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For Flyers’ Carter Hart, a strong debut as he tries to rebound from disastrous season

Hart needed a strong performance in his first exhibition game this year — and that’s just what happened Tuesday against the Islanders.

Flyers goalie Carter Hart stops a shot  from the Islanders' Sebastian Aho during the first period Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Flyers goalie Carter Hart stops a shot from the Islanders' Sebastian Aho during the first period Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

New season. New roster. New hope.

Yes, it was only an exhibition game, the first of six, but for the Flyers, Monday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders started what they are calling their “Something to Prove” season.

It makes for a snappy slogan that they’ve been wearing on their T-shirts under their jerseys. But slogans are only good for advertising. Slogans won’t erase the memories of a 31-loss season (in 56 games) that put the Flyers in sixth place in the East Division and on the golf course early.

The proof that the Flyers are a more viable team, of course, will have to be shown on the ice. And the six exhibition games have more meaning than usual because the Flyers are trying to find chemistry after general manager Chuck Fletcher’s much-needed summer makeover.

First impressions were encouraging in some areas Tuesday, especially goalie Carter Hart’s solid play before a sparse but loud crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.

» READ MORE: New Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle not focused on becoming the Cal Ripken of hockey

The last we saw Hart, he was putting together a strong April before his season ended because of an MCL strain in his left knee. That left him with eye-cringing final numbers: a 3.67 goals-against average (gulp) and an .877 save percentage (double gulp).

Hart got refocused in the summer, played a lot of tennis, trained hard and got stronger.

Still, no one knows how last season will play on his mind, which some feel is a goalie’s most important attribute.

Getting back his mojo

So regaining his mojo is important for Hart and his team in the preseason. He came close to acing his first test as he stopped 17 of 18 shots in his 40 minutes of work Tuesday. Hart, 23, who was composed but played aggressively when necessary, was screened on the only goal he allowed.

“He played extremely well,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “In the first period, they definitely had the better looks and he looked confident; he looked big, he looked in control. That was great to see, and I’m sure he’s feeling good about this first start and looking forward to his next one.”

Again, it was only an exhibition game, but Hart needed a positive start after a disastrous 2021 season.

“It was nice to get back into a game and just get into that game mentality,” Hart said. “It’s been a while, I think like five months since the last game, so it was nice to just get back out there. … Obviously, not the result we wanted, but we made some strides.”

“It’s just the matter of getting on the same page,” said center Sean Couturier, whose team plays a preseason game Thursday in Boston. “Get the rust out of us. Come back to the little details and playing the right way. As the game went on, I thought we were a little better, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement in all aspects.”

Special teams killed the Flyers last season, and they didn’t start well Tuesday — going 0-for-3 on the power play and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill. That said, the power play had good puck movement and created some quality chances.

Workhorse top pairing

The new-look defense also had some encouraging moments. If first impressions mean anything, Ivan Provorov (five blocks) and Ryan Ellis (six shots) will be every bit as effective as the Provorov-Matt Niskanen duo from two years ago. They played a ridiculous amount of time — Provorov was on the ice for 25 minutes, 56 seconds, Ellis for 23:43 — for the first exhibition game, but it was a testament to their offseason workouts.

Keith Yandle and Justin Braun, another new pairing, also seemed comfortable together, and the other duo — Egor Zamula and Nick Seeler — was surprisingly effective. Zamula, a rookie, had a goal, showed poise, and gave a glimpse of why he will be a regular someday. Seeler, 28 ― a veteran who was drafted by Chuck Fletcher, now the Flyers GM, when he was in Minnesota in 2011 — played with physicality and grit (three blocked shots) and stayed in the mix as a potential seventh defenseman.

Hart likes the look of the defense, which will have another new pairing — Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen — play in its first exhibition game Thursday.

“They have looked great in camp, and they were great in front of the net tonight, boxing guys out, blocking shots,” Hart said of the defense. “Seels was a warrior; he was blocking a lot of shots, blocked one with his face there and I am glad he’s OK.”

Up front, the Flyers were a mixed bag. But after a first period in which they were sloppy as they got out the rust, they controlled the second before the Isles got back on top over the last 20-plus minutes. Derick Brassard (assist, three hits, 13-for-19 on faceoffs) and Cam Atkinson (four shots, plus-1), who once played together in Columbus and are now linemates, had strong debuts with their new team.

Now it’s off to Boston, where rookies Morgan Frost and Cam York and newcomers Ristolainen and backup goalie Martin Jones will try to make an impression as favorable as Hart’s. All four will play their first preseason game this year.

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