The Philadelphia Flyers seem to have a bright future ahead with Carter Hart in goal. The 21-year-old netminder is in his second NHL year after playing 31 games during the 2018-19 season, and has so far looked the part of a cool, calm and collected goaltender.
For seasons, Hart has been Flyers’ fans whispered prayer to themselves as the team settled into a comfortable mediocrity after losing out to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. In the years since, the team built themselves a stocked prospect cupboard thanks to the efforts of former general manager Ron Hextall, and the fans are finally starting to see the fruits of those labors in Hart as the team’s starting goaltender.
Wednesday night brought the New Jersey Devils into town for the Flyers’ home opener, a key Metropolitan Division matchup in the early days of the season. Hart shut the door with 25 saves in his first career NHL shutout — becoming the Flyers’ youngest netminder to do so in the process — but his most impressive moment came at the end of the second period facing a 5-on-3 New Jersey power play.
With the Flyers down two players in the penalty box and New Jersey on attack, Hart snuffed out Taylor Hall‘s right circle one-timer with his sliding glove save. That stop kept Philadelphia ahead 1-0 in a crucial moment of the hockey game, a game the Flyers ultimately won 4-0 thanks in part to Hart’s effort on the 5-on-3 penalty kill.
An age old hockey adage states that top-level goaltenders can, and will often be, great erasers for a team’s mistakes. Two penalties from veteran players Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes sent the Flyers down two men in a critical situation heading into the final minutes of the second period. The Flyers had been dominant for most of the game, but all that work would have been for naught had the Devils taken advantage of the power plays given to them on Philadelphia’s mistakes.
Instead, Hart shut the door on Hall and the Flyers emerged with a well-deserved victory after 60 minutes of play.
The Flyers’ goaltending woes over the recent seasons have been well documented. Just last year, Philadelphia had eight goaltenders suit up for them over the course of their 82-game season, a new NHL record in the midst of a disastrous 37-37-8 season. Hart was one of the eight netminders that played between the pipes for the Flyers last year, and his .917 save percentage was the best on the team. Before that, Philadelphia had a rotating cast of average goaltenders that could never compete with the franchise greats of Bernie Parent and Hextall from eras past.
While the Flyers have a whole new look about them, from newly appointed head coach Alain Vigneault to second-year general manager Chuck Fletcher and offseason free agent acquisition Hayes, Hart’s performance in net will be the true litmus test for Philadelphia. It’s fair to believe Hart will have his struggles in goal, as most young goaltenders do, but how often and for how long will be the key.
The season is still early for all NHL teams, but Hart’s performance on Wednesday should put the rest of the Metropolitan Division on notice. The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are off to strong starts like many predicted, but the rest of the division seems to be up in the air for the Flyers to take. Pittsburgh’s injury woes and the slow starts of Columbus, New Jersey, and the New York Islanders have much of the division wide open in the early goings.
To pump the breaks a bit, the Flyers have played just two games so far on the season and by this time next week, fortunes could very well change in a hurry. The more tape that accumulates of Hart for opponents to analyze, the more likely it is teams will be able to come up with ways to beat him. It could very well be a long season for the Flyers in goal should Hart falter for long stretches of time.
Yet, if Hart continues to showcase brilliance like he did against New Jersey on Wednesday night, the Metropolitan Division might just be Philadelphia’s for the taking.