last season, the Capitals’ power play gave the Flyers’ penalty kill heaps of trouble. In eight games, the Flyers killed just 63.2% of the Capitals’ man-advantages, which was roughly a 10% decrease from their season average (73.05%, second-to-last in the league).
Ovechkin, 36, makes the Capitals’ even-strength offense and their power play go. Last season, he led the Capitals with eight goals and 12 points in six games against the Flyers. Ovechkin has started off this season strong, scoring his NHL-leading 10th goal -- and the 740th of his career -- against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
“You give him five chances a night, he’s gonna probably put a couple in the back of the net,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “Those high-end players, you’ve just got to be smart when you’re on the ice with him.”
Despite the Flyers’ struggles against the Capitals last season, Braun said the defensive corps is in a better position to limit their opponent’s opportunities this time around.
“I think when we were coming in here, our defensive structure wasn’t very good,” Braun said. “We were kind of all over in the D zone. So I think this year, we’re a little more dialed in on that end to not giving up as many quality, grade As night in, night out. We’re still working on it, but it’s much better than last year.”
Second line looking for a spark
Through the first three games of the regular season, the Flyers’ second line of center Derick Brassard and wingers Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson was soaring. The trio had six even-strength goals among them — one for Brassard, two for Farabee, and three for Atkinson.
However, over the last four games, the line has failed to fill the goals column and even had one goal scored against them when the Flyers lost to he Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. The line’s percentage of total Corsi has only peaked above 50% once — 54.17% against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 20 — and over the last three games, the unit hasn’t seen rates above 33.33%.
“I think we’ve just got to be a little bit better on the forecheck,” Farabee said. “I think in those first few games, we were really, really successful when we were turning over pucks and staying tight as a three-man group and staying tight with our D, too.”
The second line will look to rebound against the Capitals by trying to sustain offensive pressure and avoid playing on their heels in the defensive zone.
Goalie Martin Jones (2-0-0, .941 save percentage, 2.01 goals-against average) will get the start in net for the Flyers. On the other end of the rink, the Capitals will start Vitek Vanecek (2-1-3, .902 save percentage, 2.49 goals-against average). ... The Capitals will play against the Flyers without center Nicklas Bäckström (hip), winger Anthony Mantha (upper body), and forward T.J. Oshie (lower body). ... Head coach Alain Vigneault said there is an “outside chance” that center Kevin Hayes (abdominal) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (lower body) will be healthy enough to play in Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ellis, who did not make the trip to Washington, is unlikely to practice with the team on Sunday.