Alex Ovechkin

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

VOORHEES, N.J. — Four games into the 2017-17 season, Flyers captain Claude Giroux acknowledged Friday he is still adapting to his move from center to left wing.

“I enjoy both,” Giroux said. “I enjoy playing hockey. It’s definitely a different game on the left side.”

Now centered by Sean Couturier, with Jakub Voracek on the right side, the Giroux line has certainly had its moments. But those chances haven’t necessarily manifested in a flurry of goals for the Flyers.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek have totaled two goals and five assists in 5-on-5 situations, while the captain himself has one goal and one assist at even strength.

“I’m still getting adjusted here and just trying to stay in the system and be able to play my game, but I feel like our line, we have more to give,” Giroux said. “Five-on-five, we’re generating some good offense, but we can definitely do more.”

While the switch hasn’t sparked an immediate explosion of scoring for the Flyers’ top line, Giroux isn’t clamoring for a change back. As the 29-year-old veteran notes, he still takes plenty of faceoffs — a team-high 61 — and handles a lot of center responsibilities.

It’s a hybrid role, essentially.

“When we go back in our zone, if I’m the first one back, I’ll be playing low, so I do get some shifts playing center,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I miss it.”

One doesn’t have to watch very hard to see the chemistry developing between Giroux and his linemates. It may be only a matter of time before the experiment pays off and the unit starts to find the back of the net with regularity.

A successful trip in more ways than one
After a four-game road trip to kick off the season, the Flyers are looking forward to finally opening the Wells Fargo Center against the Capitals on Saturday night. However, as several players noted, getting their annual California tour out of the way early has its advantages, too.

“To start off the year in the middle of a long road trip is not the worst thing in the world,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s probably tougher later in the season to go out there and win games like that.”

The Flyers took two of three off the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, sometimes referred to as the “Triangle of Death” when played in succession. They followed that up with a hard-fought regulation loss in Nashville at the hands of the Predators — a missed opportunity, for sure, although a 2-2 start on the road is nothing to complain about.

It was a valuable four points for the Flyers, although there was more to the trip than that. It also served as a bonding experience for a team that has four rookies and several new faces.

“Having so many young guys and new faces in the locker room, that helped build team chemistry and to get know the guys a little better,” rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim said.

In many ways, it was a more successful trip than the standings might let on. At the same time, while there were numerous positives to take away from the Flyers’ start, there’s no question they could also use a little home cooking.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” Giroux said. “Coming home is definitely a boost.”

Ovechkin’s torrid start
While the Flyers are happy to be home, they won’t exactly be easing into their Wells Fargo Center slate. With a 2-1-1 record, the Capitals are off to a good start as well, with the hottest player in the NHL leading the way.

Alexander Ovechkin already has eight goals in Washington’s first four games, including three in the opener, followed by four in the encore. Lighting the lamp is nothing new for Ovechkin — he’s led the league in goals six times in his career — but even by his standards, his early-season performance has been downright scary.

“He’s that kind of player that when he gets hot, he gets hot, and right now it looks like everything he touches goes in,” Giroux said. “That’s why he’s been such a dominant player all his career. When he’s got a chance to score, he puts it in.”

Ovechkin is coming off something of a down season in 2016-17, finishing with 33 goals — his fewest in an 82-game campaign since the 2010-11 season. Looks like it’s safe to say he’s snapped out of it.

There’s no secret formula for stopping Ovechkin, either. The best way to keep to him from scoring is to simply avoid giving him anything easy.

“Don’t turn pucks over,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “That’s when they hurt you. They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team.”

The Capitals are also the Flyers’ first Metropolitan Division opponent of the season, and their last for awhile. They don’t face another division opponent until they visit the Islanders on Nov. 22, a whole 16 games later.

“I think any time we play a team that’s in our division, it’s a pretty intense game,” Giroux said. “They’re fun to play, especially a home opener.

“They’ll be coming in hot, so we have to be ready.”

Best of NHL: Alex Ovechkin gets historic hat trick as Capitals beat Canadiens

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Best of NHL: Alex Ovechkin gets historic hat trick as Capitals beat Canadiens

WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin had a historic night, and now he could use a travel agent.

Anything to keep this roll going.

Ovechkin scored four goals to become the first player in 100 years with back-to-back hat tricks to open a season, and the Washington Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin had three goals in the third period in Thursday's opening night win at Ottawa, then matched the feat while helping chase Montreal goalie Carey Price in the first period Saturday. He added his fourth goal at 16:46 of the second period against Al Montoya.

Ovechkin jokingly credited the outburst to his Russian sister-in-law, who has been visiting the U.S. this week.

"Every time she's in town like I score a hat trick," Ovechkin said. "Back-to-back and she's leaving Monday. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to talk to someone to keep her here."

It was the fourth four-goal game of his career and second against the Canadiens (see full recap).

Leafs edge Rangers in wild home opener
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri scored third-period goals and the Toronto Maple Leafs held off the New York Rangers 8-5 on Saturday night in their wild home opener.

It was an adventure in defending for both teams at times, with Toronto pulling ahead 5-1 in the first period and chasing Henrik Lundqvist before the Rangers scored four straight to quieten the Air Canada Centre crowd.

Bozak ended the Maple Leafs' slide to make it 6-5 at 7:17 of third, redirecting a pass from the corner from Jake Gardiner over Ondrej Pavelec's glove. The Rangers lost a challenge that the play was offside, earning a minor penalty in the process.

Kevin Hayes took a slashing penalty for New York, and Komarov made it 7-5 at 9:52, tapping in the rebound after William Nylander roofed a backhand off the crossbar.

The Rangers pulled their goalie with some 3 minutes remaining only to see Ryan McDonagh take a hooking penalty. Kadri took advantage with a low shot with 1:30 to go.

Zach Hyman scored twice, and Dominic Moore, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev added goals for Toronto (see full recap).

Butcher steals spotlight from Hischier in Devils' win
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils' youth movement has a lot more going for it than No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier.

The Devils are three deep in the rookie department. Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher and Swedish import Jesper Bratt stole a lot of the spotlight from Hischier in a 4-1 season-opening victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Butcher set up three power-play goals and Bratt had a goal and an assist as the Devils created some excitement after posting the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season.

"The vibe the arena gave off is what I'll remember most," Butcher said after becoming the first Devil to collect three assists in his initial game with the franchise. "It was an unbelievable crowd. And to play my first game with Nico and Jesper, it's like we were all in this together. It was a great feeling"

Adam Henrique, Jimmy Hayes and John Moore also scored as the Devils fielded a lineup with eight new players. Kyle Palmieri added two assists before leaving in the second period with a leg injury. Cory Schneider made 40 saves.

Hischier was the player the crowd at the Prudential Center wanted to see. He was hailed as a conquering hero in pre-game introductions, and the first time he stepped on the ice there were chants of "Nico" for the 18-year-old Swiss center (see full recap).

Neal scores OT winner as Vegas wins yet again
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- James Neal's goal at 3:46 of overtime Saturday night gave the expansion Vegas Golden Knights their second win in two games, 2-1 over the Arizona Coyotes.

Neal, who scored twice in the Golden Knights' first regular-season game Friday at Dallas, completed a comeback that saw Vegas tie the score at 1 with 1:12 to play in regulation. Anti Raanta, in his first game as the new No. 1 goaltender in Arizona, stopped 42 shots.

Vegas, unable to put a shot past Raanta for nearly the entire game, drew even at 1 on Nate Schmidt's goal. The Golden Knights had pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:18 to play for an extra attacker, and the move paid off.

Fleury made 27 saves.

Raanta was sharpest in the second period, making 19 saves. The Coyotes earned their first point for new coach Rick Tocchet after losing their season opener at Anaheim on Thursday (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Brandon Saad-led Blackhawks embarrass Penguins, 10-1

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Best of NHL: Brandon Saad-led Blackhawks embarrass Penguins, 10-1

CHICAGO -- Brandon Saad scored three times in his return to Chicago and Ryan Hartman had a goal and four assists, helping the Blackhawks pound the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Schmaltz added two goals and an assist as Chicago kicked off its season in style with a runaway victory against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Patrick Kane also had a goal and three assists in the Blackhawks' highest scoring game since a 10-1 win against Winnipeg on Oct. 12, 1988.

Pittsburgh was coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis in its season opener on Wednesday, and it looked every bit like a team on the second half of back-to-back nights. Antti Niemi was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots in his Penguins debut, forcing Matt Murray to come in after he took the loss against the Blues.

Sidney Crosby found Phil Kessel for a power-play goal at 2:05 of the second period, but Chicago already had a 5-0 lead at that point. It was the most goals allowed by Pittsburgh since a 10-8 loss to San Jose on Jan. 13, 1996 (see full recap).

Ovechkin notches hat trick in Capitals’ SO win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick in a 6:33 span in the third period and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the shootout winner in the Washington Capitals' 5-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

Brett Connolly also scored for Washington, and Braden Holtby made 28 saves. Mark Stone struck twice for the Senators, Derick Brassard had a goal and two assists, Chris Wideman also scored, and Craig Anderson made 24 saves.

Ovechkin scored twice in a 1:23 span to tie it early in the third period.

Cody Ceci turned the puck over down low, allowing Kuznetsov to find Ovechkin for a shot he roofed past Anderson. Then, the Senators were unable to clear the puck and the same line was able to move the puck quickly to allow Ovechkin to score.

Ottawa regained the lead 1:17 later when Stone tipped in Dion Phaneuf's shot.

Ovechkin tied it again with 9:12 left in the period (see full recap).

Red Wings open new arena with win over Wild
DETROIT -- Henrik Zetterberg and Martin Frk scored in the third period to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night in the first regular-season game at Little Caesars Arena.

Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin scored 23 seconds apart in the second period for the Red Wings, who rallied after blowing a 2-0 lead early in the third. Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored 48 seconds apart to tie it, and then Zetterberg put Detroit back ahead to stay with 12:53 remaining.

The Red Wings said goodbye to Joe Louis Arena in April and moved to a new downtown venue they'll share with the Detroit Pistons. The Red Wings missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, and although expectations are low at the moment, they opened with a victory.

Even before the opening faceoff, fans were already partaking in that old Detroit tradition of tossing octopi on the ice. The puck went across the Detroit goal line twice in the first, but goaltender interference was called both times and the period ended scoreless. Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk made the save of the night when, while sprawled on his back, he swung his left arm across to deny Gustav Nyquist on a breakaway (see full recap).