VOORHEES – He’s going back to the scene of his greatest hockey success but if there’s one guy who can handle the hoopla of a triumphant return, it’s Matt Niskanen.
The Flyers’ veteran defenseman is as level-headed as they come, be it on the ice or off.
So when Niskanen shows up at Capital One Arena on Saturday night for what promises to be an emotional game against his former team, the 2018-19 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, he probably won’t be overtaken by the moment.
Niskanen was a big part of that Capital squad which won the first Cup in franchise history. But then he became a free agent last summer and wound up signing with the Flyers.
“It (going back) is certainly going to be something,’’ Niskanen said after Friday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “A lot of good memories there. Enjoyed my time there. Had a ton of fun. It will be weird being on the other side.’’
Niskanen has been a good fit for the Flyers, teaming up with Ivan Provorov to form the team’s No. 1 defense pairing.
Coach Alain Vigneault figures to use that duo a lot when Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin is on the ice.
By the way, Ovechkin needs only two more goals to reach the 700-goal milestone and would like nothing better than to hit the coveted mark in front of his home fans.
Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Caps gave Niskanen a moment of recognition during the game, perhaps even a highlights video of some sort.
“I’m going to do my best to just focus on a win,’’ Niskanen said. “If they do one of those (tributes), I’ll deal with it the best I can in the moment.’’
As Niskanen mentioned, there were plenty of fond memories. For years, the Capitals had won division titles and threatened to go all the way but couldn’t get it done.
When they finally did, it was pretty satisfying.
“They (the fans) came along for the ride for sure,’’ Niskanen said with a smile. “It was a pretty fun time.
“I think just getting past the second round there was a sense of relief for our team and the fans.’’
Everyone knew Washington had the talent. What made the difference that particular season? Team chemistry?
“Everybody’s got talent now, it’s the salary cap era,’’ he said. “The teams we had the previous two years might have been better but then it became a real team at the right time.
“Everyone understood how we needed to play and we were committed to it.’’
Now if the Flyers could only find that same special cause. . .
Provorov says having a Cup-winning partner like Niskanen has really helped his game.
“He’s a great person, great player,’’ Provorov said. “Very steady, doesn’t make many mistakes. I think we have a pretty good chemistry. We read off each other, support each other. We’re contributing on both ends of the ice.’’
Vigneault also appreciates what Niskanen has meant to his team’s improved goals-allowed statistic.
“Matt’s not just good for ‘Provy,’ he’s good for our team,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s the ultimate pro. He prepares himself the right way, takes care of himself the right way.
“He won, he had gone through a couple growing pains. He was able to finish it off with Washington that one year. For our group, that’s real positive.’’
>Gostisbehere leaves practice early
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, with only one game under his belt after recovering from arthroscopic left knee surgery, went to take a shot in Friday’s practice, missed and skated off the ice in frustration.
Vigneault sort of downplayed the incident and said he expects “Ghost’’ to play against the Caps.
“It’s all about a serious injury and a little time getting a player back into game condition,’’ Vigneault said. “Just wanted to have a little chat with him so he stayed upbeat.
“We gave him two 25-minute practices. A little unfair. Maybe we should have considered sending him to Lehigh Valley for a couple days, a couple games. It’s a fairly significant injury. It didn’t work out that way. Hopefully he will be back to normal quicker than later.’’
Gostisbehere did not make himself available for comment.
>Hart, Farabee still out
Joel Farabee, who missed the New Jersey game with the flu, did not make the trip to Washington. Vigneault disclosed Farabee has lost a lot of weight and needs to get healthier before he can get back on the ice.
Carter Hart continues to recover from a lower abdominal strain. He’s also staying behind.
“He’s out for tomorrow,’’ Vigneault said. “We have four games in six nights next week so I’m hoping he gets back into the rotation.’’
Brian Elliott will start against the Caps.
>Giroux back to wing?
Claude Giroux, goal-less in 13 games, saw some practice time at wing with Sean Couturier on Friday.
Giroux has been at center for a half-dozen games but hasn’t produced much offensively.
“I looked at that option,’’ Vigneault said. “At the same time, I wanted to work on maybe a couple different looks on the power play. I’m not saying that’s going to be the lineup tomorrow.’’
The 13-game skid is tied for the longest of Giroux’s career. He’s had two others (2009-10, 2016-17).