PRAGUE, Czech Republic — When the Flyers meet the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Carter Hart, the unflappable goalie who is the team’s most vital player, will start an NHL opener for the first time in what is expected to be a long and successful career.
“It’s just another NHL regular-season game,” the 21-year-old goaltender said after the Flyers practiced at O2 Arena. “It doesn’t matter if it’s here in Prague or back in Philly or Chicago. There’s all this hype around it being the NHL Global Series, but we have to prepare the same way we always do ”
Hart said he was much more jittery entering his NHL debut last season, a 3-2 win over Detroit on Dec. 18.
“I’m nervous before every game, but that’s just because I care so much,” he said. “But once the puck drops, then it’s time to play. I was 10 times as nervous for my first NHL game last year than I am for [Friday]. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the game last year.”
In the preseason, Hart stopped 56 of 57 shots (.982 save percentage. 0.44 GAA) in three games against NHL competition. He then allowed four goals on 12 shots and was pulled early in the second period of a 4-3 exhibition loss to the Swiss National League team.
“It was kind of a weird game for all of us,” Hart said about the defeat in Switzerland. “We were just getting overseas and getting used to the time change. We hadn’t played on a big sheet of ice in a long time. I mean, the game we’ve been practicing the last month hasn’t been on Olympic-sized ice.”
The teams will play on regulation NHL ice Friday.
Hart said the loss to the Swiss is “not going to determine how the season is going to go or anything like that. I feel good where my game is at. I feel like I had a good preseason. We’re all looking forward to getting started; it’s been a long couple weeks.”
“It’s time to play real games for real points,” said Alain Vigneault, who will be coaching his first game with the Flyers.
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Vigneault said he has been told Hart has rebounded quickly after a sub-par performance and he expects the same Friday.
“He had a real good practice today,” Vigneault said, “and I’ve heard Carter is the type of young man who bounces back from so-so performances, so I expect him to do what you need your goaltender to do: Give your team a chance to win.”
Hart said the Flyers built confidence in the second half of last season. He helped engineer an 18-4-2 run that got the Flyers back in the playoff hunt.
“If we play like that for a whole season, we’re going to be back in the playoffs,” Hart said. “We added a couple pieces this year to strengthen our group, and we have a really good core group of guys, and have new guys coming up.”
Vigneault will unveil different lines and pairings — he said it’s a work in progress — from what he used for most of the preseason. The opening-night lineup:
Kevin Hayes centering Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Sean Couturier centering Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny.
Scott Laughton centering James van Riemsdyk and Carsen Twarynski.
Connor Bunnaman centering Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick, who was cleared to play Thursday after missing most of the preseason following wrist surgery.
The defense: Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun; Travis Sanhiem and Matt Niskanen; Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere.
“I feel the lines we put together and the duos we put together will be good for [Friday],” Vigneault said. “… We’re going to be ready. Our guys are looking forward to this first game.”
Voracek, who grew up near Prague and will have 70 friends and relatives at the game, said he felt comfortable playing with new partner Hayes at Thursday’s practice.
“He’s a really smart player, and I’ve played with 'G' for so many years and I know what he wants to do and where he wants to go,” Voracek said. “For me, it doesn’t matter. I know when I’m at the top of my game, I can make things happen with whoever is on my line.”