The Flyers better try something different against Washington on Saturday after the way the Capitals pushed them around earlier in the week.
Not giving up four goals in the first period as they did Tuesday would help. Presenting more than a cursory challenge to the Capitals’ power play also is a good idea.
One thing coach Alain Vigneault is switching up is his goaltender. Carter Hart will start Saturday’s afternoon game against Washington (12:30 p.m., NBCSP) while Brian Elliott gets Sunday night’s start versus the Islanders (6:30 p.m., NBCSP).
The Capitals have won the last four meetings this season against the Flyers. Each of those four was played after a COVID-19 outbreak suspended the Flyers season for nine days in February.
The interruption began, coincidentally enough, in Washington two days after the Super Bowl. The Flyers were 8-3-2 on Feb. 9. They are 12-14-4 since then.
It’s not accurate to call Saturday’s game against the Capitals a rematch since the Flyers didn’t put up much of a fight in Tuesday’s 6-1 loss. To their credit, the Flyers responded with a 2-1, shootout victory in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Hart stole the game and the two points to keep their dwindling playoff hopes flickering.
They are six points back of Boston with 13 games to play. Boston has 15 games to play, including a visit from the Islanders on Friday (7 p.m., NHL Network).
“We have to play our game. We have to play as a team,” Oskar Lindblom said when asked about the Capitals, who followed up their win over the Flyers with a disappointing 5-2 loss to Buffalo.
Vigneault said other lineup changes are at hand, but he couldn’t be specific. There will be some workloads managed as the Flyers end a stretch of three games in four days and nine games in 14 days. Vigneault’s club is 3-3-1 in the first seven of this run.
Alex Lyon, for instance, will back up Hart on Saturday. Elliott will practice in the morning with the taxi squad and be back on the active roster on Sunday. Burly defenseman Sam Morin will come back to the lineup, but Phil Myers might not necessarily come out. The two have been rotating lately.
“We’re gonna go game-by-game right now,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got a few question marks [on players] health-wise for tomorrow. ... There might be some changes because some guys are not maybe 100% -- nobody’s 100% right now, everyone’s aware of that.”
Defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Braun -- along with Lindblom, Claude Giroux, and Jake Voracek -- were among the notables who did not participate in Friday’s optional practice.
Gostisbehere is minus-6 against in five games the Capitals, and minus-7 in the last four losses to Washington. He’s plus-3 against the rest of the division. Just something to keep in mind as Vigneault ponders his defense moves.
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“Some guys would be better off not playing [Saturday] because it’s a 12:30 start, but they would be available Sunday,” Vigneault said.
Nolan Patrick also did not skate on Friday after taking a puck to the head in the third period on Thursday against Pittsburgh, though Vigneault was optimistic the 22-year-old would be available.
Hockey Fights Cancer night
Sunday is Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s usually an emotionally charged affair with solemn reminders of loved ones lost or still battling the disease.
A few days after Lindblom’s diagnosis that December, the Flyers wore their purple and black HFC jerseys again in warmups and had a sign taped to every seat in the arena in support of their teammate’s fight ahead.
Fast-forward 16 months (which feels like 16 years) and there will be plenty to celebrate. Lindblom said teammates and fans helped him get through his ordeal.
“Especially at the beginning,” Lindblom said. “I had a tough time just trying to live a normal life and trying to stay positive. But they’ve been there from the start and I can’t thank them enough.”
Not everyone’s fight is finished, of course, so another component to the evening is saluting those who continue to battle.
Tony Campisi, 17, is fighting cancer for the second time in his young life. He’s been tabbed to be the Flyers’ honorary coach and will read the starting lineup to the club in the locker room via Zoom.
Among the donations, Flyers Charities is making $25,000 grants to Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Philadelphia Region, and Bringing Hope Home.
“Hockey Fights Cancer is always a special night for us to be able to recognize people that are and have been battling cancer and the people that support them,” said Flyers Charities executive director Cindy Stutman. “This year, for sure, it’s a lot more personal. We’re going to celebrate in a lot of ways Oskar’s successful [triumph] of Ewing’s sarcoma.”
Though capacity remains at 4,000, tickets for both weekend games were available as of Friday afternoon.
Aided largely by a hat trick in the win on Feb. 7, Scott Laughton leads the Flyers in goals this season against the Caps with four. He has three total against everyone else.
Alex Ovechkin has six goals against the Flyers this year, three on the power play. Washington scored on all three man-advantages on Tuesday and is 5-9 on the power play against the Flyers this year.
Michael Raffl, traded by the Flyers to Washington on Monday, still has not practiced with his new club and almost certainly will not play on Saturday.
After the weekend, the Flyers will have three consecutive days without a game for the first time since their COVID-19 shutdown. They pick the season back up with consecutive games at the Rangers in New York on Thursday and Friday.