- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2021

After the Philadelphia Flyers’ fourth goal beat Vitek Vanecek, the 25-year-old rookie netminder made his way to the bench.

Vanecek has been a bright spot for the Washington Capitals early this season. In his previous nine games, Vanecek had allowed 2.95 goals per game with a .911 save percentage. Sunday was his ninth straight start for Washington because presumptive starter Ilya Samsonov remained on the coronavirus protocols list.

The four goals Vanecek conceded in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Flyers weren’t on him alone — there were breakdowns elsewhere that aggravated issues. With the way the Capitals’ defense played, though, coach Peter Laviolette felt the need to change something.

“Sometimes you make a change to try to change the momentum of a game,” Laviolette said.

But sending Craig Anderson onto the ice for Vanecek didn’t alter the nature of Washington’s third straight regulation defeat. The Capitals managed 37 shots to Philadelphia’s 23, but dodgy defense undercut what was an otherwise impressive performance from winger Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the attack.

“You are not going to win many games giving up seven,” winger Tom Wilson said. “Defensively, we maybe could have been a little better. I think as a team we need to control those moments a little bit better. Four goals gives you a good chance. Seven against is no good.”

The Capitals took the ice against the Flyers with a slew of players absent. Winger Jakub Vrana was added to the coronavirus protocols list Saturday night, joining Samsonov and center Evgeny Kuznetsov. Winger T.J. Oshie missed the game with an upper-body injury, and defenseman Justin Schultz was also out.

But the Capitals still had Ovechkin, which made Sunday’s contest competitive. The 35-year-old finished with two goals and two assists, and he got going early.

Ovechkin struck shortly into the first period, smashing a slap shot over Hart’s left shoulder. He helped build a 2-0 lead, nutmegging one Philadelphia defender with a deke before his centering pass found Wilson for the score.

Ovechkin just kept shooting. In a 13-second span early in the second period, the winger launched four shots on net, and his final one — a one-timer from the point — snuck past Flyers netminder Carter Hart for Ovechkin’s second goal. Ovechkin’s final point came from an assist to Nicklas Backstrom, which evened the score at four late in the second.

“We let in too many goals tonight,” Laviolette said. “We scored enough to win. I thought we generated enough chances, I thought we could’ve scored more. There was a few that didn’t bounce our way.”

The Flyers worked their way back into the contest by making the most of their chances, Laviolette said. Philadelphia beat Vanecek at the end of the first and beginning of the second period before two more second-period tallies found the net.

Vanecek earned the NHL’s rookie of the month award for January, and he’s largely impressive so far in 2021. But Vanecek struggled Sunday. He stopped just 10 of the 14 shots he faced, and Anderson entered for him late in the second.

But the 39-year-old Anderson, a late addition to Washington’s training camp after Henrik Lundqvist was ruled out for the season with a heart condition, didn’t stem the rush of goals.

He conceded two of the eight shots he faced, including Scott Laughton’s hat trick goal.

The Flyers added an empty-net effort late to finish out the contest, rendering Ovechkin’s four-point performance a footnote in another loss.

“I think overall we play a solid game,” Ovechkin said. “If you look at our shots, I think we outshot them, right? If we continue to play like that, luck will be on our side and we just have to move on.”

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