On Super Bowl Sunday, it was the Flyers who put up the first touchdown of the day. Seven goals helped them to outlast the Washington Capitals in a game that certainly had its moments.
Perhaps the biggest moment though was the return to the lineup of a player the Flyers had desperately needed to get back, and while his presence didn’t solve all of their problems, it did help them get back in the win column.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s 7-4 win over the Capitals.
1. Hats Off
Another game, another first-time NHL hat trick. In the second game of the season, it was Travis Konecny. Last Sunday, it was Joel Farabee. Now, it was Scott Laughton’s turn.
Laughton had a potential goal on his stick in close on Friday night and wasn’t able to elevate it enough over Tuukka Rask, who played the chance perfectly. Despite getting a goal last Saturday in overtime against the Islanders, Laughton was really experiencing the struggle to buy a goal and that was only compounded by some undisciplined penalties in both games against Boston this week.
In this game in Washington, Laughton was one of their best players again. He had a nose for the net from the beginning, and his drive helped the Flyers get three goals. On each, there was a common theme. Laughton just stayed around the net and let the play develop. In all three cases, he was rewarded with plenty of net to shoot at.
Laughton becomes the third Flyer to record his first career hat trick this season, and in being the third Flyers player with a hat trick, gives the Flyers two more hat tricks than any other team in the league.
2. Another Tally for JVR
Is there a better story this season than James van Riemsdyk? He’s quite possibly been the team’s best player throughout the first 13 games – especially when you consider that goaltending is always a rotation with so many games and that Sean Couturier missed so much time with injury.
JVR did it again on Sunday, scoring a goal and adding an assist to make it eight straight games with a point and bring his season total to seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points. For comparison’s sake, he had 19 goals and 40 points last season...in 66 games. He’s nearly halfway to that total in 13 games.
It’s not a surprise to see van Riemsdyk scoring in bunches or piling up points at times, but now that the season is approaching the quarter-mark, it’s happening with such regularity that it’s become a consistent part of his game.
Who knows how long this will last for JVR, but his resurgence has been a pleasant sight, and it might just make the Flyers rethink his place in the team’s future, because he’s certainly been worth every penny this season.
3. Farabee’s Emergence
Last Sunday, it was Farabee having the breakout scoring game with his first career hat trick. As Laughton scored three times in this Sunday’s game, guess who was involved in all three of the goals? Joel Farabee.
Farabee and Laughton have become quite the duo of late and Farabee is really hitting his stride after a handful of rough games. After his four-point game in the season opener, Farabee was held without a point for the next five games. Then came a goal against the Devils that appears to have opened everything back up.
Since scoring his second goal of the season on Jan. 26 against New Jersey, Farabee has scored four more goals and has three assists to go with it, giving him six goals and six assists on the season for 12 points in 13 games, and five goals and three assists in his last seven games.
Farabee has really started to show his strength and confidence. He added some weight and muscle over the offseason and has done a better job this season in being able to shield the puck. He’s also going to the net a lot more frequently and isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas. It also helps that in his little scoring barrage on Sunday and Wednesday that he also showed an excellent shot.
This is a player that continues to be on the rise and Flyers fans are only to like what they see even more as he develops. He’s already on a near point-per-game pace through 13 games as a 20-year-old, set to turn 21 in just a few weeks, but his maturity and hockey sense is really shining through early in his sophomore season at the NHL level.
4. Couturier’s Return
Give the Flyers some credit in the last few weeks. They haven’t played their best hockey and in many ways, things have been disjointed and lacking in execution. A big reason for it is Sean Couturier’s absence.
One player doesn’t completely change your team unless he’s an all-world talent like an Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid. But Couturier’s presence seems to completely change the Flyers approach. In this game, their execution wasn’t perfect and their defensive play still left a lot to be desired, but there was almost this season of calm knowing that, because Couturier was there, he would make his impact felt on the game soon enough.
Couturier took some time to get settled back in, and he did get beat at the blue line on entry on the only Washington power play of the game, that left the other three penalty killers scattered and Ovechkin wide open for a shot from his office that resulted in the first goal of the game. But the third period, that was what Sean Couturier brings for this team.
Couturier was outstanding in the final 20 minutes, doing a better job of containing Washington’s attack as he took on more ice time and more responsibilities. He also chipped in with two goals, including the game-winner, showcasing the two-way play as well.
Couturier may still need some time to get settled into his game, especially since he essentially played one game, took one shift for 45 seconds in the second game and then sat out the next three weeks of action. Just having him back makes a difference though, and the Flyers were certainly glad to have him back for this one.
5. Finding a Way Again
Once again, the Flyers didn’t play a perfect game – far from it – but they got back in the win column again. There are often comments floating around online during the games that indicate that this is not a good team or that this team isn’t a contender. A good team would not play the way the Flyers have and still find a way to not only win eight of the 13 games played, but lead in three others as well to be in position to win those. They have been competitive in almost every game this season, and that’s saying something for their potential.
This was certainly a more wide-open game than the Flyers would have liked. Washington’s top line followed up the Boston Bruins’ show in Philly and had their day too. Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson combined for 11 points in the game with Lars Eller getting the only other assist. That’s domination by a trio.
But the Flyers did manage to keep the game within reach. As Ovechkin dazzled and dangled through Phil Myers on the way to Wilson’s goal to make it 2-0 in the first, the entire game could have unraveled from there. The Flyers actually tied the game back up at two, trailed again 3-2, tied the game again, took the lead, and then had to battle as the game was tied again late in the second and to start the third.
Perhaps the biggest thing about finding a way in this game is that it takes some of the focus off of the Boston games to an extent. The last thing the Flyers needed was to be in a situation where it appeared they couldn’t compete with Washington the same way Boston has had their number this season. Instead, the win makes Boston even more of an outlier. And while the six points the Flyers didn’t gain in their games against the Bruins cannot be gained back, the Flyers can say they beat Washington in regulation to cement their place among the top two teams in the East Division for now and as their season hits the quarter-mark later this week.
They will get another test with Washington later this week, but the Flyers did show that they can stay the course and find a way against that team too, checking off another accomplishment early in the season. Despite not playing their best hockey and still trying to find that higher gear, they are 8-3-2 through 13 games. Only three other teams can say the same about the eight wins and 18 standings points as of Monday morning.