Coach John Tortorella has said all along the key to the Flyers having success early in the season would be the play of goaltender Carter Hart and he wasn’t kidding.
Hart, coming off two brilliant efforts in overtime losses to Carolina and the Rangers, was at his best again on Saturday night in a 2-1 win over the Senators in Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre.
Hart, who stopped 33 of 34 shots, improved his season record to 6-0-2 as the Flyers (6-3-2) finished their three-game road trip with a 1-1-1 mark.
The Flyers’ special teams did their part, too.
Penalty killing had been a big thorn in the side of the Flyers last season but a new coaching regime appears to have rectified the problem.
Going into the game, the Flyers had moved up to 14th in the NHL for the penalty kill at just over 79 percent.
They improved on that number, blanking the Senators on all five of their power-play attempts.
Kevin Hayes said the penalty kill was a big part of this win. Oh, and Hart, too.
“Last game we gave up two,’’ Hayes said, alluding to the Rangers game, “I thought we were great tonight. A lot of guys dug deep and blocked a lot of shots. Hartsy was there to make the saves when he had to.’’
Tortorella continues to stress defense and allowing just seven goals on the road trip was a step in the right direction.
“We didn’t give, we just did what we had to do,’’ said Tortorella. “I think the brightest spot for me was we had the puck more. It’s just not him (Hart) making saves, it’s how he looks. The goaltender sometimes sets the tempo for your team. He looks calm, he looks relaxed. I think it settles the team down. He’s handled himself very well.’’
Zack MacEwen’s goal with 1:36 left in the second period broke a 1-1 tie. MacEwen took possession at the top of the right circle and sent a rising shot past Senators goalie Cam Talbot.
It was MacEwen’s third goal of the season, putting him in a tie for second in goals on the roster, trailing only Travis Konecny’s four markers. Two of MacEwen’s goals have been game-winners.
Claude Giroux, playing in his first game against his former team, needed only 2:44 into the game to score. Giroux’s short shot off the rush eluded Hart. It was Giroux’s 300th career goal.
Before the game, Giroux indicated his trade from the Flyers prior to the NHL deadline last season left him feeling a little awkward.
“I never thought I would play for another team, to be honest, until my last year in Philly,’’ Giroux said in a televised interview. “Everything kind of happened fast. It’s just something you never think of because you’ve been there for a long time. I really loved playing in front of those fans and wearing that jersey. But I’m here now.’’
Scott Laughton played with Giroux for almost a decade so you could understand why the encounter seemed a bit strange to him.
“It’s weird,’’ Laughton said, “to see him on the other side wearing that jersey. So many years with him. It’s just a weird time.’’
The Flyers bounced back on a power-play goal from Hayes just five seconds after the infraction was called on the Senators at 5:12. Philadelphia won the faceoff and Travis Konecny quickly got the puck to Tony DeAngelo, whose long shot was tipped by Hayes over Talbot’s glove at 5:17.
“Our team did a good job killing power plays there,’’ Laughton noted.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was a healthy scratch as Justin Braun returned to action after sitting out the Toronto game on Wednesday. Also, Morgan Frost was back in the lineup after he was scratched against the Maple Leafs. Kieffer Bellows was the odd forward out for this game.