Alabama University’s legendary head coach Paul Bear Bryant is credited with coining the phrase, “defense wins championships.” Winner of six collegiate national titles and 323 career wins, there are few who would better qualify as an authority on winning.
In hockey, the last line of the defense is the goaltender. Throughout the history of the NHL, pundits have debated the notion that a solid netminder will win you the Stanley Cup. Whether or not you agree, to have a wall guarding your net eases the burden of the team’s task and tilts the ice in your favor.
In their 52 years, the Philadelphia Flyers have skated a total of 60 goalies. Hall-of-Famer Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall and Pelle Lindbergh are the most infamous to protect the net for the orange and black.
The Hot Goalie
Since their last Stanley Cup appearance a decade ago, Philadelphia has had 25 goalies and none have been able to take the reins and hold down the role of the everyday net-minder without the fear of a quick hook. The most successful, Steve Mason, started 221 games, the most all-time in Flyers history. He had five tumultuous years with the Flyers including four consecutive seasons of starting 50 games or more in net.
Come playoff time, the Flyers replaced Mason with the “hot hand” and trusted the goaltender who played back-up to him during the regular season, including twice each by Ray Emery (2013-14, 2014-15) and Michal Neuvirth (2015-16, 2016-17).
During their 2009-10 Playoff run, the team’s one constant was inconsistency in net. The Flyers rotated three goalies into their lineup from game to game; Emery (29), Brian Boucher (33) and Michael Leighton (27). Leighton earned the bulk of the work throughout the playoffs, and the Flyers lost the Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. This began a goaltending carousel that is unprecedented.
Historic Goaltending Distinction
The Flyers have used four or more goalies during the course of the regular season five times since the 2009-10 season. Last season, they set the NHL record by starting eight different goalies. They didn’t qualify for the playoffs, prompting changes in the front office and behind the bench.
With their number one goalie to start the 2018-19 season, Brian Elliot, out with an injury, 20-year-old Carter Hart stepped in and took advantage of his playing time. Hart’s spectacular play made it obvious that he would be the team’s top goalie for the remainder of the season and in the future.
For the first time in years, the black and orange had a clear-cut choice for their netminder. Hart, looking to build off his 16 wins and 2.83 goals-against average in his rookie season, was handed the starting job out of training camp to begin the 2019-20 campaign.
He opened the season with a solid 27-save performance in a 4-3 win over the Blackhawks. He followed his inaugural game as the team’s top goalie with his first career shutout versus the New Jersey Devils. Hart’s early-season dominance silenced those who questioned new head coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to turn over the net-minding duties to a second-year goalie.
Deja Vu in the Flyers Net
How quickly things change in the life of a Flyers goalie. In his third start of the season, Hart allowed three goals on only 14 shots in just over a period against the Edmonton Oilers. Vigneault pulled the shaky goaltender in favor of the veteran, Elliot.
Since re-establishing himself as the number one guy, the 34-year-old has reeled off three consecutive wins in regulation. Ten games into the season, the Flyers have a 5-4-1 record, a slight improvement to their start a season ago.
The Flyers’ goaltending merry-go-round has seen its first switch of the Vigneault era. As we know, goaltending by committee does not equal success. If the team plans to play hockey in April, it is imperative to pick one player and rally around him. They need to do exactly as their slogan of the 2019-20 season suggests, “Fly or Die.”
My first sports anchoring job came right out of college in Northern California. After 15 years out west, I got the call to head back to my roots in Philly. Getting reacquainted with the sports passionate fans of the Broad St. Bullies, writing for PhillySports.com and ThePhiladelphiaExaminer.com for several years as their general sports reporter.