PHILADELPHIA – When a team is leaving its goalie out to dry in the first period of a game, it’s time for the coach to take action.
That’s exactly what Alain Vigneault did on Wednesday night after his Flyers team allowed the Washington Capitals to pepper his goalie, Carter Hart, with 16 shots.
Fortunately for the Flyers, Hart was on his game. He held the Caps to just one goal for the first period and in fact for the full 65 minutes through overtime.
Although the Capitals won the shootout and the game, 2-1, Vigneault sounded satisfied his team had made the necessary adjustments to salvage a point.
The Flyers did see their four-game winning streak come to an end but they did keep their hold on third place in the Metropolitan Division.
“In the first period, we were like a step behind,’’ Vigneault said in his post-game press conference at the Wells Fargo Center. “Give them (the Caps) credit, they came out hard. They proved in that period that there’s a reason why they’re first in the league right now.
“Their execution and speed were very challenging. But I thought the second period we got better, made better decisions, gave them a little less space and time. We could have won it in OT with a couple good looks.’’
This was the fourth straight game where the Flyers played past regulation time and sixth time in the last seven.
Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers in the shootout but the Caps got goals from T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the win.
Giroux said Vigneault’s message after the first period came through loud and clear.
“We know we didn’t play good in the first,’’ Giroux said. “They came at us pretty hard. We didn’t panic, we didn’t start yelling at each other. We know we can play better, so I thought the second and third periods were better efforts.’’
Added Voracek: “He (Vigneault) told us to get going. We haven’t had a tough period like that in a while. It happens sometimes. We were lucky it was only 1-0 (after the first).’’
Meanwhile, Hart turned in perhaps his strongest effort of the season, including two game-saving saves on the Caps’ Tom Wilson down the stretch.
Hart gives the impression he doesn’t mind the challenge when the guys in front of him aren’t quite on their game, as was the case in the first period.
“Whatever comes, you have to be ready,’’ Hart said. “They came out firing to start the game. We bounced back in the second and third, generated a lot of chances.
“That was kind of the message ‘AV’ (Vigneault) had for us after the first; retaliate and come out hard in the second.’’
Hart has made a comeback after a rough patch of three games a few weeks ago.
“Just getting back to the basics,’’ he said. “Just trusting my game and where I’m at. I feel good where my game is at. We’re playing good hockey as a group and that helps.’’
Trailing 1-0 in the third period, the Flyers evened the score with a power-play goal from Giroux at 6:38. Jake Voracek broke in on the left side and found Giroux closing down the right for a shot past goalie Braden Holtby.
Washington’s early goal was scored by Brendan Leipsic at 6:13. Hart was unable to control the rebound of John Carlson’s speedy point shot and Leipsic was in position to sweep the loose puck past Hart’s pad.
The Flyers were back on their heels in that first period as the Capitals outshot them, 16-5.
However, in the second period after the Vigneault talk, the Flyers skated with purpose. Travis Konecny clanged a mid-range shot off a goal post and later Tyler Pitlick had a golden chance in front but was thwarted by Holtby as the Flyer forward tumbled head over heels on a spin-around try.
Getting a point from the Caps, who are now 9-1-1 on the road, was a productive night for the Flyers.
“I’m glad we got a point out of it,’’ Voracek said. “Fortunately we didn’t get the second one.’’
This was Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen’s first game against his former team.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said Niskanen has already had a significant impact on his team.
“He’s soft-spoken but he’s right to the point,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s playing most of the time with ‘Provy’ (Ivan Provorov) and I think that’s going to be a big benefit for Provy moving forward here.’’
Provorov and Niskanen are both averaging 30 or more shifts per game, among the top three in that category in the NHL.
“He (Niskanen) is playing big minutes for us mostly against one of the other team’s top lines,’’ Vigneault said. “I feel he’s been able to make some great defensive plays.’’
Former Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who was traded to the Capitals in exchange for Niskanen, received a nice ovation from the Wells Fargo Center audience when his presence was announced on the scoreboard.
The Flyers have another back-to-back games situation coming up this weekend. They visit Ottawa on Friday night, then return to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday for a game against the New York Islanders. . .Robert Hagg and Chris Stewart were the healthy scratches.
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