After a stretch of outstanding play during playoffs last summer, the Flyers Carter Hart looked primed to take another step forward and cement himself as one of the league’s top netminders. To this point in the season, Hart has posted numbers that could be called average, if looked at charitably. Hart has had his struggles this season, but it is not as straightforward as the numbers might suggest.
Flyers Season Stats:
GP:14 W:6 L:5 T/O:3 SV%: .893
To be blunt, Hart has not played as well for the Flyers as he did for most of last season. He has not looked like the impregnable barrier that showed up on most nights last season. But he has not looked horrible either. Call them reasons, context, or excuses, but there is much more to consider than Hart’s ability to stop pucks.
Getting Killed on the Penalty Killing
Dreadful penalty killing has been the Flyers’ calling card this season, and it has impacted Hart. In the 19-20 season, Hart’s save percentage while penalty killing was .849%. This season he stands at .794%, which is in the lower third of the league.
Now playing short-handed does not absolve a goalie of puck-stopping duties, but it is hard to find fault in Hart for the goals allowed while short-handed. Often times it seems opponents light the lamp with crisp cross-ice passes that find an unmarked player on Hart’s far post. These goals are tap-ins.
Bad Defense Compounds Problems
The Flyers’ defensive zone coverage has been a let-down as well. Far too often passes find their way to the slot or cross-ice to an uncovered opponent, leaving Hart with a difficult save to make, and he is struggling to make them this season.
For Hart’s part, there have been a few more goals from careless plays, or breakdowns in technique, these are errors that he owns and needs to fix. All things that happen from time to time, can be fixed. To be frank, there was no reason for major concern, at least until the 3/9/2021 game against Buffalo.
After being pulled at the end of the first, a shaky Hart took questions after the game. For the first time, he sounded apprehensive, like he had no answers and no hope of finding them. He seemed unconfident and legitimately rattled. This break in Hart’s demeanor is much more distressing than the sum of rough games this season.
Prior to the Buffalo post-press conference, I had Hart as a C+. Hart had not been superb, but he had won the team more games than he lost. Often times the team left him out to dry, even then he prevailed more than he failed. It seemed he grasped that there was only so much he could do to make up for the team’s short comings on defense. Now it seems that is changing, and it is we may be witnessing the start of a confidence crisis.
The tempest of poor defense is starting to change the way Hart plays. Rather than playing confident and off of his goal line, he is staying deep in the crease, seemingly looking to keep a short distance to the far post, where an uncovered opponent is sure to be lurking. The deep posture is opening holes that are not present when he is feeling right. This approach is making things worse, not better.
Goalies hit rough patches all the time, and they typically battle through them. Hart has done a good job of shaking off to this point, but this one seems different, and it should be of concern, mostly because he seems to be on his own.
The Flyers’ front office never properly addressed the loss of Matt Niskanen, which unsettled Provorov and took his defense down a notch. Then the team effectively poured gasoline on the fire by inviting Gustafsson into the defensive fold. To be fair to Fletcher, Gustafsson was never thought of as Niskanen’s replacement, but by that same token, he was also never thought of as a superior player. The front office should be a bit more careful with the franchise’s crown jewel, the one player the Flyers could build around for the next decade.
Hart will be an extremely successful goalie in the NHL, but he is going to need help from the coaches, front office, and the players to gain enough traction to move beyond this stretch.