The story of Carter Hart, especially during the 2019-20 NHL season, is quickly becoming a dichotomy of two different goaltenders. A Vezina-calibre starter and an American Hockey League goalie seem to be interchanging between the Philadelphia Flyers’ home and away games. It started as a young goaltender’s adjustment to the speed of the NHL but the numbers are backing it up at an alarming rate. When Hart plays at the Wells Fargo Center he is dialed in and absorbing shots left and right.
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During almost every away game he is susceptible to soft goals, and unable to generate any type of rhythm between the pipes. This has led to some unacceptable losses by the Flyers and they must address this soon, lest the season be forfeit.
Hart’s play at home this season is absolutely insane. Not only does he carry the team in tough stretches, but he also seems to enter a save-of-the-year candidate every other game. In 14 home starts he has 11 wins and 1 loss. He’s posted a 1.49 goals against average (GAA) and a .947 save percentage (SV%). These numbers are incredible and would propel any goalie into consideration for league MVP. In the Wells Fargo Center, he is the player fans all thought he could be — a bonafide starter who can carry the team.
On the other hand, his away starts are incredibly disappointing. He has 8 losses in 11 starts and boasts a 3.84 GAA and .855 SV%. The disparity is baffling, and points more towards a preparation or focus issue for Hart. On the season he averages out at 2.52 GAA and .904 SV% with one shutout.
A Pulling Problem
Back in February 2019, Hart’s rookie season, he was pulled in consecutive starts. In a cruel twist of fate, he allowed three goals on nine shots in back-to-back games. Fans wrote it off as a young goaltender’s inevitable growing pains. But this season has revealed more of the same as he has been pulled on multiple occasions.
He allowed 4 goals on 18 shots in a 5-2 losing effort against the Florida Panthers. Hart surrendered 4 goals on 14 shots against the Edmonton Oilers. And again he was pulled after letting up 5 goals on 14 shots against the New York Islanders. All of these games were away games, which highlights this issue even more. Brian Elliott has had to come in multiple times on the road to bail Hart out.
A Note on Elliott
Elliott has been an absolute stud backup goaltender for the Flyers this year and Hart could not be more blessed to have him. He has taken a lion’s share of the road starts and has performed for this team when they needed him most. If the Flyers had a less-experienced backup, this season would be ugly. Elliott sports 9 wins this season in 19 games played.
While his 3.06 GAA and .901 SV% aren’t pretty to look at, they don’t tell the whole story. He is a key piece to this team moving forward and potentially to Hart’s career.
A Deeper Look
There are quite a few other reasons for such bad play on the road that do not rest squarely on the shoulders of Hart. Do all goalies, specifically the top ones, struggle on the road? A quick look at the numbers of Darcy Kuemper, Tristan Jarry, and Ben Bishop (current leaders in save percentage) reveals that while they do play worse on the road, it is not to the extent of Hart’s struggles.
I think most teams struggle on the road and the Flyers are no exception. They certainly allow more high-danger chances than at home and have historically struggled on long road trips. Every year the Flyers take a trip out west and every year they do not perform well. Hart may be the latest victim of a locker room that can’t focus on the road.
A Team Effort?
The team, as a whole, does play at a much higher level within the Wells Fargo Center. They feed off the hometown crowd and the noise has an effect on visiting teams. But the difference between Hart’s home and away numbers is so drastic that it can’t be ignored and written off as bad team play. I am not entirely sure what to attribute this disparity to, but it is worrisome.
There is something amiss, something about games on the road that puts Hart off kilter. He’s a young goaltender with incredible potential and I want to see him succeed more than most. But he must take a new approach to how he prepares and plays in away games. He still has a penchant to make game-changing saves and his poise is remarkable, but the Flyers’ season will depend on his ability to play on the road.
Freelance Writer born and raised in the city of Philadelphia.