Laughton hat trick, Couturier return spark Flyers’ win

Scott Laughton

      Maybe they just were tired hearing about how they couldn’t hold onto a lead in the third period.

      Or perhaps it had something to do with not letting superstar Alex Ovechkin and friends embarrass them on national television.

      And then there was the return of Sean Couturier, who looked like his old self at both ends of the rink.

      Whatever the case, the Flyers found a way to redeem themselves Sunday afternoon at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C.

      After losing two straight games when they held third-period leads against Boston, the Flyers roared out of the locker room in the third period against the Capitals and promptly scored three unanswered goals for a 7-4 victory.

      Scott Laughton led the way with his first career hat trick.

      Couturier came back to action after missing 10 games with a rib injury and scored a pair of goals.

      And supporting cast members such as James van Riemsdyk and Carter Hart pitched in to offset Ovechkin’s four-point (two goals, two assists) effort.

      The Flyers are now 4-0-1 against the Capitals going back to the 2018-19 season.

      With the win, the Flyers moved into a technical tie with Boston for the East Division lead at 18 points, although the Bruins have two games in hand.

      If the Flyers had redemption on their minds regarding third-period performances, it was mission accomplished.

      Especially after a slow start, in which the Flyers fell behind by a 2-0 score as Ovechkin roamed the ice without much resistance.

      Give the Flyers credit: They bent but they didn’t break.

      Especially at crunch time. Couturier, looking none the worse for wear, skated out of the gate at full speed and scored just 31 seconds into the third period.

      “It (Couturier’s return) gives a lot of confidence to us,’’ Laughton said via media Zoom call after the game. “A lot younger guys look up to him. He plays the right way and you have to follow his lead.

      “He did a great job today, coming back and coming in and scoring two goals for us. Big game for him. It’s just him leading by example and playing the game the right way.’’

      For Couturier, who had been skating but took part in only one practice, it didn’t sound like a big deal.

      Coach Alain Vigneault started Couturier on a fourth line with Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel to let him get his feet wet. But then he inserted Jake Voracek for NAK in the third and that move paid instant dividends.

      Good move by the coach.

      “I felt great all game,’’ Couturier said. “I think it’s just trying to be smart coming back in the lineup, managing my ice time. But we had to adjust, change some match-ups. That’s up to AV. I’m just happy to be back and help the team win.’’

      >Why the Flyers were successful in the third period

      Shutting down the high-octane Caps in the third period was a pretty big deal, especially after giving up late leads three times to the Bruins this season.

      “I think we collapsed a little bit better, tying up sticks,’’ Laughton said. “Not allowing them second chances. I still think we can do a little bit better job playing north and with the puck and going after them when we have leads. Not sitting back.’’

      That said, the third period video of this game is worth saving.

      >Laughton-JVR-Farabee line looks like a keeper

      James van Riemsdyk ran his point-scoring streak to seven games and he leads the Flyers with seven goals. Joel Farabee assisted on all three Laughton goals.

      JVR’s goal to give the Flyers a 4-3 lead was his 100th as a Flyer. He’s playing his best hockey since starting his second tour with the Flyers in 2018.

      How come this line is doing so well?

      “Pressuring their defensemen,’’ was Laughton’s explanation. “And getting out of our zone pretty easy.’’

      Example: JVR stripping the puck from Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov to set up the break leading to Laughton’s second goal to tie the score at 2-2.

      “It starts with having a good forecheck,’’ Laughton said. “Creating turnovers, putting pucks on net and trying to get there. JVR is one of the best net-front guys in the league and he’s really hot right now.’’

      >Hat trick well deserved

      Laughton’s career high for goals is 13, so he’s not earning a paycheck by scoring. He’s more of a strong two-way player like Couturier and possibly underrated.

      “He’s definitely underappreciated,’’ van Riemsdyk said, “as far as the skill and the ability that he has. He definitely has good hockey sense, can handle the puck and knows the right plays to make. It was a nice game for him and nice to see him get rewarded.’’

      >Vigneault satisfied with the bounce-back effort

      The coach maintained his team played well against Boston and it was just a matter of closing out games. In this game, he got his wish.

      Vigneault pushed all the right buttons in this one, including breaking in Couturier slowly.

      Also, Robert Hagg filled in nicely for Travis Sanheim, who was a late scratch (day-to-day with undisclosed injury). Hagg scored a big goal through a Raffl screen.

      “There’s no doubt ‘Coots’ (Couturier) was a difference-maker,’’ Vigneault said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to start. But I like our response. . .we were down by two and then took the lead.

      “We came out fighting in the third and put our foot on the gas. It’s a big win after losing those two games.’’

      It was just the Flyers’ fourth win in their history on Super Bowl Sunday (4-10-6).

About Wayne Fish 1228 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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