The position of Flyers goaltender is one that has a very up and down history. Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall, Antero Niittymaki, Roman Cechmanek, Ilya Bryzgalov, Dominic Roussel — it’s a mixed bag of results for the franchise.
Carter Hart is the latest entrant into the arena, and so far has given hope that an issue that has dogged the Flyers has been solved. Since making his NHL debut in Dec. 2019, the 22-year-old netminder has made 74 appearances and recorded a .918 5-on-5 save percentage, which puts him 23rd among goalies with at least 70 games played over that span. (That ESSV% also puts him tied for fifth in franchise history.)
He’s also made a little history along the way becoming the youngest goalie to win his NHL debut since Carey Price in 2007. He was also the first goalie in NHL history to record multiple winning streaks of seven-plus games at the age of 21 or younger and the youngest goalie in franchise history to earn a postseason win and shutout.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
As the Flyers have developed into a Stanley Cup contender in their first year under Alain Vigneault, the pressure to win in Philadelphia hasn’t affected Hart.
“I just got to do my job,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. That criteria is just stopping pucks. When it’s time to play the game, that’s all I have to worry about. We got a great crew in front of us that makes my job a lot easier.”
The first season and a half of Hart’s NHL career has been an education. He’s observed his teammates, seeing how they handle the day-to-day grind of the long schedule and curated his own routine. Most importantly, he’s seen how he needs to take care of his body, especially as a goaltender, in order to be ready for every start.
Putting in the work
On the ice, working with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh has accelerated Hart’s development. Dillabaugh came from the Kings organization where he worked with Jonathan Quick as he became one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.
“Dilly has been great for me and [Brian Elliott],” Hart said. “We have a good relationship on and off the ice. We have good dialogue between all three of us. I think that’s real important between a goalie and coach is that good communication. He does a really good job of preparation and getting ready before practice. Honestly before games, a couple chats. I think it’s really important to have a good relationship with your goalie coach.”
“That goaltender-goalie coach relationship is a key one in any organization,” said Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. “There’s no doubt that that one there is a strong one. Carter is a young goaltender that’s working on his game and trying to get better. He’s putting in the time and he’s putting in the preparation. There’s no doubt that rapport, that understanding at what needs to be done between a goalie coach and a goaltender, both with Carter and Brian is obviously there.”
The work Hart’s put in is paying off. After a strong regular season, aside from a stinker in Game 2 against Montreal that saw him get pulled, he’s been outstanding with a .966 ESSV% in five starts. That 5-0 defeat to the Canadiens was forgettable and the type of game that could stay with some young players. That’s where a lack of playoff experience could be beneficial in this case. Just go out and play. No time for nerves or to let a bad game linger.
Hart bounced back in Game 3 with a 23-save shutout to give Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead.
First career playoff shutout for the kid. #AnytimeAnywhere pic.twitter.com/2Z1WrpCfF0
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) August 17, 2020
“It’s a good thing that he’s a little too oblivious to some things as a goalie in Philadelphia,” said Jakub Voracek after Game 3. “He’s really strong mentally. He’s a young kid that works really hard. He’s pretty impressive the way he bounces back, even since last year. If he had a bad game, he always came back and he was strong. I think that’s what good goalies do. Sometimes you have a tough night.”
The Flyers have been strong at bouncing back after losses. The last time they dropped consecutive games was a four-game losing streak in early January. As NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall noted, Philadelphia has followed up their last nine losses with regulation victories and outscored opponents 41-17.
Hart might be the youngest starter in the NHL, but 79 regular season and playoff games into his career he’s provided stability for the Flyers in a major area of need.
“He’s a great young goalie. A lot of potential,” said Sean Couturier. “He’s just a true pro ever since he got in. He does a lot of little things right. On and off the ice he prepares himself like a true pro. You can just respect that from a young guy, a young goalie. He’s doing everything he can just to get better.
Philadelphia leads their best-of-seven series with Montreal 2-1. Game 4 is Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream).
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.