Carter Hart is doing more than energizing the fan base and his teammates.
He’s winning games -- even those against superstar goalies.
Two nights after the 20-year-old Hart became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win his NHL debut, he outdueled the great Pekka Rinne, leading the Flyers to a tense 2-1 victory Thursday over Nashville at the percolating Wells Fargo Center.
Rinne was last year’s Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best goalie.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has strongly hinted he is looking for an established goalie in the trade market, but if Hart’s outstanding play continues he may slow his search.
“He’s doing a great job, and a lot of guys in front of him are doing a great job as well,” defenseman Robert Hagg said. “And of course we want to help him as much as we can. We just have to keep on going.”
The Flyers, who handed Nashville its ninth straight road loss, are now 2-0 under interim coach Scott Gordon. They are playing with much more confidence since the coaching change.
“The way I look at it is, sometimes when you switch your goalie in the middle of the game and your team starts playing well,” winger Travis Konecny said. “I have no idea why why that works sometimes. Right now, something switched in our locker room when we had the changes. Everyone’s buying in right now."
Late in the second period, Hart (31 saves) and his teammates, led by Hagg and Sean Couturier, killed a five-on-three that lasted for two minutes, enabling the Flyers to maintain a 2-1 lead. The Flyers were without their best defenseman, Ivan Provorov, during the two-man disadvantage because he earlier had received a two-minute high-sticking penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for pushing the linesman.
Hagg was a shot-blocking machine during the Preds' two-man advantage.
“When you block a shot and hear 20,000 people screaming, even though you’re tired out there, you’re getting more energy,” said Hagg, who finished with five blocks, as did teammate Travis Sanheim.
With 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation, a hooking penalty on Michael Raffl gave Nashville its sixth power play. The Flyers killed it off, and Ryan Johansen hit the post with seconds left. The Flyers had survived.
“Our penalty kill was on fire tonight,” Hart said. “Guys were sacrificing their bodies.”
The Flyers' PK was 6-for-6 and has had an 86.8 percent success rate in the last 12 games. In the first 21 games, it was at just 68.5 percent.
Claude Giroux. on a two-on-one with Konecny, gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead when he beat Rinne with a right-circle drive to the far side with 11:27 to go in the second period.
A fortuitous bounce led to Nick Bonino’s goal, tying the game at 1-1 with 15:56 left in the second. Nashville’s Ryan Ellis fired a shot that deflected to Bonino in front and he had an open net.
About 45 seconds earlier, the Flyers nearly took a 2-0 lead, but Shayne Gostisbere’s power-play drive hit iron. The Flyers' power play was 0-for-4 Thursday and is in a 1-for-31 drought.
The Flyers had taken a 1-0 lead when Jake Voracek tapped in a slick feed from Couturier with 14:50 left in the opening period. Couturier controlled a rebound and spotted Voracek to his right.
“I saw Jake there, backdoor and alone,” Couturier said. “I tried to put it in the air for him to put it in and thank God it worked.”
The Flyers have scored the first goal in both games under Gordon. Before that, they had allowed the first goal in five straight games, all on the road.
The Predators were missing four key players who are injured, , including defenseman P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg (14 goals in 26 games).
Hart, named the No. 1 star for the second time in his two games, said he felt much more comfortable Thursday than in his debut.
“I could feel it in warmups. I wasn’t as anxious,” he said. “I had a good chat with my sports psychologist [Wednesday]. I was bit overwhelmed Tuesday and just had to bring things back to reality.