PHILADELPHIA – While it might have been only a preseason game, the Flyers wanted to get a look at how their lineup might look on opening night some 12 days from now.
So coach Alain Vigneault suited up 19 bona fide NHL regulars for Saturday night’s home game against the Washington Capitals.
Cam Atkinson’s goal exactly two minutes into the third period broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Flyers to a 3-1 win, their first preseason victory (1-1-1). Atkinson took a pass from linemate Oskar Lindblom and let go a shot as he was falling to the ice. Scott Laughton scored on a breakaway with 3:04 to play to provide the final margin.
The Flyers decided to go with a full lineup, using lines and defense pairings which might be their roster for the regular-season opener on Oct. 15 against Vancouver at the Wells Fargo Center.
Sean Couturier centered a first line of Claude Giroux on left wing and Travis Konecny on right. Second line: Morgan Frost centering left wing James van Riemsdyk and right wing Joel Farabee. Third line: Derick Brassard centering Lindblom on left and Atkinson on right. Fourth line: Nate Thompson centering left wing Laughton and right wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
On defense, first pairing Ivan Provorov-Ryan Ellis; second pairing Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen; third pairing Justin Braun-Keith Yandle.
The Capitals scored first on a power play at 3:18 of the first period. But the Flyers quickly responded at 5:41 when Giroux connected with a patented blast from the left circle during a Philadelphia power play. Couturier and Yandle picked up assists on the play.
Goaltender Martin Jones played the entire game and looked much sharper than he did Thursday night in Boston when he surrendered three goals in the first period on the way to a 4-2 loss.
There were several takeaways from this spirited match, namely that the Flyers are going to be a tougher team to play against this year, thanks to the physical efforts of players such as Ristolainen. Also, there is already good camaraderie and closeness, typified when Brassard jumped in to assist Provorov during a fracas in the third period.
Vigneault sounded satisfied on all fronts, including the toughness aspect and the willingness to stick up for teammates.
“I liked our battle level tonight,’’ Vigneault said. “We’re a team, we have to stand up for one another. We have to be smart about it. I think that penalty in the third (the Provorov incident), it was the right thing to do. You have to find a way to kill those (which the Flyers did). Good for our players to stand up for one another and that has to continue.’’
>Ristolainen gets fans going
Ristolainen got the WFC crowd into it early with four official hits in the first period. He also drew loud cheers when he pulled away from two linesman to come to the assistance of defense partner Yandle during a fracas behind the Washington net in the first period.
“He plays that dimension, no doubt,’’ Vigneault said. “Everytime he’s on the ice, if I’m the opposition, I’m making sure my head’s up high. He’s hard to play against. He makes the opposition pay. And he’s coming along. Coming to a new team, new teammates, new style of play will be an adjustment for all our new players. But I see him and Travis (Sanheim) building some chemistry I hope he continues to improve.’’
Ristolainen spent eight years in the Buffalo Sabres purgatory, so he’s just happy to get out from under. Playing physical and jumping in to help teammates are a natural.
“I think we’re a tight group,’’ Ristolainen offered. “That’s what you want to see out there. It was fun. It (the hitting) is a big part of my game, I try to bring energy. But you can’t be too physical and just try to hit people all the time.’’
Said Atkinson: “It’s awfully nice to have him on our side. He clears space for everyone. You always want one or two of those guys on your team. You can tell he’s hungry out there.’’
Atkinson is one of those elite players who can stand out in all situations, including power play and penalty kill. He demonstrated that skill level on his winning goal.
“It’s always good to contribute,’’ he said. “Just a great pass (from Lindblom). It’s just one of those things where we’re going to get more comfortable with each other.’’
>Another bonus shootout
Even though the Flyers won the game in regulation time, the two teams held a practice shootout. In that competition, Frost scored for the Flyers and Trevor van Riemsdyk for the Caps before the outcome was decided by Washington, 2-1.
Jones said he felt more comfortable than the Boston game. “After a long summer, it’s tough to emulate stuff in practice,’’ he said. “The traffic, the speed of the game. It was good to get out with everybody. The boys (defensemen) were talking and I thought we were really strong in our own end.’’ . . .Giroux said the full lineup worked well. “Everybody played their roles and I feel everybody played pretty solid tonight.’’ As for players jumping to each other’s defense, he said: “It was good by ‘Brass’ to jump in there. It’s good to see we have each others’ backs. When you have a lot of new players in camp, you want to work on chemistry – when you see plays like that, it shows we’re sticking up for each other.’’