Alex Ovechkin didn’t score a goal or record an assist, but his hit on Flyers center Sean Couturier midway through the second period of Thursday night’s 2-0 win may have altered the course of the Capitals’ first-round series against the Flyers.
According to a release issued by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, Couturier will miss two weeks with an upper body injury.
“If he’s out that’s a huge loss,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s probably the best defensive forward on that team. Good faceoff guy, does a lot of good things. It’s a big loss and unfortunately that’s the way playoffs are.”
Ovechkin’s hit on Couturier came 11:13 into the second period with the two teams locked in a scoreless tie. Couturier had just released the puck on a pass intended for Brayden Schenn when Ovechkin drove him into the boards, where Couturier's left shoulder took the brunt of the impact.
A delay of game penalty to Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning less than five minutes later led to John Carlson’s power-play goal, which stood up as the game-winner thanks to Braden Holtby’s 19-save shutout.
During the regular season Couturier ranked sixth on the Flyers with 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) and was third among Flyers forwards in shorthanded ice time.
“Obviously, Couturier is an important part of what they do,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re going to have someone step up and fill a role. We expect them to come with a real good effort. I don’t think it will affect us a whole lot. We’re going to stick to the script.”
With Couturier out, look for the Flyers to turn to 21-year-old center Scott Laughton, a first-round pick of the Flyers in 2012 who recorded seven goals and 14 assists in 71 games this season, his third in the NHL.
Caps fans may remember Laughton for the open-ice hit he took from Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen back on Jan. 14, 2015. The shoulder-to-chest hit was reminiscent of Scott Stevens’ open-ice hit on Eric Lindros during the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals between the Devils and Flyers and prompted a fight between Niskanen and Laughton in the next meeting between the Caps and Flyers. After that fight there is audio of Laughton thanking Niskanen for obliging.
Trotz said he expects the series to “settle down” after seeing 56 hits and 56 penalty minutes in Game 1, but he also said his players are fine if the rough stuff continues.
“We’re built to play any game you want to play,” Trotz said. “We have to be more disciplined. Our game is four lines that come at you, but we have to be more disciplined.”
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