The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Alex Ovechkin’s gutsy effort isn’t enough, and the shorthanded Capitals fall to the Flyers

Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway and Flyers center Kevin Hayes fall to the ice after getting tangled up during the third period. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Alex Ovechkin did nearly everything he could Sunday afternoon as he continues to make up for lost time. In his fourth game since he came off the NHL’s covid-19 protocol list, the Washington Capitals’ captain scored two goals, added two assists, was on the ice for 20:02 and had nine shot attempts. But the 35-year-old’s gritty performance could not will his team to a victory at Capital One Arena.

Washington, which was missing six players because of injuries and coronavirus-related issues, lost, 7-4, to the Philadelphia Flyers. Scott Laughton had his first career hat trick for Philadelphia, which scored three unanswered goals in the third period to hand the Capitals their third straight regulation loss.

“We let in too many goals tonight,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We scored enough to win. I thought we generated enough chances. I thought we could’ve scored more.”

Capitals rookie goaltender Vitek Vanecek made his ninth straight start but was pulled in favor of 39-year-old Craig Anderson late in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots. Anderson gave up a Sean Couturier goal on the first shot he saw 31 seconds into the third period to take the loss in his Capitals debut. He finished with six saves.

“I thought we did a lot of good things offensively. I thought we did some good things defensively, but you’re going to give up some chances, and those chances aren’t directly pinned on a goaltender,” Laviolette said. “… Sometimes you make a [goaltender] change to try and change the momentum of a game.”

Svrluga: The Capitals have had every reason to flail. That makes their hot start even more impressive.

After Couturier gave Philadelphia a 5-4 lead in the back-and-forth game, Washington couldn’t pull even. The Capitals (6-3-3, 15 points) killed off a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Zdeno Chara to stay within one, but they failed to take advantage of any momentum gained by the penalty kill and couldn’t muster any more offense. Laughton completed his hat trick with 2:09 to play to give the Flyers (8-3-2, 18 points) additional cushion, and Couturier sealed the win with a long-range empty-net goal with 1:22 left.

“The other team, they are going to get chances,” Capitals center Lars Eller said. “And in most games they are going to get a goal. … There can be four guys doing their job perfectly and one guy is not, and then we’re screwed.”

Ovechkin got the Capitals off to a strong start with some dynamic play. He opened the scoring 11:11 into the game on the power play, firing a wicked wrister past Flyers goalie Carter Hart from the top of the left faceoff circle. His fancy stickhandling through Philadelphia defenseman Philippe Myers helped set up Tom Wilson to give Washington a 2-0 lead at 16:36.

After Laughton scored his first two goals on either side of the first intermission, Ovechkin scored again with a slap shot from the point that hit off the right post, then off Hart and into the net 4:08 into the second period.

Ovechkin, who said Sunday’s game was the best he has felt all season, has five goals in eight games, including four since his return from the covid-19 protocol list. He has 711 career goals, and Hart became the 144th goaltender against whom Ovechkin has scored.

Wilson also had four points Sunday, including a career-high three assists. Center Nicklas Backstrom had a huge day for Washington’s dynamic top line, too, scoring the Capitals’ final goal in the last minute of the second period and adding two assists.

“Right now I think our line feel each other, and we have pretty good chances,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously we scored three big goals. If you look at all of our chances in the third, we just missed a little bit, and I hope we going to continue to play like that and have nice games.”

The Capitals relied heavily on their top line because so many other regulars were unavailable. Eller (upper-body injury) and winger Conor Sheary (lower-body injury) returned to the lineup, but wingers T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury) and Jakub Vrana (covid-19 protocols) were out for the first time. Defenseman Justin Schultz and center Brian Pinho remained out with injuries, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov are still on the covid-19 protocol list.

With all of the absences, forward Philippe Maillet, 28, became the fourth Capitals player to make his regular season NHL debut this year.

Capitals forward Jakub Vrana added to the NHL’s covid-19 protocol list

After Ovechkin’s second goal, Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg answered less than four minutes later with a one-time blast from above the faceoff circles that beat Vanecek.

James van Riemsdyk gave the Flyers their first lead when he beat Vanecek 16:36 into the second, which prompted Laviolette to turn to Anderson. Backstrom scored his team-leading sixth goal with 56.1 seconds left before intermission, tying the score before Philadelphia’s decisive third period.

“Obviously, the loss is frustrating. I think we got some points earlier in the year when they weren’t our best games,” Wilson said. “I think we played fairly well tonight; just didn’t manage those big goals or moments. Costly errors. They tied it up quite a few times and stayed in it.”

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