If you were looking for a high-energy warmup to Sunday’s big football game, the first meeting of the year between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals did not disappoint.
After missing 10 games with a rib injury, Sean Couturier returned to action with a three-point game. Also, Scott Laughton scored his first career NHL hat trick as the Flyers defeated the Capitals by a score of 7-4.
HAT TRICK. SCOTT LAUGHTON. 🎩🎩🎩
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) February 7, 2021
Couturier’s return seemed to help the Flyers address the biggest challenge that they’ve faced recently, closing out games. He scored what proved to be the game winner just 31 seconds into the third period, where Philadelphia outscored Washington 3-0.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 7, 2021
After playing every minute of Washington’s previous eight games, 25-year-old goaltender Vitek Vanecek was lifted with 3:24 left in the second period, after the Flyers went up 4-3 on just their 14th shot of the game. Veteran Craig Anderson went the rest of the way, in his first game action since March 11, 2020. The 39-year-old stopped six of eight shots in 22:45. Couturier’s second goal of the game was into the empty net, with 1:22 left to play.
Sanheim On Covid Protocol List
The real drama came after the game, when it was revealed that Travis Sanheim did not play because he was placed on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list on Sunday.
This does not necessarily mean that he has tested positive for the virus. He may have had symptoms that were unrelated. Or, he could have been in close contact with someone who tested positive. On Sunday, Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic tweeted that it was his understanding that Sanheim had not tested positive at that point.
But the NHL has seen outbreaks grown on several teams already this season. As of Feb. 8, the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are having games postponed. In an effort to ensure that no other Flyers were affected before Sunday’s game, players were woken up at 6:15 a.m. that morning to take rapid tests.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 7, 2021
Game 2 against the Capitals is set to go Tuesday. The Flyers practiced on Monday in Washington, and coach Alain Vigneault said all players except Sanheim were available.
The Flyers have had just one other player on the Covid Protocol list this season. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere missed the first six games of the season after contracting the virus during training camp.
Kuznetsov And Samsonov Back For The Caps
Of course, the Capitals have faced Covid challenges of their own. Just one week into the season, the club was fined $100,000 by the NHL when four players breached the league’s health and safety protocols by gathering in a hotel room without wearing masks.
On Jan. 20, four Washington players were placed on the Covid Protocol list. Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov returned on Jan. 30 after missing four games. On Monday, goaltender Ilya Samsonov and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov returned to practice for the first time. It was confirmed that both players had tested positive for the virus and experienced symptoms.
Both players could return to the Washington lineup on Tuesday. Samsonov, as a goaltender, may need a bit more practice to fine-tune his timing before he gets back between the pipes.
Even if there are no further issues and Tuesday’s game goes ahead as planned, the Flyers may find themselves on an unexpected break later this week, or perhaps facing a different opponent. The club was expecting to head home for games against the Devils on Thursday and Saturday. But the NHL announced Monday that it has postponed the Devils’ next three games, through Feb. 15, as well as the next two games for the Sabres and the Wild.
The league has been making schedule tweaks and squeezing in postponed games wherever possible, in an effort to complete its 56-game regular season by early May. The Sabres’ postponed games were supposed to be against Washington on Thursday and Saturday. Will we see the Flyers and Caps get matched up for two more contests later this week?
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