The 2018-19 Philadelphia Flyers were a lot of things. They were inconsistent, uninspired, and downright bad at times; which led to the firings of both Dave Hakstol and Ron Hextall as the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. But, they also showed signs of growth, and played good enough hockey over the last few months of the season to place themselves in the playoff conversation. Many have described the Flyers as average, mediocre, and most often, disappointing. However, for their inconsistencies, the Flyers gave us all a reason in the end to tune in and care. Little moments of light shone through a season that was mostly defined by darkness, and that allegory can be perfectly extended to summarize the bizarre, record-breaking situation that was Flyers goaltending in 2018-19.
As you are probably aware, the Flyers broke an NHL record for the number of goaltenders used during the course of an NHL season, when they started an unprecedented eighth goalie. This snapped the previous record of seven set by a couple of teams, but most recently the 2007-08 LA Kings. The Flyers optimistically started the season in Las Vegas, where they started goalie #1 Brian Elliott. He snagged the win in the opener, and he would ultimately make the second most appearances in net, playing in 26 games. He suffered a lower body injury during a November contest against the Devils, which would keep him out until February. Elliott’s season was average, on the whole, when he wasn’t injured. He posted a save percentage of 0.907, which is unspectacular, and one could argue this would have been higher given proper usage. Dave Hakstol did run Elliott out in net quite often, which given his age probably contributed to his injuries. Elliott’s backup that day was the second goalie to appear for the Flyers, Calvin “Cal” Pickard. He would make only 11 appearances for the Flyers.
Quick game: guess Pickard’s save percentage…
If you guessed ‘C’, you’d be correct. And that pretty much sums up Pickard’s tenure with the Flyers (besides his awesome Gritty mask). They eventually waived Cal, and he was claimed by Arizona. He only played 6 games for the ‘yotes.
The next goalie up was #3 Michal Neuvirth, who made his season debut in the 11th game of season, a loss to the Islanders. He has just came off of an injury, and unsurprisingly, he wouldn’t last very long this season either. He appeared just seven times, and saved only 85.9% of shots. Yikes.
Anthony Stolarz started the year with the Phantoms in the AHL, however due to injuries, he made his Flyers season debut on November 21st against the the Maple Leafs. From late November through December, he essentially became the emergency starter, being paired with whomever else was healthy. He would appear in 12 games before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers. During this period of injury problems during late November and early December, both Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol were fired, and the team looked like a ship without a motor. Stolarz (primarily), Neuvirth, and goalie #5 Alex Lyon played in net, and there was a large uncertainty present both internally and externally in the franchise.
Then, we received the proverbial lantern in the deep expanse of woods that was Flyers hockey. Carter Hart, goalie number six, was called up and played his first NHL game on December 18th, a win against the Detroit Red Wings. Hart would ultimately make the most appearances of any Flyers goalie with 31. Most notably, Hart would win eight games straight from the 14th on January to the 9th of February. Hart’s season save percentage of 0.917 has many thinking, as they rightfully should be, that the franchise’s long goalie woes could soon be over.
Mike McKenna would make one spot start on January 8th, and this would mark his only appearance with the Flyers. And lastly, the Flyers finally saw the man they traded for, Cam Talbot, on March 1st as the team seemed reluctant to play the former Oiler.
As was with their overall play, the Flyers’ goaltending was the tale of two seasons. In the first half, the likes of Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Cal Pickard, and Anthony Stolarz could never really establish themselves as a force in net, and injuries ultimately forced the Flyers into (often poor) decisions. Goaltending was painfully average, and sometimes even bad, until Carter Hart was called up. Once he established himself as the starter, the Flyers never looked back. Different goalies would make spot starts here and there, but Hart was the guy. Unlike before, the Flyers has quite a clear direction in net. It was Hart when he was ready, and everybody else was a backup.
I think I speak for many of us Flyers faithful when I say that the ever-rotating carousel of goalies was maddening. Through it all though, we learned much about the puck-stoppers on this team. Most will not be back. Most likely, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will not make an appearance in a Flyers uniform next season. Lyon will most likely be a Phantom, and unless they sign another goalie, Hart and Talbot will serve as the top two goalies going in to 2019-20. It is for the best that the Flyers will lose some of their goalies. It can only serve them best to preen off the mediocrity. Though, we had to suffer through it last season, Carter Hart alone has erased most of the bad memories of the early season. We only remember his successes, and look toward the future in the hopes of him carrying the Flyers into the deep postseason. Despite the record being broken, 2018-19 will not be remembered for that. It will be remembered for the emergence of a potential franchise icon, a prodigal son that the entire city of Philadelphia will be behind.