WASHINGTON, D.C. — If the penalty box benches at CapitalOne Arena don’t actually have seat warmers, it probably felt like they did after the Capitals’ 5-3 victory over the Flyers in their final preseason game.
The referees assessed four roughing minors and four fighting majors between the two teams. In total, the Flyers registered 18 penalty minutes and the Capitals raked up 20.
“Probably forgot that they’re two teams that don’t like one another very much,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Even if it’s exhibition, both teams played hard. It was physical out there.”
In their most realistic test of the preseason, with both clubs icing a veteran lineup, the Flyers went on a rollercoaster of production through three periods.
After putting just four even-strength shots on net in the first period, the Flyers rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the second with three unanswered goals from Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson, who scored twice on breakaways.
“I think when we shot the puck, we got the puck back and we retrieved it, and usually good things happened,” Atkinson said. “G’s line had a good goal, and I think the floodgates kind of opened up for us.”
Their resurgence was foiled in the third when right winger Tom Wilson scored on the Capitals’ first power play of the night to tie the game. Anthony Mantha tallied an even-strength goal a minute and a half later.
New look for Laughton
When the Flyers’ front office sent center Morgan Frost down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Alain Vigneault decided to move versatile forward Scott Laughton from fourth-line left wing to third-line center. For Laughton, the transition is simple — he considers center to be his natural position.
Against the Capitals, Laughton centered a line alongside left-winger Oskar Lindblom and right-winger James van Riemsdyk. He won eight of 16 face-offs and registered one shot on goal. It may take some time for the chemistry to develop, but during portions of last season, Laughton played on different lines with both van Riemsdyk and Lindblom.
“I think me and Riemer had good chemistry last year,” Laughton said before the game. “We played together for a while with Farabee, and then we all got hit with COVID. I’m excited to get back with him and Oskar and try and provide some offense for us.”
If there’s a Wil, there’s a way
In the battle to make the Flyers’ opening-night roster, 30-year-old Garrett Wilson got the nod at fourth-line left wing over Jackson Cates Friday night. Wilson skated alongside Nate Thompson at center and Nic Aubé-Kubel at right-wing.
Against the Capitals, Wilson showed a tendency to get physical — in the second period, he received a two-minute minor for roughing winger Garnet Hathaway and a five-minute major for fighting winger T.J. Oshie. The fourth line as a whole struggled defensively at times, allowing a goal in the first period when center Lars Eller poked the puck past goalie Martin Jones.
Wilson’s best opportunity to show up positively on the stat sheet came when he attempted to set Thompson up with a pass as he drove to the front of the net halfway through the first period.
Wilson, who Vigneault described as a “natural left-winger,” has played 84 NHL games (two goals, six assists) over the course of four years for the Florida Panthers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ovechkin exits with injury
Going into the Flyers’ final preseason game, general manager Chuck Fletcher had one wish for his club — avoid injuries. Despite their poor injury luck this training camp, the Flyers escaped Friday night’s game unscathed.
The Capitals, however, did not fare as well. In the first period, on his third shift, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin went back to the locker room after delivering a check on right-winger Travis Konecny. Ovechkin fell awkwardly, then skated off without putting much pressure on his left leg. By the end of the first period, the Capitals announced that Ovechkin would not return to the game.
Trying to go in for the kill
After finishing second-to-last in penalty kill percentage (73.05 percent) last season, the Flyers have almost nowhere to go but up. While it’s tricky to gauge the strength of special teams units during preseason because the lineups vary night to night, the Flyers’ penalty kill underwhelmed for the first five games as they allowed seven power-play goals total.
Against the Capitals, the Flyers had three goes at the penalty kill. The Flyers managed to hold Washington scoreless on two attempts. Tom Wilson netted a power-play goal just over 20 seconds into the Capitals’ first man advantage.
“They have one of the best power plays in the league, and obviously Ovi went down, but they still have firepower,” Atkinson said. “I think we did some good things. There’s obviously room for improvement. And we’ll continue to improve.”
The Flyers open the regular season at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 15 against the Vancouver Canucks. It’s the first of a four-game homestand during which the Flyers have at least a day in between each matchup. Before the Flyers kick off the regular season, they will hold a week of practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees.