When Jori Lehtera was sent off the ice for a five-minute boarding major and a 10-minute game misconduct Wednesday night, the most loyal followers of the orange and black had every reason to believe the Flyers were entering their self-destruction phase once again.
After all, we had seen this storyline play out on numerous occasions already this season.
Forced to kill off a five-minute power play to the NHL second-ranked power play should have doomed this team, but against the Bruins, something was different.
“We’re starting to show some character and maturity, even playing with a lead we’re a little bit more comfortable now,” Sean Couturier said after scoring a natural hat trick in the Flyers' 4-3 win over the Bruins (see observations). “We’re doing some little things right.”
A lot of those little things have been resolved finally through their penalty kill, in which the Flyers successfully killed off nine straight minutes of power-play time, including nearly six minutes in a hard-fought third period. For those who believed assistant coach Ian Laperriere should take the fall for the PK’s horrific start this season, interim head coach Scott Gordon begs to differ.
“Lappy has done a great job as far as the pre-scouting. You guys don’t see that,” Gordon said. “He’s been on target every single time. As far as the aggressiveness, that’s the one thing I’ve been really pleased with. When you lose a lot of games, you realize what’s not going right. Sometimes you have to learn through the struggles and the adversity.”
That aggressiveness is why the Flyers have now strung together back-to-back wins for just the second time in the past two months, and the biggest part of that success is a rookie goaltender that many within the organization believed needed the necessary AHL seasoning before he could be thrown into the frying pan of an NHL game.
Eleven games into his career, the 20-year-old Carter Hart is playing like he has the emotional fortitude of someone in their mid-to-late 40s. It just seems like there’s no way Hart could have the capacity to handle the adversity of falling behind 2-0 in back-to-back games to only stay composed and have his team rally back to beat the Wild and the Bruins.
“You can tell he’s a mature kid,” Couturier said. “He prepares himself pretty well. He does a lot of little things away from the rink that help his game on the ice. He’s pretty calm back there. He’s above his age.”
“I think it’s just how you approach the game. It’s everything,” Hart said. “It’s coming to the rink for practice, for games, whatever it is. Just coming in ready to work. I think if you work hard no matter how old you are, guys will respect you.”
With that, Hart gets to the heart of the matter. He embraces putting in the hard work of practice, much like Couturier has done from the time he started his NHL career at the age of 18. You can’t create a championship culture by cutting a few corners. So if the organization is planning ahead to next season, Hart and Couturier should be those cornerstone players.
Outside of that, the Flyers have a lot more maturing to go through if they want to join the league’s elite.
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