After giving up three goals on eight shots against the last-place Buffalo Sabres on March 9 and being pulled from the game, it is apparent that Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart has not been himself this season. In a stellar rookie campaign, he put up a .917 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.83 goals-against average (GAA), and in 2019-20, he finished with a better GAA (2.42) but a slightly lower SV% at .914 while playing 37 percent more minutes.
In over 815 minutes in 2020-21, Hart has only managed a .888 SV% and a 3.61 GAA. Yes, this is an unusual season, but is the drop in statistics opponent-based, team-based, or is he having an off-year? The good news is his numbers are salvageable moving forward under the right conditions. Hart has also seen a lower percentage of minutes played in comparison to last season, perhaps a result of his inconsistency.
Consistency is crucial to goaltending, and unfortunately, Hart has not been able to find his groove this season. Considering shot volume, he has a .907 SV% or better in six of eight games when facing 33 or more shots. The Flyers’ opening games of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins showed some promise with back-to-back wins, and a combined 62 saves on 67 shots.
Familiarity in the MassMutual East Division
Playing all games against division rivals this season has provided teams with more opportunities to get to know each other through pre-scouting and matchups. Carter’s last matchup against Pittsburgh, a 5-2 loss, was by no means spectacular, with 22 saves. However, he has fared well in each of his single appearances against the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, managing a 3-2 overtime win and a point in a 3-2 shootout loss after making 26 and 31 saves, respectively.
The New Jersey Devils were only able to solve Hart once in his 33-save victory, and the last-place Sabres, along with playoff contenders in the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, have caused chaos in Hart’s statistical categories this season. Apart from individual effort, some changes to the team’s game have added stress to Hart’s play.
Philadelphia has allowed on average 30.4 shots per game as opposed to 28.7 in 2019-20, which ranks in the middle of the league. Hart has struggled on the penalty kill, which comes to no surprise with the Sabres, Capitals, Bruins, and Islanders all in the top half of the league in power-play percentage. The Flyers are tied for the 10th in the most power-play goals against (20), just less than one per game – are the Flyers’ defense and penalty-killers to blame?
Individually, Hart ranks 58th in goals saved above average and seems to struggle more often than not in high-danger situations, with a .769 high-danger save percentage; though, this is just half of a percent better than in his rookie season. With the playoffs approaching, and the Flyers in fifth in the MassMutual East Division, Hart will be their make-or-break player needed to secure a postseason berth if he can gain some consistency.
Playing the same teams for the rest of the season should allow Hart to backstop the Black and Orange to a successful finish, though it will not be easy. The Flyers face the division-leading Islanders six more times, along with five more matchups against Washington, and they’ll play Pittsburgh and Boston only three times each. They will also play the teams chasing them 15 more times this season, but, at this point, all games are must-win. Hopefully, Hart’s lone appearance against the Isles will be a tell-tale for the season series.
As Hart struggles to get his footing this season, his counterpart Brian Elliott has seen the crease more frequently. As the Flyers battle for playoff seeding, it is crucial for Hart to take his game to the next level. Adjustments to team defense can and should help their success, but the team needs Hart to return to the quality of his first two campaigns.