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Carter Hart has started on the right foot, but there’s a lot of work left

It’s only the beginning of a long road ahead.

NHL: Preseason-Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers season was one that most fans would like to forget, despite the team being memorably awful. They finished with a record of 25-23-8 (58 points), and there was a tie between the two top scorers on the team—Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk—with 43 points. Before that season, the talk of the town was stud goaltender Carter Hart, the supposed savior in the net for a franchise that hadn’t had an elite goaltender for many years.

Hart’s first two seasons between the pipes in 2018-19 and 2019-20 were incredible. In 74 games played and 70 games started, he held a record of 40-26-4 with a .915 save percentage that ranked 13th among goalies with a minimum of 70 games played. He also had a 2.59 goals-against average good for 11th and a 7.25 goals saved above expected (GSAx), which is 22nd per Evolving-Hockey. The prophecy was bound to come true. There wasn’t a sophomore slump, and the long road to stability between the pipes looked to be coming to an end.

Then, the Covid-shortened 2020-21 season happened. The train flew off the rails. Hart completely fell off, and with him, the Flyers hopes of making the postseason. In 27 games played and 25 games started, he had a record of 9-11-5, a save percentage of .877 and a goals-against average of 3.67. Worst of all, he was last in GSAx with a -24.34. The closest to him was the other Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott who had a -20.25. It’s safe to say that Hart was one of the worst goaltenders in the league, if not the worst. A bounce-back season was vital for the young goaltender to regain his confidence, and he has started on the right foot.

A not-so-promising beginning

In his first game of the 2021-22 season, he let in some questionable goals. However, they weren’t bad enough to cause great concern. He also bounced back in the third period of the game and stopped some excellent shots. There were times where he looked a bit shaky, but overall the game wasn’t bad as he ended with a -0.33 GSAx.

It wasn’t the promising start that we all expected from the young Canadian, but the first game helped ease everyone’s nerves, if only slightly. Of course, there are going to be people that overreact after one game, but the consensus was he looked better as the game wore on, and there’s not much to be afraid about at this point.

A strong stretch

Then, the narratives switched. The Seattle Kraken came to town for the first time in their history, and Hart put on a show. He ended with 23 saves on 24 shots and a 1.73 GSAx. From a somewhat mediocre start to winning the game for the Flyers, he took a huge step forward in bouncing back.

Even against the Florida Panthers, he was strong, especially at even strength. He allowed three goals, but the Panthers also managed 30 shots in total on the Flyers’ defense. It certainly wasn’t as stout as before, but Hart kept them in the game. He had a 1.48 GSAx at even strength. However, he ended with a 0.55 GSAx in total due to some problems with the penalty kill. He ended the game with a .900 save percentage.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There’s much more to the situation than the numbers suggest, but they’re essential to go over. In the aggregate, he has the seventh-best GSAx among goaltenders with a minimum of 130 Fenwick against. He also has the fifth-best at even strength among goaltenders with a minimum of 100 Fenwick against. His delta Fenwick save percentage is third-best at even strength with 2.76 and ninth-best overall with 1.48.

For those who want more simple stats, Hart is 17th and 18th among goalies with a minimum of three games in save percentage and goals-against average with .914 and 2.64. Ideally, it’s not what you want, but when it’s understood that shot quality is not taken into account, it should ease the nerves.

Hart is on the right path

The numbers speak for themselves. Hart has started this season off far better than he did in 2020-21. It’s not even close. There were times where it seemed like he was mentally checked out, and as of right now, he’s keeping his team in the game no matter what the score is. Oh, and he’s back to making saves like this:

Something that has been well-documented about goaltending is that it’s completely random. A goalie like Hart can have a horrendous season and then bounce back to become a Vezina candidate. It’s still early, and everything could fall off a cliff after the publishing of this article. However, there is a massive tangible difference in the Hart from 2021-22 and 2020-21. It’s going to take a lot more than just three games to help ease the hearts and minds of Flyers fans. Hart has certainly started the season on the right note, and with additions to the defense like Ryan Ellis, it’s exciting to see improvement in net and in front of him.