With his long reach and his ability to break up plays and create shorthanded chances, 6-foot-5 center Kevin Hayes has helped upgrade the Flyers’ penalty kill.
The former Boston College standout has also bolstered the first power-play unit. That has pushed Sean Couturier to the second power play and, in the first two games, has given the units more balance.
The power play received goals from Hayes and Ivan Provorov in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over New Jersey, but it was the penalty kill that had the fans standing after it killed a rare five-on-three that lasted a full two minutes.
“I take pride in playing defense, especially on the PK,” Hayes said after the Flyers killed off five penalties to stifle the Devils. "It’s a job not a lot of guys like to do, but I enjoy it. Whatever helps the team here, that’s what I am here to do.”
Hayes, however, wasn’t able to help snuff out the most important power play of the night. Neither was Sean Couturier. Both were in the penalty box, forcing the Flyers to face the five-on-three without two of their best penalty killers.
Couturier said he and Hayes were “nervous” as they sat in the box.
But players used at various times on the two-minute penalty kill — Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Justin Braun, Provorov, Robert Hagg and Matt Niskanen — calmed them.
Oh, and Carter Hart. Especially Hart, the unflappable 21-year-old goalie who became the youngest player in Flyers history to register a shutout.
Hart made three saves during the Devils’ two-man advantage, including a had-to-see-it-to-believe-it acrobatic stop on Taylor Hall, maintaining the Flyers’ 1-0 lead.
“It was huge,” winger Travis Konecny said. "We have a player-of-the-game helmet, and I said I should have given it to the whole five-on-three crew. Obviously, Hartsy’s save is a huge momentum swing for us, but the five-on-three was unbelievable for us and I think that is almost bigger than a goal sometimes when you get that momentum and you can come off that. You can hear the crowd because they know how big of a kill it is.”
Konecny, who had the helmet because of his three-point performance in the previous game, presented it to Hart.
“Our PK was awesome,” Hart said. “I think those first two power plays, they generated nothing. And on the five-on-three, for sure they are going to generate a couple of things, but we limited them to not a lot of opportunities.”
Alain Vigneaut, the Flyers’ new coach, said “it’s not the number of saves, but the timing of the saves and the quality of the saves” that are important. “Carter kept us in the lead. We were able to go into the third and continue what we had done in the second and just take the game to them.”
The Flyers turned the game into a rout with three third-period goals.
In the first two games, the Flyers’ new assistant coaches have the penalty kill (directed by Mike Yeo) and power play (directed by Michel Therrien) looking sharp. Both units struggled most of last season.
The power play was 2-for-4 Wednesday and is 3-for-7 through the two games.
“I think everyone is buying in more,” said Provorov, who had a power-play goal and an assist. “On the PK, we’re willing to sacrifice; every single guy that goes out there. On the power play, the guys are following the systems that the coaches gave us. It’s been helping us so far.”
Hayes, who played his first regular-season game as a Flyer at the Wells Fargo Center, was impressed with the arena’s atmosphere.
“It was awesome. The place was buzzing,” he said. “It was electric in there. It’s nice to have my mom and dad and some family and friends here. They are probably more excited than I am about the goal, to be honest, but that place was electric tonight. As long as we keep winning, I think it will be the same way.”
First, the Flyers have to travel to Western Canada for games against Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton.
On Saturday night, they will face the Canucks and try to start the season 3-0 for the first since 2011-12.