If a fan follows a particular team long enough they will most likely experience every feeling imaginable in regards to that team. Whether it’s excitement, dread, or numbness a fan has seen their favorite team change players, coaches, and game plans enough that they’ve learned anything is possible. One of the few combinations of a certain feeling being paired with a certain team or player that will never seem normal to Philadelphia Flyers’ fans is the feeling of excitement surrounding the team’s goaltending. However when it comes to Carter Hart it’s hard for Flyers’ fans to be anything other than pumped.
A 21-year-old that dominated junior hockey and is probably more mature than most people probably twice his age, Hart came as advertised in his first season in the NHL. The former Everett Silvertip displayed the calm, cool demeanor we’ve been hearing about for a couple years while managing to deny several quality chances against to keep a below-average team in meaningless games down the stretch. The question now becomes if Hart’s 2018-19 season is setting up Flyers’ fans disappointment or if this is just the beginning.
Player by player
2018-19: 31 games played, 30 starts, 16-13-1, .917 save %, 2.83 GAA, 0 shutouts
When it comes to the Flyers’ goaltending this season the story will be Hart. The 2016 second-round pick did nothing but support the notion that he’s the franchise’s future in the blue paint. He provided numerous miraculous stops on his way to a .917 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average on 976 shots against in 31 contests. Considering the state of the team, not only do Hart’s basic goaltending stats look respectable but so do his advanced stats. Out of the 46 goalies that played 1,700 minutes or more in all situations during the 2018-19 regular season Hart ranked 15th with a 6.97 goals saved above average and 16th with an .833 high-danger save percentage. His differential of -8.74 expected goals against to actual goals against (72.26 expected goals against, 81 goals against) while averaging the second-longest distance on shots against in the aforementioned group of 46 goalies doesn’t look great, but we saw him make The Big Save plenty of times to go along with a few inexplicable denials in tilts that Philly ended up winning where they probably deserved to lose.
Beyond the box score Hart should be able to instill confidence in this team that may have not been there last season. I don’t know if you guys heard about this or not, but the Flyers rolled out eight goalies last year. That’s a lot. Once your team starts utilizing the fifth or sixth goalie of the season and it’s around Christmas perhaps a feeling of ‘oh it really doesn’t matter if we score goals or not, huh?’ may start to sink in. Knowing you can’t really afford to make any mistake or it’s going in the back of your net weighs on players and teams as the season rolls on. A lot of claims, like saying players are probably more motivated to get the go-ahead goal after their goalie bailed them out on a huge scoring chance against rather than fight to tie a contest that shouldn’t be uneven after a soft goal against, may be more narrative than real on-ice results but it does play a factor. We saw it last season with how the St. Louis Blues responded to Jordan Binnington’s decision to start saving all the shots around the start of January and we saw it in 2018 when the Washington Capitals rattled off four straight victories following this nonsense from Braden Holtby in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s been awhile since the Orange and Black have had not just stable, reliable goaltending but since a netminder has shown the ability to allow the club to escape shifts, games, and playoff series where the team had previously fallen. If Hart is capable of avoiding a sophomore slump and he manages to find another gear at some point this season this team can go places.
2018-19: 26 games played, 23 starts, 11-11-1, .907 save %, 2.96 GAA, 1 shutout
In what will most likely be his final season with the organization, it looks like Brian Elliott might be heading towards his best statistical season in the Orange and Black. With the best defensive support he’ll have out of his three seasons here and seeing his role reduced from 1A in a goalie platoon to veteran backup should provide the 34-year-old with enough time off to recover and avoid additional nagging injuries. Former head coach Dave Hakstol’s hidden passion to drive Elliott into the ground may have done irreparable damage to an aging body, but if managed correctly Elliott could kill it in the backup role. His play in February of this year serves as a perfect illustration as to why Elliott can be a reliable backup, as he posted a 3-0-1 record and .936 save percentage in his first six games back from a 40-game absence. An average-to-above-average on-ice performance while managing to avoid time due to injury will result in a successful season for Elliott.
A third goalie?
It’s not farfetched to think a third goalie will hit the blue paint for the Flyers this season. To be honest, it’s not insane to see a way four goalies make an appearance with two of J.F. Berube, Alex Lyon, or Felix Sandstrom both getting precisely one game in net. However when it comes to this particular campaign if any of these three are in net the team is most likely attempting to grab two points in the standings while trying to overcome some injuries between the pipes. Both Berube and Lyon have spent some time in the NHL and have underwhelmed while it’s unlikely that Sandstrom will be called up from a starting role in Lehigh Valley to sit on the bench with the big club. This means that if somebody is in net for the Flyers this season other than Hart or Elliott fans are most likely watching a goalie that will probably play poorly and isn’t part of the plan moving forward. If the Flyers can go .500 or better in the handful (if any) games that any of these three goalies play it’s a win.
This should be the first of many seasons where the fact Carter Hart is the number one leads to a lot more hope and positivity surrounding the team. It’s hard to tell which way this season will go for Hart before the first faceoff in Prague, but if everything goes according to plan Flyers’ fans may finally be able to relax in regards to the team’s goaltending. Hart’s performance paired with Elliott’s health will determine whether or not Philly’s goaltending will propel this squad to and through part of the postseason or if it will cost the franchise points and maybe another trip to the playoffs.
*Stats courtesy of NHL.com, Hockey-Reference, and Natural Stat Trick