Decisions, decisions, decisions; Alain Vigneault is faced with tough ones immediately. At the onset of the round-robin tournament, arguably the biggest decision for Vigneault is figuring out how to scheme his goaltenders. Without fans, there is no such thing as a home-ice advantage in these 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s the environment where Carter Hart thrived the most during the 2019-2020 regular season. So, does it make sense to splice a healthy dose of Brian Elliott?
For the Philadelphia Flyers, they do have an opportunity to play competitive hockey against strong opponents without risk of playoff elimination. In the round-robin games, the Flyers could test Brian Elliott and Carter Hart against players like Alex Ovechkin, David Pastrnak, and Nikita Kucherov. Of course, Philadelphia could be risking seeding by experimenting with their goaltenders in the round-robin games, but the risk could be worth the reward of having a plan to attack elimination rounds.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
Twice this season, the Philadelphia Flyers have played the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, in both of those games, the Lightning were victorious. Carter Hart played in and completed both of those games. In the first loss, a 0-1 final, Hart finished with a 96.4% save percentage. That dropped drastically in the second loss, a 3-5 final, to an 82.6% save percentage.
- Washington Capitals
Over four games this season, both Brian Elliott and Carter Hart have played two against the Washington Capitals. Against the Capitals, the Flyers are 3-0-1 this season. The only loss against Washington was in the first meeting, decided in a shootout, with Hart as the starting goaltender. In a loss, Hart still holds the highest save percentage against the Capitals through these four games at 97.2%. Brian Elliott has yet to be on the losing end of a game against Washington in the 2019-2020 season.
- Boston Bruins
In a few games this season, Carter Hart finished with a 2-1-0 record against the Boston Bruins. Every win has been a shootout win. Generally, Hart has finished with just around a 93% save percentage. One game was an outlier, which was a 6-5 win, where Hart finished with an 83.9% save percentage. The Bruins are a very fast-paced team and I believe that Hart would be best positioned against Boston for success.
The Argument For Brian Elliott
“Moose” should get the start in the round-robin tournament against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Some teams have a hard time scoring against certain goaltenders. We’ve yet to see Carter Hart harness success against the Lightning, so I don’t see a high risk in starting Brian Elliott versus Tampa Bay in the round-robin. Elliott is also undefeated against the Washington Capitals. The Philadelphia Flyers have the luxury of a steady one-two punch at goaltender.
Including Play-In Opponents
Largely, Carter Hart has had the most success against the Eastern Conference playoff field. That shouldn’t be a surprise because he is the premier goaltender on the Philadelphia Flyers. More specifically, against teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and New York Rangers, Hart is going to get the most mileage. What’s nice is how Brian Elliott still is a very useful goaltender to relieve Hart if fatigue is a factor. If the Flyers were to face the Columbus Blue Jackets or Montreal Canadiens, I will go on record to prefer Elliott.
During phase two and three, Alain Vigneault will be able to observe exactly how Carter Hart and Brian Elliott are performing. In the playoffs, you have to ride the hot hand. If that is Brian Elliott, then you give him his opportunities. If it is Carter Hart, then playoff experience will go a long way this early in his career. July 10th, 2020 is the earliest that training camps begin for phase three of the NHL’s plan-to-play.
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