Carter Hart Proving He Fits Right In at NHL Level
When Carter Hart received the call to the NHL in mid-December, the question was if he was ready for the big stage, especially with a team suspect on defense in front of him.
He won his first two starts, in large part to the best defensive efforts the Flyers had displayed all season. Since then, Hart has made 10 more starts. Sure, he’s allowed some goals he would like back and displayed his worst on one occasion, but the results so far has been as promising as it gets.
For a change, the Flyers 6-5-1 record since Hart’s call-up has nothing to do with goaltending. He’s been a big reason for the six wins since.
Make no mistake about it, Carter Hart has all the makings of an NHL goalie at 20 years old, and the numbers are backing it up.
It seems like each one of Hart’s wins is better than the last. His first two were quality, but the Flyers stood tall in front of him to earn those results. His third was more a reality check of where the Flyers were as a team. Hart allowed four goals on 19 shots, but didn’t stand a chance on any goal allowed. His next start was a brilliant 34-save effort that ended in a 2-1 defeat because of two one-timers that resulted in goals. His fifth start was really a defining one. It was a night when Hart didn’t have it and allowed three goals on 10 shots and was pulled from the game early.
In his next two starts, Hart took the loss but deserved a better fate. He took the overtime loss to Calgary despite making 29 saves and suffered the defeat against St. Louis despite making 34 saves as the Flyers were shut out.
Since then, the Flyers four wins in the last five games have all been orchestrated by Hart. He made 37 saves against Dallas to snap an eight-game losing streak for the team. He allowed three goals on 26 shots in a loss to New Jersey. He stopped 34 of 38 shots against Minnesota, getting the win in a game where he wasn’t at his best. He stopped a career-high 39 shots out of 42 in a convincing win over the Bruins. And on Saturday, he made 33 saves in a win over Montreal.
In total, Hart has made 229 saves since Jan. 5, leading the league. He also has a 2.59 GAA and .927 save percentage since Jan. 5, the last seven starts he has made.
For comparison's sake, look at Hart’s numbers next to the other six goalies that have started for the Flyers this season. Hart’s 12 starts is tied for second with Calvin Pickard. His six wins are tied for first with Brian Elliott. His 2.66 GAA is second to Elliott, who sits at a 2.59 GAA through 14 games played. His .918 save percentage leads the way with Elliott coming in second at .911.
Simply put, many goalies have tried and most have failed to provide stability. Elliott did for a good part of the early season before the injury bug bit him. Five others have tried to be the viable replacement, but have gone by the wayside with either injury coming into play or going back to the minors or on waivers.
Hart has been the only stability. For a change, the Flyers have the goalie. They need so much more to fall into place.
Carter Hart has turned out to be everything expected so far. His play is confident, poised and very calm for a 20-year-old in his first NHL games. If he can get square to the shooter, chances are he makes the save. He really hasn’t been victimized by bad goals yet and even when he has, he has found a way to lock in on the game and completely turn a performance around.
Take his two wins against Minnesota and Boston last week. Hart and the Flyers fell behind 2-0 in both games in very different ways. Against Minnesota on Monday, Hart allowed two goals that he got a piece of, and probably feels he should have stopped. Against Boston, he had no chance on two one-timers from the opposite circle. Yet, Hart finished both games with over 30 saves and didn’t look phased by the early deficits.
With the bye week upon us, Hart will likely go back to the Phantoms in the AHL to continue to get some work in and remain fresh for the stretch run of the season. But he will be back in the NHL after the break, and likely to stay.
As hesitant as they were of playing a 20-year-old and possibly disrupting development, Hart has come in and proven that the stage isn’t too big and he’s more than capable of playing the part. The Flyers have found their future at goalie. Now they have to find the other pieces and get them to all fall in place.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.