Flyers

Capitals 3, Flyers 1: Swept by defending champs as 2018-19 run nearing end

Capitals 3, Flyers 1: Swept by defending champs as 2018-19 run nearing end

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WASHINGTON — The Capitals completed a four-game season sweep of the Flyers for the first time since the 2006-07 season following a 3-1 win Sunday at Capital One Arena.

Back-to-back losses to the Islanders and Capitals will almost ensure the Flyers won’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The highest point total the Flyers can finish with is 92, if they can run the table over their final six games.

Here are my observations from Capital One Arena:

• The Flyers entered this game having surrendered an average of 42 shots per game over their last five games — the most they’ve allowed in any five-game stretch this season. Against the Capitals, though, they were clearly the better team, controlling play as they dominated in shot attempts by an overwhelming 44-10 margin in the second period alone, but couldn’t generate the game-tying goal. You have to wonder where that energy level was Saturday against the Islanders.

• The Flyers need a Tom Wilson-type player for next season. Wayne Simmonds was that kind of player in his prime, but no longer. The closest they had was Scott Hartnell, who played a similar style.

Wilson was a first-round pick because of his skill level combined with the edge he brings to the ice. The Caps simply don’t win the Stanley Cup without his feisty and chippy play, which was a difference maker in the Cup Final. With his 1-0 goal in this game, Wilson now has a career-high 22 goals this season, four of those against the Flyers.

• Sean Couturier will be my vote for the Bobby Clarke award as the Flyers' MVP this season with his all-around, two-way play, and a second straight 30-goal season.

However, I don’t think Couturier has had a Selke-worthy season like he showed in 2017-18 when he finished second to Anze Kopitar. Couturier was nearly flawless last season in his defensive positioning and his puck management in his end of the ice, but not quite as good this season. He had one of those miscues that led to the Caps' second goal of the game.

• The defensive pairing of Robert Hagg and Radko Gudas had apparently run its course. After the Hagg-Gudas pair looked awful in the game against the Islanders, it wasn't much better in the opening 10 minutes of this game.

The Flyers played much better defensively once interim head coach Scott Gordon paired Hagg with Philippe Myers and Gudas with Shayne Gostisbehere. However, the Flyers were exploited with the fourth line on the ice and Hagg pinching deep with no recognition from the forwards, which led to Jakub Vrana’s breakaway goal.

• Jakub Voracek scored a power-play goal, giving him 20 goals for the season and the sixth time in his last seven seasons in Philadelphia. While Voracek will never be considered a pure goal scorer, this puts him near exclusive company. Only 20 current players have six 20-goal seasons over the last seven seasons.

• Did you catch the delay before the opening faceoff? Phil Varone’s name was on the lineup card submitted to the official scorer, but Varone was a healthy scratch in favor of Justin Bailey. Had the change not been made prior to the faceoff, Bailey would have been ruled ineligible, according to rule 5.2 in the NHL rulebook, and the Flyers would have been forced to play with 11 forwards (which they’ve done a handful of times over the past month).

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One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

The suddenly-ascendant Flyers pieced together a somewhat busy trade deadline, acquiring a pair of depth forwards in Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to pad a playoff run, but things could've been much busier if rival executives had their way Monday.

One young Flyers player not named Shayne Gostisbehere was attracting a lot of attention as general managers circled the wagons before the deadline, according to a report from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

That player? Scott Laughton:

Another player I heard a lot of teams liked: Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton.

'Chuck (Fletcher) couldn’t hang up fast enough,' another exec joked.

That's a great quote. I can see Fletcher laughing to himself, and quietly hitting "end call," when Laughton's name came up.

And it makes plenty of sense for Fletcher to shut down Laughton talks, on two fronts — both of which should excite Flyers fans.

For one, Fletcher avoiding temptation at the deadline means he has his eyes on the postseason prize. The Flyers, after Tuesday night's win (see story), are just five points behind Metro-leading Washington, with 19 games left before the playoffs. It would take a serious meltdown to miss the postseason, and it seems Fletcher feels like the Flyers can make noise in April (and May, and maybe even June?) so he stood pat.

Also, and this is probably a little more obvious: Laughton has turned into a young, sought-after talent in the eyes of league execs this season.

It's no secret that the 2019-20 season has been the best of Laughton's young career. He's already tied his career high in goals with 12, he's averaging a point every two games, and he's just 25 years old. The hard-nosed 2012 first-round pick is officially coming into his own this year, and he's still under contract through the end of the 2020-21 season. Really, it's an ideal development for the Flyers.

Is Laughton currently the kind of player who defines your team? Not just yet.

But he's become the kind of player other teams want, which is always a good sign.

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With newcomers, Flyers keep on humming in NHL playoff race, have Penguins in their sights

With newcomers, Flyers keep on humming in NHL playoff race, have Penguins in their sights

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A day after the NHL trade deadline, the Flyers showed off their new look and didn't miss a beat.

With reinforcements Derek Grant and Nate Thompson, the Flyers defeated the Sharks, 4-2, Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers (36-20-7) have won four straight games, their longest win streak since Dec. 17-23, when they also won four in a row.

Not many in the league have been better than the Flyers over their last 20 games. The Flyers are 14-5-1 with an NHL-high 72 goals since Jan. 8. Over that stretch, only one club has more points than the Flyers' 29 — the Lightning with 31.

The Sharks (26-33-4), who have a number of injuries and traded away Barclay Goodrow and Patrick Marleau before Monday's deadline, have lost five straight.

• Good work by the Flyers handling a lesser opponent.

Tuesday was a big night in the playoff race as the Islanders, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes were all in action

The Flyers are still in third place of the Metropolitan Division and climbed to within one point of the second-place Penguins.

• The new line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny sure was fun to watch.

During the second period, Hayes and Konecny scored goals to help the Flyers restore order with a 3-1 lead at intermission.

Hayes tacked on another in the third period, giving him 21 markers this season. The 27-year-old is projected to break his career high of 25 set in 2017-18 and he might flirt with 30.

On Hayes' first goal, the 6-foot-5 center used his impressive reach to snag Laughton's pass and bury the shot. The Flyers are 17-0-1 when Hayes scores a goal.

Meanwhile, Konecny finished with his third three-point effort over the last four games. He had two three-point games over his first three NHL seasons.

Laughton continued his always reliable play with two assists and a plus-3 mark.

• Grant and Thompson, both acquired by the Flyers Monday, were eased into duty.

Both went scoreless as Grant committed a penalty and was solid in the faceoff circle, while Thompson centered the fourth line.

Here's how they're getting acclimated (see story).

• At home, Carter Hart has been an absolute nightmare for opponents.

With 26 saves, he improved his home mark to 17-2-2.

The 21-year-old has yielded two or fewer goals in 17 of his 21 home games. He is a must-see ticket in Philly.

• Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim made clutch third-period plays to break up juicy scoring chances for the Sharks.

• Nicolas Aube-Kubel has six goals this season. He has turned into one of the biggest surprises since his mid-December call-up.

Last season, he went scoreless over nine outings, playing just 5:35 minutes per game.

• A beautiful job by the Flyers.

• The Flyers are off Wednesday and practice Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in Voorhees, New Jersey, before hosting the Rangers Friday night (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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