Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Winnipeg Jets.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 30-23-3 (63 points), finished third in North.
• Postseason: Swept in second round by Canadiens (after Jets swept Oilers).
• Offensive leaders: Mark Scheifele (21 goals, 42 assists for 63 points in 56 games).

• Free Agent Additions: Nate Schmidt (trade from Canucks), Brenden Dillon (trade from Capitals), Riley Nash.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Laurent Brossoit (Golden Knights), Mathieu Perreault (Canadiens), Mason Appleton (Kraken expansion draft), Trevor Lewis (Flames), Derek Forbort (Bruins), Nate Thompson (Flyers), Tucker Poolman (Canucks).

Biggest question for Jets

• Will an improved defense on paper translate to a better one on the ice?

Since losing Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, the Jets defense sunk like a stone. Sometimes, their defense boiled down to hoping Connor Hellebuyck fixed things.

During this offseason, the Jets made substantial moves to turn that around. They traded for a steady defenseman in Brenden Dillon. The Jets hope they get Golden Knights Nate Schmidt, instead of the failed Canucks version.

It’s not nice to say that waving goodbye to Tucker Poolman and Derek Forbort is “addition by subtraction.” It could be accurate, though.

Speaking of additions and subtractions, the Jets also dodged a bullet at the expansion draft. To the Jets’ relief, they avoided losing underrated blueliner Dylan DeMelo.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

So, yeah, the 2021-22 Jets look better on defense. At least, they do on paper.

Truly, the 2021-22 season could be quite the test for longtime Jets coach Paul Maurice. Credit it acumen, a gift for gab, or other factors, but the fellow has a knack for hanging around.

Of course, one of the common defenses of Maurice’s longevity is that he’s lacked proper personnel. That argument could ring hollow with the 2021-22 Jets.

Much could hinge on a holdover, and a new face.

Since Jacob Trouba left town, Josh Morrissey simply hasn’t been the same. Morrissey’s descent parallels the Jets’ defensive dropoff, overall. Consider this SPAR (Standing Points Above Replacement) chart for his career, via Evolving Hockey:

Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview Morrissey SPAR Evo
via Evolving Hockey

And, while one can imagine Nate Schmidt being a shot in the arm, it’s not a guarantee.

Recent renditions of the Canucks boasted the sort of lousy team defense the 2021-22 Jets hope to avoid. What if Schmidt fares no better with Winnipeg than he did with Vancouver?

It’s also fair to mention that the 2021-22 Jets’ defense faces some losses.

Avoiding losing DeMelo was worth it, but Mason Appleton could be missed. And, while Mathieu Perreault’s getting older, he’s still an analytics darling.

The biggest worry might be that the Jets lost a Connor Hellebuyck insurance plan in Laurent Brossoit. What if, right as the Jets get better on defense, Hellebuyck hits a wall in 2021-22?

[Jets bet on defense making life easier for Hellebuyck]

Since 2017-18, Connor Hellebuyck played by-far the most games of any goalie (233). Andrei Vasilevskiy ranks second at 212, and only six goalies played 200+ games. Those weren’t leisurely strolls, either. Hellebuyck easily faced the most shots (7,230), with Vasilevskiy again a distant second (6,630). Only six goalies faced 6,000+ shots since 2017-18, too.

Ideally, the Jets make life easier for Hellebuyck, who remains dominant in 2021-22. (After all, he’s just 28. And, worries or not, he’s my Vezina pick.)

Overall, the Jets do look improved on defense in 2021-22. There’s plenty of work to do, however.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Jets enter 2021-22 as a team nudging against the salary cap ceiling. Looking at their roster, there’s an interesting mix of good and bad.

The good

  • Some core forwards are on very nice deals — especially Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor, but also Mark Scheifele.
  • All above quibbles about workload aside, Hellebuyck is a steal at $6.1667M. Honestly, it probably deserves more mentions among the NHL’s best contracts. (Also, uh, $6,166,666 sure is an … interesting number.)

The bad

  • At 35, Blake Wheeler‘s $8.25M cap hit isn’t ideal, and it runs through 2023-24.
  • Morrissey can turn things around; he’s merely 26. Until then, his long-term deal evokes cringe emojis.
  • Bryan Little‘s contract looked bad in 2017, and keeps getting worse.

The unclear

  • Between Morrissey, Schmidt, DeMelo, Neal Pionk, and Dillon, the Jets are investing almost $25M in cap space on defensemen. None of those five contracts are shorter than three seasons. Overall, it’s an upgrade — but could we be getting lured in by any hint of an improvement, based on just how bad they’ve been? Those investments could look far less impressive if the group trends closer to “meh.”
  • How good is Pierre-Luc Dubois, really? The Jets seek answers in 2021-22, as his $5M salary cap hit expires. He’s a pending RFA, and arbitration eligible. That could become a tricky situation.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Credit the Jets for constructing a competitive roster in a market that’s not exactly Bryzgalov-approved. Lesser front offices would ice a roster full of desperate, ugly contracts.

Still, a lot of this team is locked-in. If the Jets underwhelm in 2021-22, that oulook won’t be as sunny.

Here’s to the Jets rebounding in 2021-22, instead. Wouldn’t it be nice if a team once on the rise found its wings once more?

Breakout Candidate

• Nikolaj Ehlers

Typically, this is a spot for a younger, less-proven player. But, in Ehlers’ case, we celebrate that critically acclaimed indie band finally topping the charts and selling out arenas.

The charts don’t just explain that hipster-style love. Frankly, just watch Nikolaj Ehlers. Chances are, his speed and daring will leave you entranced. He aces “the eye test” as much as he racks up robust fancy stats.

Now we just need the Jets to believe their eyes.

Last season, he only ranked fifth among Jets forwards in power-play ice time. Even worse, Ehlers only managed the sixth-highest average for ice time overall (16:55). Honestly, some of the Paul Maurice doubt lingers because of a relative reluctance to truly embrace Ehlers.

Expect those rumblings to turn into a roar. In 2021-22, the Jets and the rest of the hockey world can finally realize just how special Ehlers is.

(Cole Perfetti would be the more traditional breakout choice, but he may not be a full-time member of the 2021-22 Jets.)

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Jets

All of those defensive improvements don’t just boost the Jets in their own zone. Suddenly, Jets forwards don’t have to do so much legwork, and their all-around play improves. Behind a sturdier defense, Hellebuyck removes all doubt that he is the best goalie in the world. With a strong playoff push, the Jets regain their status as a team on the rise.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Jets

Those defensive changes don’t amount to much. And, this time, Hellebuyck can’t save the day. Years of red flags about all-around play end up being grim, accurate prophecies. Worse yet, a long-standing front office faces no real consequences, and doesn’t learn any meaningful lessons. The Jets miss the playoffs, and don’t even get a high first-rounder for their trouble.

PointsbetWinnipeg Jets Stanley Cup odds

+4000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

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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    Philadelphia Flyers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

    Philadelphia Flyers
    Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

    The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Philadelphia Flyers.

    2020-21 Season Review

    • Record: 25-23-8 (58 points); sixth place in East Division
    • Postseason: Missed playoffs, moved first-rounder in Rasmus Ristolainen trade.
    • Offensive leaders: Claude Giroux (16 goals, 27 assists), James van Riemsdyk (17 goals, 26 assists), and Jakub Voracek (nine goals, 34 assists), all at 43 points.

    • Free Agent Additions: Ryan Ellis (trade from Predators), Rasmus Ristolainen (trade from Sabres), Cam Atkinson (trade from Blue Jackets), Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Nate Thompson, Derick Brassard, Adam Clendening.
    • Free Agent Subtractions: Jakub Voracek (trade to Blue Jackets), Nolan Patrick (traded, eventually ended up with Golden Knights), Shayne Gostisbehere (trade to Coyotes), Philippe Myers (trade to Predators), Robert Hagg (traded to Sabres), Brian Elliott (Lightning), Carsen Twarynski (Kraken expansion draft).

    Biggest question for Flyers

    • Will goaltending derail all the changes?

    Glance up at the additions and subtractions above, and you risk becoming dizzy from all of the movement.

    If nothing else, you can’t accuse Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher of sitting idly by after a disappointing season. Instead, the Flyers are a very different team in 2021-22.

    Will they be better in a way that truly matters? To an extent, that hinges on some of those changes. Was a tough season all about injuries for Ryan Ellis, or could his decline be more permanent (and rapid)? Are the Flyers right (and the charts are wrong) about Ristolainen?

    Either way, it’s fascinating, and it harkens back to the Paul Holmgren era.

    But, for all of the changes the Flyers made, they’re still primed to sink or swim with Carter Hart.

    [PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

    By most advanced metrics, the Flyers were a respectable team last season. They weren’t really showing signs of being a juggernaut, but a brief playoff appearance wouldn’t have been out of order. Unfortunately, they suffered from the worst goaltending in the NHL.

    Hart’s Goals Saved Above Average (-22.57) was by far the worst in the NHL last season. Second worst? Well, that would be his now-former creasemate Brian Elliott (-14.01).

    You don’t need to scroll far at Hockey Reference to see Elliott’s replacement. With a -11.71 GSAA, Martin Jones ranked fifth-worst in the NHL last season.

    With Hart, the Flyers can hope that he merely puts last season behind him, and regains his form in 2021-22. A rebound isn’t out of the realm of realism.

    Still, between Jones and Hart, there’s a lot of wishful thinking. The Flyers must be thinking “Carter Hart can’t be this bad again in 2021-22.” In the case of Jones, they have to hope that Jones wasn’t this bad — it was just about the Sharks.

    Goalies are unpredictable, so who knows? But Martin Jones has been wallowing for years now. That ugly -11.71 GSAA is actually his highest mark from the last three seasons. With so much on the line, the 2021-22 Flyers might regret the dubious insurance policy they took out in net.

    What’s the salary cap situation?

    Would it be a bold Flyers offseason without spending to the salary cap? In that Holmgren spirit, it’s not clear if the Flyers will get what they’re paying for. But they’re not being shy about opening up that wallet.

    Some moves look more promising than others.

    It’s tough to blame the Flyers for signing Sean Couturier to a contract extension. In the early years of an extension that kicks in next season, Couturier should be well-worth that raise to $7.75 million.

    And, for all of Carter Hart’s struggles, it’s not hard to understand the $4 million investment in the 23-year-old. (If it doesn’t work out, the contract expires after 2023-24. If it does, the Flyers retain RFA leverage.)

    Joel Farabee could easily be a steal when his $5 million kicks in during the 2022-23 season. (That said, it seemed like Travis Konecny was a big steal. Then he ended up a fixture in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse.)

    [PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

    Plenty of GMs risk the future in hopes that long-term deals will pay off in the present. The Flyers have to hope that Chuck Fletcher’s big swings pay off where they didn’t make contact often enough with the Wild.

    There are still some lingering decisions, however.

    • Claude Giroux (33, $8.275M cap hit) enters a contract year. The Flyers are wisely taking a wait-and-see approach. Will they make the right call?
    • Rasmus Ristolainen (26, $5.6M) also heads toward a pivotal contract year. Will the Flyers make the right call here if it’s clear he simply isn’t worth a big contract? If he turns things around, how much will he cost? Tricky stuff.
    • With two years remaining at $7M, James van Riemsdyk’s future is also unclear.

    Overall, the Flyers’ salary cap situation is a mix of good and bad. If there’s one undeniable thing, it’s that this isn’t a cheap operation. Don’t be surprised if patience dries up along with this team’s cap space.

    Breakout Candidate

    Morgan Frost

    Let’s assume that Joel Farabee’s already broken out. His advancement might sneak up on people, but not Flyers management. You don’t get a $5 million extension based on potential alone.

    Where Farabee feels safe to the point of cheating, betting on a Morgan Frost breakout is a gamble.

    That’s not meant to insult the player. Instead, there’s apprehension about what he’s gone through. A shoulder injury derailed a key developmental season for Frost. While there’s an opening with Kevin Hayes recovering from surgery, it may be tough for Frost to hit the ground running.

    The talent’s there, whether Frost breaks out for the Flyers in 2021-22, or needs more time.

    Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers

    Carter Hart enjoys a brilliant rebound, and Jones regains his confidence enough to be a solid backup. Those big changes translate into a dynamic defense. Vigneault pushes all the right buttons, including rekindling what was once a deadly power play. The Flyers make a legit push to win their division, and rank as a dangerous playoff opponent.

    Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers

    Hart and Jones are basically as porous as they were last season. The Flyers regret ignoring the red flags with Ristolainen. Injuries greatly limit Ellis, who was once borderline-elite. Remember those meltdowns against the Rangers? That happens far too often, and against far too many foes. The Flyers fail in 2021-22, and then make a bunch of panic moves as a result.

    PointsbetPhiladelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cup odds

    +3000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

    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.

    Wild vs. Golden Knights: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

    Wild vs. Golden Knights: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview
    Getty Images

    Heading into the 2020-21 season, the Golden Knights carried Stanley Cup hopes, while the Wild felt like afterthoughts. Plenty of people who follow the Wild probably would have settled for Kirill Kaprizov living up to the hype.

    Maybe the hockey world’s cooled a touch on the Golden Knights, but they’ve held up their end of the bargain. And, remarkably, Kaprizov’s been even better than we could have imagined.

    The Wild have exceeded expectations in a drastic way, too, and this preview aims to measure their chances against a mighty Golden Knights team.

    WILD VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS – series livestream link

    Sunday, May 16: Wild at Golden Knights, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Tuesday, May 18: Wild at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Thursday, May 20: Golden Knights at Wild, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Saturday, May 22: Golden Knights at Wild, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    *Monday, May 24: Wild at Golden Knights TBD
    *Wednesday, May 26: Golden Knights at Wild TBD
    *Friday, May 28: Wild at Golden Knights TBD

    Wild – Golden Knights: Stories to Watch

    “Kirill the Thrill” and the no-longer-mild

    Whether they were reaching or missing the playoffs, the Wild haven’t always lived up to their team name — at least in the sense of excitement. Instead, their defensive-minded approach understandably often branded them as “the Mild.”

    While the Wild still usually play good-to-great defense, Kirill Kaprizov’s changed their trajectory. In the past, a casual fan of the sport might see the Wild on the schedule and groan. Now, they’re more likely to flip over to see what golden opportunity Kaprizov might create on any given night.

    Beyond the more practical benefits of the Calder-lock-winger, he’s simply made Minnesota a lot more fun.

    With that in mind, it’s easier to picture the Wild beating the Golden Knights even if the series is played at the sort of hectic pace the franchise historically preferred to avoid.

    “We find that when you play good teams like (Vegas), great teams, you raise up your play a little bit and (we’ve) just had emotional games against them,” Wild winger Marcus Foligno said, via the Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required). “It’s always been fun (against Vegas). It’s always been back and forth and physical and heavy. So, it suits us well.”

    Wild won season series vs. Golden Knights

    Honestly, in most years, head-to-head series stats don’t mean a ton (personally). When people really emphasize it, there could even be some eye rolls.

    But considering the concentrated nature of this unusual 2020-21 season, it’s worth noting that the Wild went 5-2-1 against the Golden Knights this season. No wonder Robin Lehner was mad when the Avalanche narrowly won the Presidents’ Trophy, denying Vegas what seemingly would be a friendlier matchup vs. the Blues.

    While the Wild enjoyed a surprisingly strong season, the Golden Knights were even better overall. But sometimes matchups just line up, and that might be the case here, setting the stage for an upset.

    How healthy is Vegas?

    Considering how closed-off NHL teams are about injuries (gamblers, take a moment to grumble), it’s almost always difficult to tell just how healthy a team is heading into any postseason. Combine that lack of transparency with a compressed schedule, and health is even more relevant than usual.

    So, things can change quickly. But given the (incomplete) information we have, it sure seems like the Wild might be a bit healthier than the Golden Knights.

    Again, there could be “maintenance day” elements to some of this. Even so, Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez missed time late in the season. Robin Lehner also wasn’t able to play during a significant chunk of 2020-21.

    Scan Rotoworld’s injury page and you’ll see that Vegas is dealing with a higher quantity and quality of injuries than Minnesota.

    All kinds of pressure

    Being that the Golden Knights are somehow only in their fourth season, it still feels odd to realize that they have such high expectations. Shouldn’t we still be in the honeymoon phase?

    (Then again, Vegas is the land of brisk marriages, some with no honeymoons at all.)

    The Golden Knights stumbled onto a strong team from the start, and they’ve responded during recent seasons. This is a team that’s made all-in-type-moves over the years. Bringing in Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty wasn’t cheap. Some expensive experiments, like the Tomas Tatar trade, really just burned money and picks.

    And, in their recent round of moves, they moved players around like a Rubix Cube to bring in Alex Pietrangelo. If the Golden Knights fall to the Wild, there would be some serious, serious angst. It doesn’t really matter that Minnesota is a formidable opponent.

    One big question for Minnesota: Was it luck?

    For a significant portion of 2020-21, the Wild were a tight defensive team, leaning on Kirill Kaprizov to break open close games.

    Lately, they’ve found some magic on the power play, and also have been shooting at a high percentage. That’s promising, and it indicates that this is a Wild team that finally has some versatility. They can trade punches — whether that means literally, or scoring in bunches.

    But their underlying numbers have slipped.

    Maybe the Wild can haunt the Golden Knights in a familiar way. Vegas has been something of a “volume” chances team (see: Thatcher Demko‘s coronation during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs), so maybe the Wild can win the quality over quantity battle?

    Still, it’s worth noting that the Wild haven’t looked as hot by various five-on-five measures lately. Vegas might be the team to make them pay if any of that implies Minnesota’s developed some bad habits.

    One big question for Vegas: Will there be goalie drama again?

    The old football adage “if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback” doesn’t truly apply to goalies.

    The 2006-07 Ducks began with Ilya Bryzgalov being dominant, and then Jean-Sebastien Giguere bringing a Stanley Cup home. A decade later, Marc-Andre Fleury himself showed that sometimes a team will lean on two goalies to win it all. In 2016-17, Fleury actually won more playoff games (nine) than Matt Murray (seven) as both goalies were brilliant during the Penguins’ repeat run.

    Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it sure looks like Vegas has two strong options in net.

    Fleury’s enjoyed a resounding rebound season, and might end up a Vezina Trophy finalist. Injuries slowed Robin Lehner for much of this campaign, but he’s still a top performer. (Lehner may also be the goalie that they believe the most in, deep down.)

    File most of these questions under “good problems to have.” That said, if the Golden Knights struggle against the Wild, the situation could rapidly become a headache.

    Wild – Golden Knights series prediction: Golden Knights in six

    Heading into this season, people would be shocked to hear the Wild receive serious consideration to beat the Golden Knights in a 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round series. Yet here we are: Minnesota truly has a chance.

    And not just because of injuries.

    Yet, for all of these doubts, the Golden Knights have, at times, ripped through opponents like a wrecking ball. This should be another fascinating best-of-seven set.

    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.

    The Wraparound: Stars seek to solve Robin Lehner in Game 3

    The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Thursday’s NHL playoff game with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

    Check out the NHL Bubble Wrap for details on Wednesday’s playoff game.

    Bruce Cassidy is your 2019-20 Jack Adams Award winner. Julien BriseBois, Lou Lamoriello, and Jim Nill are your finalists for the NHL GM of the Year award.

    THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF GAME

    Game 3: Golden Knights vs. Stars (Series tied 1-1) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream): After being shutout in Game 1, Vegas responded with a shutout win of their own in Game 2. Robin Lehner returned to goal and had 24 saves, while Paul Stastny, William Karlsson and Tomas Nosek scored all three goals in less than ten minutes in the second period for a 3-0 win.

    The Stars scored with their first shot of the series less than three minutes into the first period of Game 1, but have not scored since. They are without a goal in the last 117:24 of play, taking 48 shots on goal during the drought. Dallas is 5-2 following a loss this postseason. They have only trailed a series once this postseason, going 2-1 down against Calgary in the First Round before winning three straight to take the series in six.

    It was Lehner’s second straight shutout, and he has not allowed a goal in 131:44. Each of his last four wins have been shutouts. His four shutouts lead the league, while seven only five goaltenders in NHL history have had six more shutouts in a single postseason. Only seven goalies in history have recorded three straight shutouts in the postseason, with Ilya Bryzgalov (2006, Anaheim) the most recent to do so.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    This is the first time in the modern era (since 1943-44) that each team has posted a shutout in the first two games of the Conference Finals or Semifinals. It is only the eighth time this has happened in any round of the postseason, and second time this year (Columbus-Toronto in Qualifying Round).

    Only four playoff series have had three shutouts in the first three games, most recently in the 2004 Conference Quarterfinals, when the Islanders and Lightning opened their series with four straight shutouts.

    This postseason, the first team to reach two wins in a series has a series record of 19-1.

    [Full NHL Conference Finals schedule]

    FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
    Game 3: Islanders vs. Lightning (TB leads 2-0) – 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

    Carter Hart’s star continues to rise for Flyers

    carter hart
    Getty Images

    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.

    “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).

    MORE:
    • Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

    ————

    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.