Martin Jones stands tall as the Flyers hold off Alex Ovechkin and Capitals, 2-1
The Flyers pick up two key points in a nail-biting win at Washington.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Before the Flyers’ 2-1 win Saturday night against a high-scoring Washington team that dominated them last season, center Sean Couturier was asked to assess the season’s first three weeks.
“We’re a work in progress,” he said.
Make that an impressive work in progress.
Derrick Brassard scored his first goal in eight games and backup goalie Martin Jones (31 saves) improved his record to 3-0, lifting the Flyers (6-2-2) to a hard-fought victory at Capital One Arena. Couturier scored what proved to be the winning goal.
Two nights after they couldn’t take advantage of the depleted Penguins, the Flyers outplayed the Capitals, who were missing, in effect, their second line because of injuries to T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha, and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Flyers were without two key players, Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis. The team has picked up points in eight of its 10 games.
The Flyers, who lost six of the eight meetings against the Caps last season, controlled the first period and had more shots (12-6) and shot attempts (25-14) while tilting the ice in their favor.
They finally got one past goalie Vitek Vanecek when Cam Atkinson (five shots) won a puck battle behind the net and fed Brassard for a one-timer from the left circle with 8 minutes, 42 seconds left in the second.
The Flyers are now 6-0-1 when they score the game’s first goal; 0-2-1 when they don’t.
A little over a minute after Brassard’s second tally of the season, Jones denied Carl Hagelin on a breakaway, preserving the Flyers’ one-goal lead.
Couturier put in a rebound of Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot to make it 2-0 with 4:16 left in the second, a period that, before Saturday, had been troublesome for the Flyers this season. Ristolainen had four hits and was a physical force in the game, and the point was his first as a Flyer and his 200th career assist.
“Every time you come here and play them, it’s going to be big-boy hockey,” Ristolainen said. “I really enjoy that.”
“I thought we were pretty engaged early,” center Scott Laughton said. “We said it in the room before the game that this was a big test for us coming in here.”
The Flyers dominated the first 40 minutes, but the Caps, as expected, came out strong in the third period, outshooting the Flyers, 15-6 in the stanza. They got to within 2-1 when Brett Leason put a point-blank shot over Jones’ left shoulder with 13:58 left in regulation. Jones shut the door the rest of the way.
Compared to last season, the Flyers’ defensive structure has been much better in the early part of this year.
“I do think it’s an area we’re working on. I don’t think we’re where we need to be, but I do see signs of progression,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “I do see signs of guys understanding what we’re trying to do and the type of style we’re trying to play. Teams that are going to get in (the playoffs) are the teams that improve, and we have to be one of those teams that improves.”
Last season, the Flyers finished last in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.52); they entered Saturday seventh (2.56 goals per game).
Jones, 31, lowered his goals-against average to 1.67 and raised his save percentage to .950. He had three straight disappointing seasons in San Jose, but the change of scenery has been good for him.
With the Flyers clinging to a 2-1 lead with 9:31 remaining, Jones made his best save of the night as he turned aside Conor Sheary’s one-timer from the doorstep. A little later, he made five stops on a Capitals power play.
“He looks very calm in there, and that’s when you know he’s playing really well,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “He doesn’t have the big movements; he’s just square to the puck and making saves.”
Braun added that goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh “has done a lot of work with him. He had him in L.A., and I think he got him back to where he was.”
Jones praised the defense in front of him and the team’s 3 for 3 night on the penalty kill. “And that’s a good recipe for a goalie,” he said.
Alex Ovechkin blitzed the Flyers for eight goals in six games last season. He took a league-high 10 goals into Saturday and the Flyers kept him off the scoreboard. The left winger fired six shots, five in the final period.
“With him, you have to limit his time and space,” Flyers forward Nate Thompson said before the opening faceoff. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but for a guy like that who can shoot the puck like he can, you have to make sure he’s shooting from the outside and it’s a contested shot, and obviously you want to keep him off the power play.”
Ovechkin’s best play in the first period, oddly enough, was with his backchecking as he caught up with Atkinson and prevented a shot attempt on what looked like a shorthanded breakaway.
The Flyers host Toronto on Wednesday before playing in Carolina on Friday and in Dallas on Saturday. That will conclude a stretch in which they will have played seven of nine games on the road.