Can Carter Hart shake off slow start for Flyers?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Considering how clunky the Flyers have looked at times this season, they probably feel a little fortunate about their solid 8-3-3 record. While the Bruins (10-3-2) decisively sit at first in the East Division with 22 points, the Flyers stitched together enough wins to enter Sunday with a shot at the second spot with 19.

The Flyers have been able to shrug off a sometimes-impotent-looking offense to manage this respectable start, but they’ve also had to deal with less-than-ideal production from Carter Hart.

Bruins have seen some of Carter Hart’s tougher moments for the Flyers

If any team’s seen evidence of Carter Hart’s early-season struggles beyond the Flyers, it’s the Boston Bruins.

Most memorably, they frustrated Hart so much in a 6-1 loss for the Flyers that the usually reserved goalie smashed his stick.

Hart’s starts for the Flyers vs. the Bruins have been adventures in general this season — even if other nights didn’t put goalie sticks in such danger. So far this season, Hart is 0-1-2 in Bruins – Flyers games, sporting a rough .865 save percentage. We’re talking about 14 goals allowed in those three games. The Bruins’ power play picked on Hart and the Flyers, as seven of those 14 tallies were power-play goals.

[PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

To beat the Bruins in Lake Tahoe on Sunday, the Flyers most likely will need a strong performance from Hart, too.

Due to COVID restrictions, Hart and the Flyers must face the Bruins without Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Justin Braun. About the only potentially good news for Hart specifically is that the Flyers might go with a setup of seven defensemen and 11 forwards, as NBC Sports Philadelphia discusses here.

“Without fans there, it’s going to be different, but you know, when we were young and we were playing in the outdoor rinks or on the pond, there weren’t any fans and we were enjoying it,” Alain Vigneault said. “So obviously it’s going to be a little different feeling, but I expect our guys to go out there, enjoy the game and play hard — that’s what we’re going to Lake Tahoe to do. We know Boston’s a real good team, they’re fully healthy; we’re in a little different situation but we’re next man up and no excuses.”

(Granted, the Bruins look like they’ll be without David Krejci … but they’re certainly healthier than the Flyers.)

Between a limited Flyers roster, a high-end Bruins opponent, and the unusual (yet beautiful) conditions in Lake Tahoe, Carter Hart has his work cut out for him on Sunday.

Maybe Carter Hart will heat up over time?

When you carry high expectations, any dry spell can be that much more off-putting. It’s worth noting that Carter Hart’s experienced a slow start or two already through his young Flyers career.

Take last season, for example.

Through October (his first seven games of the 2019-20 season), Hart went 2-3-1 with a similarly worrisome save percentage of .864. By the time that irregular regular season ended, Hart settled in with a 24-13-3 record and .914 save percentage.

Zoom out just a bit more, and that slower-starting, stronger-finishing narrative continues.

Of course, Carter Hart’s only played in 84 NHL regular-season games (and 14 playoff contests) at age 22. His story’s really only just begun, and this slight tendency to start slow might end up looking like a coincidence. He ultimately needs to put in the work to make sure he ends things on a higher note again, too.

But the point remains that the Flyers shouldn’t panic about a slow start for Carter Hart. Considering the circumstances, there’s a decent risk that the bumpy beginning carries over through Sunday’s Flyers – Bruins game at Lake Tahoe, yet Hart’s defied expectations before.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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