In the first of our series grading each player by position, we will start with the men between the pipes. Suffice to say, it felt like a historically bad year for Flyers goaltending, and it very well may have been. Out of every NHL team, the Flyers ranked dead last in terms of combined save percentage from goaltenders, and only managed to shut-out opponents in three games. To put things into perspective further, the league average team save percentage was 0.903%, and the Flyers only managed 0.880%.
It can be argued that it was overall team defense that befell the Flyers for most of the season, and that the goaltenders were left out to dry. While this is likely a strong component as to why Flyer goaltending was so numerically poor, it fails to excuse a lack of fundamentals at the position that was exposed at times from the eye test. Yes, there were some key moments where Flyer goalies (in particular Brian Elliott) kept them in games. However, there were also too many times where we were sat thinking that he should have had that one.
So, without further ado, let’s grade some goalies. Not that there are many (cough cough 2018-19). Only three goaltenders suited up for the Flyers this year, and here they are:
Games Started: 25, W: 9, SV%: 0.877, GAA: 3.67
Carter Hart’s third NHL season can only be described as disappointing, yet there is no reason to over-react and waste energy thinking about how he is somehow a bust at 22 years old.
Hart never fully managed to hit the ground running in 2020-21, and though he did put together some good performances, they were few and far between. All the times Hart seemed to leak goals (Hart let in 4+ goals in three consecutive starts for the first time in his career) besmirched the positive nature of his good performances. This lead to the reset period in late March/early April, and while Hart came out of it playing better, his season was ultimately cut short when the Flyers decided to shut Hart down for the year after an injury to his knee.
It was particularly a disappointing year since we saw Hart miss saves he would normally make easily, and almost play small in net, a hallmark of his play when he struggles. However, he is a young goaltender, and his play coming out of the reset shows that he is mentally resilient and able to correct himself. Hart has struggled before (as all young goalies will) and we mustn’t forget either that factors outside of the NHL life affect these athletes. Hart’s comments after the season make it abundantly clear that it was tough year for him, as it has been for many, and living under such circumstances that were agreed to prior to the 2020-21 NHL season can’t be easy.
Hart still remains a young goaltender with eons of promise, and while this was an outright bad season for him, he has all the tools to bounce back.
Games Started: 26, W: 15, SV%: 0.889, GAA: 3.06
As a backup goaltender, throughout his years as a Flyer, Brian Elliott has been fantastic. It’s no secret that (usually, unless you’re Jaromir Jagr) older players need more rest and time to have their physical strength recover. When he is at 100%, Elliott is the perfect back-up, and in 2020-21 he outright kept the Flyers in games with how well he played.
However, with Carter Hart’s struggles, Elliott was thrust into a starting role that at this point he doesn’t have the capacity to fill. It’s no fault of Elliott’s. He simply wears down when he plays too much, and this shows up in his 0.889% save percentage. That statistic is one that doesn’t fully measure how well Elliott played when he was used in the role he should be, yet on the whole, it remains an accurate judge for a season in which he had no choice but to be played more than he is perhaps able to.
Elliott was good, great when he needed to be, but over-usage ultimately led to a less than ideal season.
Games Started: 5, W: 1, SV%: 0.893, GAA: 3.33
Alex Lyon certainly tries his hardest, and when Carter Hart was rested for a reset, Lyon was thrust into NHL games. However, Lyon quite simply isn’t an NHL calibre goaltender.
It wasn’t as if Lyon performed outright terribly in any of the games in which he appeared. Lyon held the Buffalo Sabres to a single goal in relief (a difficult task for this Flyer team) and only let in two goals each against Pittsburgh and Washington. However, it’s easy to see that Lyon is likely an AHL goalie.
There certainly wasn’t an expectation of Lyon when he was called up, but that doesn’t mean he somehow lived above an expectation.