The Philadelphia Flyers are nearly a quarter of the way through the 2020-2021 season. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott receive their evaluation through 13 games.
After thirteen games, the Philadelphia Flyers have nearly played through a quarter of the abbreviated 2020-2021 NHL season. Posing an 8-3-2 record, the Flyers currently are in second place in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division. Right now, they are a playoff team. After a week of postponed games, Philadelphia will take to the ice at home against the New York Rangers on Thursday. Today, we take a deep dive into the goaltender performance early on.
A season ago, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were a premier tandem in the NHL. Their record reflects the same this season, but are they performing as well? In the NHL, goaltending statistics correlate to defensive performance. Clearly, in 2019-2020, the Flyers defense was better. Heading into this season, Chuck Fletcher had a hole to fill after Matt Niskanen retired.
During the offseason, Erik Gustafsson signed a one-year, $3mil contract. Upon his arrival, everyone was right to be critical of that roster move. Was it the appropriate signing after Niskanen retired? Defensively, probably not, but his contributions have helped the powerplay. The expectation was for Hart and Elliott to build from their momentum in 2019-2020.
Did Hart and Elliott keep those performance expectations in 2020-2021 behind a new defense?
Last season, Hart was magical at home. His 20-3-2 record, including the opening day victory versus the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague, proved he was elite. On the road, however, Hart struggled. Traveling, Hart owned a 4-10-1 record but started to turn around his road misfortune at the end of the season in games against the Florida Panthers and NY Rangers. His 2019-2020 regular season stat line displayed a 24-13-3 overall record with a 91.4% save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against average.
Hart found a new gear in the 2020 postseason. His 9-5-0 record through the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs is better than it shows. Against formidable playoff teams, Hart notched a 92.6% save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average. On the back of his goaltending performance in the postseason, Philadelphia forced a game-seven against a tough New York Islanders team in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In 2020-2021, his performance dropped. Though he is 5-2-2, opposing teams are scoring more than they ever have against Hart. Last season, the Flyers couldn’t defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning or NY Islanders. Now, it’s the Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ success against Philadelphia is not exclusive to Hart, however.
His best performance in 2020-2021 came in a 5-2 victory versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. The only team (not from Boston) that claimed a victory against Hart is the Buffalo Sabres. While he was pulled against the Sabres in a 6-1 rout, allowing four goals, the Bruins handed him his worst performance on January 23rd. He allowed six goals in a defeat, saving posting a 76.9% save percentage. It was among the worst of his young career.
Throughout this season, Hart possesses an 89.7% save percentage and a 3.49 goals-against average. His start to 2020-2021 is not an accurate depiction of his goaltending talent. The Flyers are still looking for their identity on defense this season. The COVID-19 pandemic and other injuries have made matters more difficult for the defensive unit. With a cast of players on the COVID-19 protocol list, this unique season will create more challenges as Philadelphia plays familiar opponents eight times each.
What we do know about Hart is his resiliency in the crease. Throughout the league, teams are scoring more goals on average against goaltenders. The Flyers do not need to worry about Hart. His performance will grow stronger as the season plays out.
The Flyers’ “Backup”
Fletcher made a smart decision, extending Elliott during the 2020 postseason. In relieving Hart, Elliott has been a stubborn goaltender in 2020-2021. A season ago, he picked up the slack on the road when Hart struggled. Posting a 12-5-2 road record, Elliott played a crucial role in Philadelphia’s success. His 2019-2020 stat line included a 16-7-4 overall record with an 89.9% save percentage and a 2.87 goals-against average.
Elliott didn’t make a lasting impact for the Flyers in the 2020 postseason. While posting a 1-1-0 record, his victory took place in the round-robin re-seeding format against the Washington Capitals. During elimination play, he allowed three goals against the Islanders in a 3-2 loss. The Islanders consistently won with Elliott in the net throughout all of 2019-2020. In the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, he secured a 91.1% save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average.
Between the two goaltenders, Elliott has built upon his momentum from a season ago. He’s the better goaltender in 2020-2021, with a 3-1-0 record. In his first start this season, he earned a shutout against the Sabres. Buffalo mustered forty shots on goal, and Elliott stopped every last one of them.
Similar to Hart, Elliott could not conquer Boston. In a heartbreaking loss, Elliott allowed two goals in 27 seconds. To that point, Philadelphia led through 52 minutes. In 2020-2021, Elliott stopped 92.9% of the shots he faced while yielding a 2.19 goals-against average.
“Moose” is one of the best backup goaltenders in the NHL at this stage of his career. Fletcher negotiated a one-year, $1.5mil contract to keep Elliott on the Flyers. That extension is proving to be the best signing for Philadelphia during the 2020 postseason. Elliott faces the same challenges Hart does. Through the beginning stages of 2020-2021, Elliott proved that he performs at a high level.
In the NHL, it takes two goaltenders to push a franchise towards the top of the standings. Hart is still finding his groove this season. Until he finds his stride, Elliott will continue to be a shining star in the Flyers lineup.
High expectations for Hart in 2020-2021 put the magnifying glass on his performance. Heading into 2020-2021, many projected Hart in the running for the Vezina Trophy. Those expectations invite heavy criticism. The season is young, and Hart will likely improve, but in comparing him to Elliott, his performance trails. Elliott deserves an A through his performances thus far, which puts Hart at a B-.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre