By Harry Allison
Only the Flyers, who have patented new ways to lose this season, could get their clocks cleaned in a 1-0 defeat.
Matt Niskanen leveled Scott Laughton (photo above) with a clean, open-ice hit that sent the forward flying backward with helmet off, a defining moment late in the second period of the Capitals’ 1-0 win over the Flyers on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
The hit knocked Laughton out of the game. He didn’t return for the third period, and neither coach Craig Berube nor Flyers general manager Ron Hextall would categorize the injury as anything other than ”upper-body.” They wouldn’t say whether Laughton will play in Thursday night’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks.
For Trotz, the knockdown came at the right time.
”It actually energized us. I thought we were sort of flat in the second, and they sort of had a little push on, and a lot of urgency,” Trotz said. ”I thought it changed us. It gave us some momentum.”
Enough momentum to finish another shutout in Braden Holtby’s iron-man run. The goalie made 21 saves in his 20th consecutive start. It was his fourth blank slate of the season, including three since he became too hot to rest.
Holtby is 14-2-4 during his starting streak, and he hasn’t allowed more than one goal in his last three games. He also played in his 26th consecutive game, extending his franchise record. He has rediscovered his form under new goaltending coach Mitch Korn.
”He’s very calm in the net. There’s no panic. There’s no extra movement,” Trotz said. ”He’s made a transformation.”
Jason Chimera’s first-period goal was all the Capitals needed as they won for the 14th time in 19 games overall and for the seventh straight home game. Chimera’s face was bloody after the game, the remnants of a gash to the face that required stitches.
Holtby was nearly matched by Flyers goalie Rob Zepp, the 33-year-old rookie who filled in for the second straight game while Steve Mason is out because of an upper-body injury. Zepp made 25 saves, including a terrific left pad stop on Eric Fehr late in the second period.
But Zepp never had a chance when Chimera redirected the puck after Niskanen flung it toward the net from the blue line 3:13 into the game.
”We played well, but we don’t deserve a point,” Berube said. ”We missed some opportunities offensively.”