- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Philadelphia Flyers were on their seventh goaltender of the season, and before long, it showed.

Jakub Vrana set up the Washington Capitals‘ first goal, then scored twice in the second period to lead them over the Flyers 5-3 Tuesday night at Capital One Arena.

T.J. Oshie also scored twice, Tom Wilson had a goal and John Carlson added two assists for Washington. Pheonix Copley made a career-high 37 saves in his 10th win of the season.

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Philadelphia has dealt with some injuries and an overall history of incompetence in net. As a result, recent waiver claim Mike McKenna made his first start for the Flyers — making them the fourth team in NHL history to use seven goalies in a season.

The Capitals exploited their defensive cracks, particularly with three goals in the second period. They have scored 61 of their goals this season in the middle frame, far and away their best offensive period.

“We really were able to play a much faster game in the second period,” coach Todd Reirden said. “We really seemed to transition the puck better, and obviously the statistics follow along with where we’re at in our second period production. So that is important for us, and something we’ve got to continue to add in the first and the third, is when we play with that type of speed.”

Washington improved to 26-12-4 and held onto the Metropolitan Division lead over Pittsburgh for the night. Reirden was asked whether it was standings-watching season yet.

“Certainly you pay attention to what’s going on around the league, especially when you’re doing your scouting and everything like that,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s something that we put a huge emphasis on every day in our locker room. We talk about trying to get better. We talk about 20-game segments, areas to focus on.”

Vrana set up the first goal when he received a defensive zone faceoff and pushed down the left side of the rink himself. His centering pass found Wilson waiting at the crease, and the right winger scored his 13th goal of the year.

“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 try to outskate him,” Vrana said. “Tom drive the net real good there and (it was a) backdoor play.”

Later in the first, Michal Kempny turned the puck over in the neutral zone, leading to a 2-on-1 Philadelphia breakaway and a Jakub Voracek goal to tie the game.

The Capitals only mustered four shots on goal in the first period, not taking enough advantage of the 35-year-old McKenna.

But Oshie put the Capitals back ahead 9:19 into the second period. He redirected an Eller wrister right past McKenna to the left pipe.

After that, it was the Vrana show. He stole the puck from Sean Couturier, the Flyers’ top center, in Philadelphia’s zone and broke away for the remaining two-thirds of the rink to score. Then, on a power play, Vrana shot on McKenna at an oblique angle, and the goalie mishandled it near the five-hole and kicked it in behind him.

The goals were Vrana’s 13th and 14th of the season, which tied and then surpassed his career high set a season ago as a rookie. The Czech is also Washington’s second-leading scorer now, behind only Alex Ovechkin’s league-high 30-goals.

“Finding ways to use his speed is important,” Reirden said of Vrana, “and he was really a factor tonight by taking away time and space, forcing turnovers. A couple chances for him to get his third (goal) there, which would have been exciting for a young player. But it was a real strong game from him.”

While playing 6-on-5 late in a defensive third period, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux scored for Philadelphia, but the latter came with seven seconds left and it never felt like a real chance at a comeback. Oshie added an empty-netter with two seconds to go — which turned out to be his 200th career goal.

Washington was without Nicklas Backstrom, who was scratched due to an illness.

The Capitals take a quick trip to play the Boston Bruins Thursday before hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets, a more competitive Metro Division foe than Philadelphia, Saturday night in Washington.

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