The Wells Fargo Center has not been kind to the Flyers this season.
If the fans weren’t chanting for coach Dave Hakstol to be fired, they were booing the disorganized power-play and penalty-killing units, or creating about as much energy as you feel in a dentist’s waiting room.
Tuesday was different.
Carter Hart was the main reason.
The 20-year-old goalie, perhaps the Flyers’ most-hyped prospect since Eric Lindros, made his NHL debut against Detroit and had the home fans on his side from the very start. They cheered wildly and stood as he led the players onto the ice.
The fans cheered after most of 20 of his saves, even the easy ones, and they created a buzz that has been missing this season.
“It’s been a while since we’ve heard some ‘Let’s go, Flyers' chants, so it was pretty nice,” said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored his first goal in 16 games, as the Flyers outlasted the Red Wings, 3-2. “The kid is giving us something right now. He’s giving us some energy, a jolt, something this team desperately needed.”
The unflappable Hart became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win his NHL debut — and the youngest in the league to win his debut since Carey Price in 2007.
“Every time we seemed like we needed to rely on him, he made a key save,” said left winger James van Riemsdyk, who had a goal and an assist.
“I told him before the game that you only do this once,” Gostisbehere said about Hart’s debut. “I told him to have some fun and give us the spark we need. He did that.”
The Flyers played a smart, controlled game, and their puck management was improved. They didn’t try high-risk offensive plays that can turn into odd-man rushes the other way. And they did a much better job clearing bodies in front of the net.
As a result, the Red Wings didn’t have many high-quality chances, and the Flyers improved to 6-7-2 in games at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I’ve watched Philly quite a bit, and usually they like to go, go, go,” Detroit goalie Jonathan Bernier said. “I thought we didn’t get a two-on-one or barely a three-on-three, so they did a really good job of picking up that slack.”
The Flyers also blocked 18 shots, including four each by Travis Sanheim and Andrew MacDonald.
“Obviously, we wanted to help him as much as we can,” defenseman Radko Gudas said of Hart. “He did a great job. We needed that little spark from him.”
Can the Flyers (13-15-4) sustain their strong defensive play Thursday against talented-but-injury-riddled Nashville at the Wells Fargo Center?
The Predators (22-11-2), guided by former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, will provide a tough challenge. Based on how Hart and the team played Tuesday, it wouldn’t be surprising if interim coach Scott Gordon gives the rookie another start.
Hart and Michal Neuvirth figure to divide the starts against Columbus on Saturday and the host New York Rangers on Sunday.