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Flyers earn first preseason win in physical, feisty contest over Capitals

The Philadelphia Flyers hosted the Washington Capitals in the third game of the preseason, marking the halfway point.

Flyers center Scott Laughton and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen take down Washington Capitals forward Garrett Pilon during the first period in a preseason game on Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Philadelphia.
Flyers center Scott Laughton and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen take down Washington Capitals forward Garrett Pilon during the first period in a preseason game on Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

In appropriate October fashion, things got spooky in Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.

Two minutes before the end of the second period, the lights went out in a portion of the arena. The official explanation was that they experienced an “electrical issue,” but the people of Twitter had fun speculating about the festive timing of the blackout.

Whatever the reason, when the energy came back on in Wells Fargo Center, it also came back on for the Flyers. After 23 shots without a goal, the Flyers finally found the back of the net 4 minutes after coming back from the blackout break.

Cam Atkinson’s goal put the Flyers ahead for the first time, 2-1. Although the score stayed close for the majority of the night, the Flyers dominated, creating more opportunities, taking more shots, and winning more faceoffs.

In the final minutes of the game, Scott Laughton added a goal to Atkinson’s and to Giroux’s earlier power-play goal to give the Flyers their first victory, a 3-1 win over the Capitals, of the preseason.

Other than the fact that the Capitals didn’t play many of their best players, Saturday’s game was more indicative of what’s to come than the Flyers’ previous two games. Even without tough competition, they revealed more about how far their chemistry has come and the roles different players will take.

Heading into the game, everyone on the roster had played at least one game. While some offseason rust may linger, everyone had skated in a game situation and had gotten a feel for how their new teammates and partners react to competition.

Jones locks in

Goalie Martin Jones’ start against the Capitals seemed like a continuation of his game against the Bruins. Thursday night started off with two broken plays on penalty kills resulting in Bruins goals. Saturday night, the Flyers’ penalty kill unit came out early again, and Jones gave up another goal while put in another difficult situation.

Trevor van Riemsdyk took a shot from the left wing. It hit off Atkinson’s skate, landing right in front of Aliaksei Protas, who was in the slot. Protas took full advantage and shot it right over Jones’ left shoulder. The goal was one of just two shots he faced to that point.

But, from there, Jones shut down the Capitals more effectively than the power outage shut down the arena. He faced 19 more shots and stopped all of them for 20 saves.

“Definitely felt more comfortable in there,” Jones said. “You know, the first game after a long summer, it’s always a little tough. Not stuff you can really emulate in traffic -- traffic and just the speed of the game. So definitely felt more comfortable today, and I’ll continue to get better.”

On top of feeling more comfortable in goal, Jones also got to play with the regular blueliners. He could tell that the chemistry is building, and it made a difference. The players were communicating well, and, as a result, Jones felt they played well in their own end.

The two teams also agreed to hold a practice shootout following the game. Jones faced nine Capitals and gave up two goals, scored by Trevor van Riemsdyk and Joe Snively. The Flyers lost the shootout, but Jones said it was good practice, especially since he saw nine different shooters come at him. Morgan Frost scored the only Flyers goal.

Ristolainen leads the “Broad Street bullies”

One of the best parts about signing Rasmus Ristolainen, according to his new teammates, is that they don’t have to play against the physical defenseman anymore. Ristolainen demonstrated why a player would much rather have him on their side.

While there was one goal scored in the first period, the first-period recap was mostly comprised of Ristolainen’s hits as he drove one Capital after another into the boards.

“It’s still pretty nice having him on our side,” Atkinson said with a laugh. “It just seems like he clears space for everyone. You always want one or two of those guys on your team. You can tell he’s hungry out there.”

Ristolainen’s physicality carried over to his teammates. The team finished the first period with 14 hits, four made by Ristolainen. They also got into a scrum after Joel Farabee was knocked over. Ristolainen quickly flew in to back him up, with Keith Yandle close behind him.

The chippy game culminated in a third-period fight when Garnet Hathaway and Ivan Provorov fought following a hit. James van Riemsdyk and Derick Brassard immediately flew in, with Brassard knocking off Hathaway’s helmet.

“I think during training camp when you have a lot of new players at camp, you try to work on your chemistry on and off the ice,” team captain Giroux said. “And when you have plays like that, that’s when you see that we’re sticking up for each other.”

The team finished with 23 hits, five by Ristolainen.

Special teams lab

The Flyers’ specialty teams have been a main theme of offseason conversations, training camp practices, and the first two exhibition games, and it continued to be a major point Saturday night.

When the penalty kill unit took took the ice early in the first, the showing wasn’t encouraging. The Flyers quickly fell behind when the Capitals went on a power play and scored on one of just two shots. However, it was also a fluky play, and the next time they went out, they easily shut down the Capitals. The Flyers cleared the puck multiple times, and Atkinson chased it down, making it difficult for the Capitals to get back into Flyers territory.

Following a fight in the third, the Flyers were a man down again. With James van Riemsdyk and Provorov in the box for the Flyers and Hathaway serving time for the Capitals, both teams emerged without giving up any goals.

The Flyers PK finished 2-for-3. They also haven’t practiced together often because all the players who play on both units have been repping with the power-play unit.

While the Flyers have focused more intently on the power play in practice, they haven’t settled on their strategy yet. As evidenced in the game, they are still experimenting. They’ve sent Giroux out to play on the left wing, and they’ve put him on the right wing. They’ve switched Frost and Brassard at center. Since the first and second lines were split the first two games, James van Riemsdyk hadn’t had the chance to go out with the first power play unit. Oskar Lindblom had been playing in his stead, but van Riemsdyk reclaimed the spot Saturday.

Despite all the new looks, the first power play ended in classic Flyers fashion. Giroux, playing on the left wing, ripped a one-timer into the corner of the net, throwing it back to peak-power-play Giroux.

The Flyers weren’t able to capitalize on their next two power plays, but they were able to create more chances than the Capitals.

What’s next?

Monday, the Flyers will host the Bruins, who they lost to, 4-2, on Thursday, and then head to Bridgeport, Conn., on Tuesday to face the Islanders, who they lost to 3-2 on Sept. 28. The Bruins game is at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on NHL Network and NBC Sports Philadelphia. ... While the roster Saturday night was very close to the Flyers’ opening-night lineup, head coach Alain Vigneault said not to expect cuts until after the back-to-back games.