WASHINGTON, D.C. – A few more games like this and people might actually start believing the Flyers are for real.
The team achieved two different but equally impressive statistics on Saturday night.
First, the Flyers finished up a sweep of their home-and-away series against the once-streaking Washington Capitals with a 3-1 win at Capital One Arena.
Second, after suffering through a 10-game winless streak back in late November/early December which eventually saw their record drop to 11-17-7, the Flyers won for the seventh time in eight games and three in a row to level their ledger at 18-18-7.
Goalie Carter Hart turned in his second consecutive strong performance against the high-scoring Capitals.
While the Flyers haven’t sustained a streak quite long enough to truly get back into the playoff picture, this outcome might be drawing some attention from around the NHL.
Are the Flyers really building something here?
“We had a good pulse on this game,’’ James van Riemsdyk said. “That was a team that was rolling pretty good (7-1-2 before Wednesday night). To have two wins like that is obviously a big deal for us.’’
The Flyers will get an even bigger test on Monday when they visit Boston. The Bruins are on pace to break records for regular-season play in NHL history.
Right now, the Flyers don’t seem intimidated by anybody.
“We’re focusing one day at a time,’’ JVR said. “I think when you get too far ahead of yourself, that’s when you run into problems. We can’t look too far ahead, every game is so important, particularly where we’re at (seventh in the eight-team Metro Division) in the standings. Just take care of the games ahead of us. We’ve been on a good run here, we’re building confidence.’’
As it did in Wednesday night’s game at Philadelphia, won by the Flyers, 5-3, the second period in this encounter again proved crucial to the outcome.
Tied 1-1 at the first intermission, the Flyers struck twice for a two-goal edge.
A misfire on a clearing attempt by Washington goalie Darcy Kuemper led to the first goal. Morgan Frost intercepted Kuemper’s wayward try and relayed to Owen Tippett. With Kuemper caught out of position, van Riemsdyk had easy pickings to finish off Tippett’s feed at 4:51.
Just 49 seconds later, Wade Allison made it 3-1. Some strong down-low work by Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton resulted in the puck on Allison’s stick for a quick shot past Kuemper.
“That pass right there was a perfect pass by Kevin,” Allison said. “You can’t make a mistake on that one.”
This line seems to have built some chemistry.
“They’re both tremendous players,” Allison said. “They take up a lot of ice so it really helps me out there. I always know where they are because they always let me know. We’re starting to make some plays and having some fun out there.”
Meanwhile, Hart played even better than he did in the Wednesday game.
He managed to stop all but one of 40 shots fired his way.
“I thought we were on our heels in the third period and I think that’s when Carter just steps up big time,’’ coach John Tortorella said. “It’s a good team win for us. We had some key penalty kills and then Carter took over the game in the third. . .he slammed the door.’’
Hart said the Flyers’ five-man defense did a good job keeping Washington’s sharpshooters to the perimeter, especially on its three power plays.
“I think we did a good job of keeping them to the ourside,’’ he said. “They really didn’t get a whole lot of looks from the middle. Then we got some key blocks when we needed them.’’
The one goal Washington did get was noteworthy.
Alex Ovechkin tied an NHL record by scoring his 30th goal of the season with 2:04 left in the first period and he had Frost to thank for the milestone.
Frost, stationed behind the Flyers’ net, was in position to get the puck out of harm’s way as a Washington entry went wide. But all Frost could muster was a weak attempt. Out of a scramble, Ovechkin pounced on the loose puck and sent it past Hart.
That marked the 17th time in Ovechkin’s career he has reached No. 30, tying Hall of Famer Mike Gartner, who spent a number of years playing in Washington.
The Flyers took a 1-0 lead on a power play at 13:16 of the first period. After Lars Eller went off for tripping Zack MacEwen, Tony DeAngelo wound up with the puck at the point. His long shot was tipped by Laughton past Kuemper.
Imagine if the Flyers were to beat the Bruins on Monday. That would really open some eyes.
“You just have to worry about getting better every day,’’ Hart said. “We just have to be ready to go every night.’’
Laughton said: “We’re playing good hockey right now. We’re trying to work on our game and continue to get better. This is the best we’ve played this year, just from the checking standpoint and making it hard on teams.’’
Tortorella has been reluctant to make any grand declarations about the season but he has to be impressed by what’s happened since the recent West Coast trip.
“I think we feel good about ourselves,’’ the coach said. “Guys have loosened up offensively. It’s certainly helped that we’re scoring some goals during this period. Not every mistake is a fatal one. We’re just cohesive right now.’’
Travis Konecny’s 10-game point streak (12 goals/eight assists) was snapped.