The secret is out. The cat’s out the bag. Whatever metaphor you want to use for it, Carter Hart has arrived. Not only has he arrived, but he kicked down the door on the way in, went to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and sat down in your dad’s favorite recliner.
Ok, enough with the exaggerating.
Hart has been nothing short of solid throughout his first 10 games at the NHL level. After struggling a bit in the AHL, Hart has found his place with the Flyers, giving them a sense of calm that has been missing since the days of Ron Hextall, if you want to call his style of goaltending “calm.”
His first game against Detroit was solid. It wasn’t spectacular, but he made some great plays along the way to a 20 save performance. The last 30 seconds of the game saw him face a flurry of shots from the Red Wings, and Hart didn’t fold under the pressure. He turned every shot away and held onto the lead for his first career NHL victory.
He followed that victory up with another one two nights later against an even more potent offense in the Nashville Predators. Hart stopped 31 of 32 shots, turning away another 30-second flurry of shots at the end of the game. The thing that ties these two games together? The sense of calmness that Carter Hart portrayed in high-pressure situations. A team as dangerous as the Predators firing shots left and right, and Hart stood tall and turned everyone away.
This isn’t to say that he hasn’t hit a few bumps along the way.
His third career NHL game saw him show his rookie colors against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hart looked lost at times en route to a 4-3 loss, but was the reason his team was still in it as well. He suffered another loss against the Florida Panthers in his next game, but only allowed two goals on 36 shots. The offenses inability to score was the team’s downfall, even if Carter Hart was keeping his team in the game.
Hart experienced his first bout against adversity on New Year’s Eve, getting pulled after allowing 3 goals on 10 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a poor outing, no doubt, but it didn’t get to him like most thought a performance of that magnitude would. He bounced back in an overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on January 5th, allowing only 3 goals on 32 shots. Once again, Hart was the reason the Flyers were in it as long as they were, but the offense just couldn’t get that one goal they needed to put the Flames away in regulation.
Hart suffered another loss two days later, this time his offense in front of him not scoring a single goal. Hart stopped 34 of 36 shots but ended up with the loss. Three days later, Hart had his best performance to date, besting the Dallas Stars 2-1 and stopping 37 of 38 shots for a save percentage of .974 for the night.
His last two starts have been sub-par, but his stat line on the year is pretty darn good for a rookie who was rushed into service.
On the road, Hart’s numbers are pedestrian. He’s 0-3-0 with 8 goals allowed on 72 shots and a save percentage of .889. Those numbers are similar to Calvin Pickard and Alex Lyon’s numbers on the year with the Flyers. Where he sets himself apart is when they play at the Wells Fargo Center. Hart is 4-2-1 in Philadelphia, allowing 17 goals on 217 shots for a .922 save percentage. Altogether, Hart is 4-5-1 on the year, stopping 264 of 289 shots for a save percentage of .913 and a goals against average of 2.70.
What Hart’s stats won’t show is the support he gets from the players in front of him. What stands out the most is the fact that the Flyers skaters have only scored 11 goals in the 6 losses Hart has endured, averaging out to just shy of 2 goals per game. That just isn’t going to cut it. Hart is averaging 2.5 goals allowed in his first ten games, excluding empty netters, and just 2 goals allowed per game in his wins. It’s universal, but Hart needs some offensive production in front of him if he is going to succeed.
What the numbers won’t show you is how calm fans are when watching him in the net. How many times have you seen Carter Hart make a diving stop, or slide across the crease and stretch out to make a last ditch effort in order to stop a puck? The answer is next to none, and it’s because he is so technically sound. He knows where to be and when to be there, and is rarely caught out of position. Michal Neuvirth may look flashy making those kinds of saves, but it’s because he’s out of position to begin with and is making up for it with his athleticism.
It’s not that Hart isn’t athletic. Everyone needs to be athletic if you want to play professional hockey. It’s just that Carter Hart can track the puck at a seemingly higher level than the goalies of Flyers past. With his ability to track the puck, he doesn’t need to make up for being out of position because he is constantly in position to make the best play on the puck.
With Neuvirth being injured again, Elliott’s return constantly being pushed back, and Anthony Stolarz being close to coming back even, Carter Hart figures to be a mainstay in the Flyers crease for the remainder of the year. Let’s be honest, he’s earned it. He is by and far the most talented goalie the Flyers have and is proving it on a nightly basis. He gets back-to-back starts and is relied upon when facing tougher competition. He gives the Flyers the best chance to win, even if it just hurts their draft position come July.
It’s a small sample size, but the first ten games of Carter Hart’s NHL career have been mostly a success. He’s learned from his blunders, like allowing three goals on ten shots, and also taken his top performances in stride. He’s seeing his psychiatrist regularly to keep his mental health in check, and that’s a wonderful thing. The kid is still just that, a kid, but he’s a damn good goaltender as well, and has a very bright future ahead.
Photo credit: Alex Mclntyre