Jakub Vrana’s Two Goals Lead Caps to 5-3 Win Over Flyers

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CAPITAL ONE ARENA – The Washington Capitals were leading the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 just over the midway mark in the second period. The Flyers were looking for some kind of momentum to tie the game. As they had the puck in the Caps zone, Jakub Vrana stayed on his man and forced a turnover off an errant attempted pass from Sean Couturier and went off to the races. Vrana flew up the ice with only goaltender Mike McKenna to beat. Vrana went to his left and beat McKenna above the glove in the top corner. 

The goal gave the Caps a 3-1 cushion and would be a big momentum swing for both the defending champs and the young second-line left winger. The Capitals would go on to win 5-3 over their Metropolitan Division foes.

“He continues to grow and improve and his speed is such a factor. Finding ways to use his speed is important and he was really able to be a factor tonight by taking away time and space and forcing turnovers… It was a real strong game for him,” said Capitals head coach Todd Reirden after the game.

“The puck kind of bounced right in that spot and I just tried to take advantage of it, put the puck behind the d-man and tried to out-skate him,” added Vrana. “You can’t always go so fast. You have to read the situation and obviously I try to use it (my speed) as much as I can. When I see the chance to skate I do it. I think I’m a good skater and I try to use it as much as I can

How the Caps got to that point was remarkable, especially with the absence of center Nicklas Backstrom due to sickness. The first period began with Vrana pouncing off a face-off, chasing the puck and dishing a nice pass coming toward the goal to an open-charging Tom Wilson to put the Caps up 1-0 at 4:21. For Wilson, it was his 13th goal of the season in his 23rd game back since his reduced suspension that was initially supposed to be 20 games. He needs just one goal to match last season’s mark.

The Flyers tied it at the 9:28 mark with a goal from Jakub Voracek. The Caps were a bit out of it in the first, being outshot 11-4. There was a contingent of Flyers fans that made their presence known by both cheering for their team and starting “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” chants for their city’s own defending Super Bowl champs who play the Saints this Sunday in their own quest for back-to-back but it was nothing like the Eagles green that showed up at FedEx Field when the Eagles played the Redskins just nine days prior. There was way more Capitals red Tuesday night.

The Caps came out of the intermission with more fire and it showed as the team not only had the slight 13-12 edge in shots but had three goals in the middle stanza to show for it. First T.J. Oshie deflected in a shot from Lars Eller for his 12th goal of the season.

Then it was that Vrana breakaway goal but the 22 year old wasn’t done. He added another goal from a ridiculous angle to make it 4-1. It was his 14th goal of the season, eclipsing last year’s mark, as well as his third career two-goal game and his first three-point game. It took him 31 games fewer to set his new single-season goals mark.

The goal came at 15:55 of the second period while on the power play, a unit that has struggled for nearly the last month. Entering Tuesday’s game the Caps were 1-for-31 on the man advantage since Dec. 15. Vrana was on the second power play unit.

Overall Reirden was pleased with the amped up effort in the second period.

“The first was just kind of some spurts of good play but the second period has been really integral in the success we’ve had so far this year,” Reirden said. “We really are able to play a much faster game in the second period. We really seem to transition the puck better and that’s obviously the statistics that follow along with where we’re at in the second period production. So that is important for us and something we got to continue to add in the first and the third (periods) when we play with that type of speed. What I mean by that I’m not just talking about players skating fast. It’s the puck movement, it’s under (puck) handling, delivering to speed and really establishing speed through the middle of the ice and that really backs off the opposition.”

In the third the Flyers made it interesting. After Radko Gudas hit Nic Dowd, Devante Smith-Pelly swooped in to stick up for his teammate.

The Flyers got one back late with a goal from Wayne Simmonds at 16:33 and added another goal to pull them within one from Claude Giroux with seven seconds left in the contest. Oshie answered four seconds later an empty netter for his second goal of the game and the 200th goal of his career. According to NHL PR, it marked the 27th instance in NHL history that two teams combined for two goals in the span of four seconds or less.

The Caps were outshot 40-25 but it was the play of backup goaltender Pheonix Copley that eliminated any further damage. Copley stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced that night for a .925 save percentage in the win, improving his record to 10-2-2. Copley is 10-1-1 in his last 13 games and has points in each of his last seven starts (6-0-1).

The Capitals are now 15-1-0 in their last 16 games against Eastern Conference opponents. They’ve improved their record to 26-12-4 for 56 points to stay atop the Metropolitan Division two points ahead of the Penguins and five points ahead of the Blue Jackets whom they’ll see Saturday night in the district.

Before that Saturday night tilt, however, the Capitals will head to Boston for the first time since defeating them 7-1 on banner night. Will Wilson get payback on Brad Marchand for his unnecessary fight on Eller? We shall see.

 

 

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