The Flyers are no strangers to goaltending issues. It is huge part of their DNA as a team and something that has, in a twisted way, partly defined their franchise for decades. What makes the current issue so concerning is that the player at the center of it, Carter Hart, is supposed to be the guy.
The guy that ends the seemingly endless search for a franchise goalie and secures the position for the next decade. The guy that could hopefully one day end the Stanley Cup drought. That has been the expectation for years now, and we even saw flashes of that potential during his first two seasons in the league.
He could still very well end up being that guy. You do not want to give up on a 22-year-old goalie with his talent too quickly. But he is not at that level right now and is going to find himself as a scratch for the next two games against the Sabres according to head coach Alain Vigneault on Monday.
What stands out about that decision is not so much the fact Hart will not play. It is the commentary from Vigneault on what he wants to see from Hart over the next few days. He was very clear in pointing out these are not “rest” days for Hart, and that he is going to be working and that he needs to work harder and work better.
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“He’s going to skate today in practice, stay on after, practice with the team tomorrow, stay on after,” said Vigneault, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman.
“Wednesday he will do the same thing, he’s going to practice it and work with [Goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh] after. We’re going to stay that way here for a little while. He needs to work on his game. He needs to work harder, he needs to work better. I’ve had a good conversation with him and Kim about my expectations about his practice habits and him stopping the puck.”
Anytime there is a discussion about practice habits, while the words “work harder, work better” get thrown around that is always going to sound some alarm bells and get your attention.
But even if his struggles are not the result of work, and are simply the growing pains associated with a young goalie playing behind a bad defense it is clear Hart is not having the season he or the Flyers were anticipating.
• In his first 22 appearances this season Carter Hart has an .869 save percentage.
Of the 59 goalies that have appeared in at least 10 games this season, that places Hart 58th in the league, ahead of only Ottawa’s Marcus Hogberg (.859) who has only appeared in 10 games.
• Hart and Hogberg are the only two goalies that currently have a save percentage lower than .880 this while Matt Murray (Ottawa) and Ryan Miller (Anaheim) are the only others below .885 for the season. You do not want to be on the same level as the goalies on rebuilding teams, and you certainly do not want to be that far below them.
• What is even more concerning is that his play is actually getting worse as the season has gone on. In his 10 appearances in March, Hart has surrendered 39 goals, most in the NHL during the month. The only other goalies that have allowed more than 30 are Pekka Rinne (34) and Marc-Andre Fleury (30) … and both of them have faced more than 100 additional shots. Hart has an .815 save percentage for the month and has allowed more than three goals in all but one of his appearances. The only one where he did not was a game where allowed two goals in 30 minutes against the Washington Capitals.
The Flyers enter Monday trailing the Bruins by three points for the fourth playoff spot in the East Division. When you add in the fact Philadelphia has played two more games than Boston it definitely is going to make it a challenge to make up that ground. They do have three games against them over the next week, a series of games that could have a major impact on that playoff race. The Flyers are 5-9-1 in their past 15 games. They play a Buffalo team that is winless in 17 consecutive games on Monday and Wednesday.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.