PHILADELPHIA – NHL coaches will tell you games are often won or lost on special teams.
That certainly was the case last season when the playoff-less Flyers finished with a dismal, 26th-ranked penalty kill.
So general manager Chuck Fletcher did something about it, bringing in former two-time NHL head coach Mike Yeo to replace Ian Laperriere as director of the PK.
The early results are in and so far, so good.
The Flyers had to kill off four penalties – including a full two-minute five-on-three situation — late in the second period of Wednesday night’s home-opening game against the New Jersey Devils and did so flawlessly.
That performance gave the Flyers some needed momentum and they went on to a 4-0 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
The victory improved the Flyers’ record to 2-0, the first time they’ve won their first two games of a season since 2011-12.
While the Flyers’ three-man units performed admirably during the five-on-three disadvantage, it was goaltender Carter Hart who really stood out.
He robbed former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall from the right circle and also made a couple other tough stops.
“I don’t know how he saved it,’’ Scott Laughton said.
“Hartsy made the save of the year already. Everyone was working on the same page. Sometimes you are going to have to kill those off and we had to kill off a shortened one and then another one. It was pretty electric out there.”
It was Hart’s first NHL shutout.
On the other side of special teams, the Flyers scored twice on the power play, including the winning goal off the stick of Ivan Provorov, who fired a shot past goaltender Cory Schneider at 9:52 of the second period.
It was the second goal of the season for the Flyers’ second power-play unit. Keep in mind, two seasons ago the second unit went more than half a season without a goal.
The momentum gained from killing that five-on-three problem carried over to the third period.
Philadelphia scored a second power-play goal at the 33-second mark when Kevin Hayes poked in a puck from a scrum in front. Then 24 seconds later, Sean Couturier scored from close-range.
Several other Flyers agreed with Laughton that the penalty kill and Hart’s save turned the tide.
“It was huge momentum swing for us,’’ Travis Konecny said. “The five-on-three (kill) was unbelievable for us. I think that’s almost bigger than a goal sometimes. You even get the crowd into it, because they know how big it is.’’
Added Couturier: “He (Hart) bailed us out a few times. It (the save on Hall) was unbelievable. It was 1-0 there, so it was a game-changer. It just gives guys confidence to play better.’’
Hayes likes what he’s seen of the penalty kill so far. He even played 47 seconds himself during one shorthanded stretch.
“I take pride in playing defensive hockey here,’’ he said. “Especially on the PK. It’s not a job that a lot of guys can do. But I enjoy it, it helps the team win and whatever helps the team win.’’
Konecny scored his third goal of the season with 8:14 to play.
The Devils are now last in the Metro Division with an 0-3 record.
Coach Alain Vigneault sounds satisfied with his special teams so far.
“Special teams is one aspect you need to work on,’’ he said. “Tonight, after a pretty even first period, I thought we wore them down, then all of a sudden we had a 12-second five-on-three (against) and then a full two-minute one.
“A lot of times it’s not the number of saves but the timely save. The save by Carter kept us in that lead and we were able to come out in the third and take the game to them.’’
The save on Hall caught Vigneault’s eye. Did the save lift the Flyers’ bench?
“I don’t just see the bench (go up), I feel the whole building,’’ Vigneault said. “The atmosphere was lifting and it was a lot of fun.’’
Hart was even-keeled and modest as usual after his first whitewash.
“Any time you get a milestone it’s pretty cool,’’ he said. “But I think it’s huge that we came out so hard in our home opener. The fans really got into it there.
“(On the big save) I saw him (Hall) kind of wind up on the side there. Quick pushover, stuck my arm out and luckily it hit me.’’
The Flyers will head out on the road for a three-game road trip starting in Vancouver on Saturday night. Including the recent trip to Switzerland and Prague, the Flyers will be flying a total of 13,538 miles.
Ex-Flyer Wayne Simmonds received a standing ovation from the Wells Fargo Center audience when he was introduced in the first period. He stood and acknowledged the crowd.
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