Throughout the month of March and into the middle of April, the objective for the season started to shift to numerous priorities that the Flyers face in the coming months. One of those objectives will really not take place until after the season: finding a suitable partner to play alongside Ivan Provorov as a top-pairing defenseman.
But in season, there are still two things that Flyers can do that can only help as they move forward and start to look ahead to the future of this team. One is starting to give an opportunity to young talent to see what you have. The other is to find a way to get Carter Hart his confidence and swagger back.
In Thursday’s game, the Flyers got a little of both. Notably, they saw their goalie perform at the level he’s shown before but struggled to get to this season. And he had to take center stage in the skills competition coin flip that is the shootout to secure a 2-1 Flyers victory over the Penguins.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s Flyers-Penguins game.
1. Hart Stopper
In the first period of Thursday’s game, Carter Hart faced just three shots, but one of his first was a shorthanded breakaway chance for Brian Dumoulin. It was in the second period that he really stepped up.
Hart did allow the first goal of the game to Sidney Crosby, losing his position as he attempted a poke check and Crosby got to the rebound. But throughout the period, Hart was outstanding.
He stopped Jeff Carter cutting in on a rush with the pad. There was another chance for Carter on a deflection that rolled toward the goal line. Hart corralled that. Hart also stood tall to stop a two-on-one and another shot by Crosby.
Then in the third period, Hart made his best save off the night. Another two-on-one came his way, as Zach Aston-Reese put a pass across to Evan Rodrigues. Hart sprawled across and made that save as well.
In the overtime, Hart had to essentially carry the Flyers. The Penguins dominated in chances up until Crosby’s penalty with 1:56 left. Despite that, Hart remained strong and made the saves, keeping the Flyers in the game.
Finally, in the shootout, Hart made two saves after allowing a goal on the opening-round attempt by Jake Guentzel. Hart stopped both Crosby and Kris Letang with the glove. His fist-pumping celebration at the end said it all.
Hart really needed a win. He deserved a win based on his performance. This win was also a long time coming. Hart had lost seven straight starts dating back to March 18. But realistically, since he returned from a reset at the end of March, Hart has been better. Two of his losses came in shootouts to the Islanders. He suffered a loss to Boston allowing three goals in a 4-2 defeat. He allowed four goals in a loss to Buffalo, but two of those came in the final five minutes of a complete collapse.
This was finally the reward for the work Hart has put in. This was the result that went along with better performances and a renewed sense of confidence in himself. Now, if Hart can string these types of games together, it can only build momentum for what’s to come in the future.
2. Allison’s Debut
Thursday’s game also marked the first look for Wade Allison, a former second-round pick making his NHL debut.
Allison was regarded as a prospect that was expected to reach this level months ago. He was a name to watch going into training camp. Injuries, which have plagued Allison’s entire career so far, put that on hold.
Allison was all over the place in his debut. He had four shots on goal, several of those coming close to producing his first NHL goal. It’s not going to take long for Allison to find the net if he continues to have the nose for the net that he does. It will come soon enough.
One thing’s for sure, Allison’s energy really provided a boost. You saw the trio of Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Allison looking dangerous at times. Allison also looked good at the side of the net on the power play, nearly scoring on a backdoor pass from Jake Voracek.
This should be only the beginning for Allison, who figures to hold his spot in the lineup for another game into the weekend.
3. Scary Moment for Patrick
Speaking of Patrick, there was a scary moment in the third as Patrick took a shot from Phil Myers off the side of the head. He went to the ice immediately and left the game with the training staff.
After the game, Alain Vigneault said that Patrick told him that he was fine, but Patrick will almost certainly be monitored into the team’s next game on Saturday.
This was an especially scary moment given Patrick’s history with migraine syndrome. The post-game report was especially encouraging and hopefully Patrick is still on track to go in the next game.
4. Clutch Penalty Kill
Down the stretch in the game, the Flyers were thrown into the penalty kill after Travis Konecny was called for a holding penalty. In a period when the officials had let so much go, the first call came with just under three minutes left in regulation.
The Flyers penalty kill did have success on the first two Pittsburgh power plays in the game, but this was a late-game situation that could have ruined the solid effort in goal by Hart and taken away the opportunity to win.
But the Flyers continued to play solid on the penalty kill in the game and managed a successful kill without much of an opportunity for the Penguins. That late kill set the stage for what was to come later.
5. Highlight-Reel Shootout
The story of the game was Hart, but in the shootout, the Flyers got some highlight-reel goals as well.
Claude Giroux was the second shooter for the Flyers, and he slowed down to cut back across the crease and tuck in his chance.
In the next round, Sean Couturier made a move of his own, then went to the backhand and roofed one over Tristan Jarry.
That helped the Flyers get back into the shootout and claim the victory, with Hart making saves to follow both goals. It also marked a bit of history, as the Flyers defeated the Penguins in a shootout for the first time ever.
This was certainly a good place to begin in terms of building positive, respectable results. Now the challenge for the Flyers is building on it, starting with Saturday’s home game against Washington.