You would have been forgiven for counting out the Flyers. Hell, you would be forgiven for counting them out now. But ... it’s not so easy anymore. Thanks to an eight-game winning streak, a Philadelphia team that had the league’s worst record less than a month ago is now just five points out of a playoff spot. And it can thank its 20-year-old goalie.
Carter Hart stopped 41 of 42 shots in the Flyers’ 2-1 home win over the Canucks, and when Sean Couturier says Hart “can steal one,” he’s not kidding. A goalie on his game can be the difference between a win and a loss, or between another middling midseason stretch and an eight-game run that puts you back in the playoff picture. Hart, a hyped prospect who was called up a week before Christmas, now sports a .925 save percentage in his young career. During his own personal seven-game winning streak, he’s at .934. When the woeful Flyers fired their GM and coach and handed things over to Hart, a realistic evaluation was that they were hoping he’d gain some seasoning for the future, when they could surround him with more talent. Instead, he’s dragging them single-glovedly back to relevance.
With five and change left in a one-goal game Monday, Hart made a magnificent save on Nikolay Goldobin’s attempt to clean up a puck in front, lunging to his right to get an arm in the way:
What was impressive about that save was less the lunge itself than Hart’s ability to stay cool, stay in position, and follow the bouncing puck as it ended up at Goldobin’s feet. Head coach Scott Gordon broke it down:
“To make a save like that, there’s a couple things,” Gordon noted. “You have to be technically sound before that shot’s even going to be taken. Whatever it was, (if it was) a rebound, (or if) it hit somebody (Provorov) in front, when that rebound goes there, his technique of going down and how he makes the save, and how he recovers, is one part of it.
“The second part of it is his ability to track the puck and follow that puck off of wherever it hit, and see where it goes,” the head coach continued. “So, right away, his head is going in the (right) direction … so that puck comes at him like this, puck goes over here, some goalies might have just went down, scrambled around and looked. The minute that left that area, it went over and his eyes went right to it. So now, right away, his head is going in the direction of the puck. And now, that’s the time where you say, ‘You know what? This is time for a desperation save.’”
Hart’s not the only reason the Flyers are red-hot right now—their power play is on a 7-for-9 streak after going 2-for-25—but he’s clearly the biggest reason, and, much more importantly, a reason for optimism. These are the Flyers. They haven’t had a franchise goalie since Ron Hextall. Look at this list; they haven’t even had many good goaltenders, let alone long-term No. 1 guys. Just this season, they’ve tied an NHL record by using seven different netminders, including a guy they tapped with so little advance notice that he had to wrap his mask in tape to make it Flyers colors. For Hart to come in and excel right away, well, it’s hard not to get excited about what he might be capable of over the next decade and more.
“He’s going to be a superstar for a long time,” Nolan Patrick said. “So it’s obviously nice to have him on your own end.” That’s something the last generation of Flyers have really just never known, and it’s the sort of thing you can build a sustainable contender around. So even if this current stretch is unsustainable—the roster probably isn’t talented enough to make a real run this year—Carter Hart is a reason for hope. Flyers fans will take it.