With the official schedule for Phase 4 of the NHL’s Return To Play Plan finally released, teams finally have games on the schedule for the first time in months and players are finally getting back on the ice.
The Philadelphia Flyers are among eight teams competing in round-robin play to decide the top four seeds in each conference. Before the first postseason round officially starts, the Flyers will face off in games against the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals.
After releasing their official return to play roster, the Flyers will bring four goaltenders with them to their hub city of Toronto. Obviously, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott will be the two netminders seeing the majority of the time between the pipes.
How the Flyers plan to manage those two during the round-robin games is still undecided, but a look at each of their performances against the Bruins, Lightning, and Capitals might help us get a better idea.
Carter Hart vs. BOS, TBL, & WSH
Over the course of the 2019-20 NHL season, Hart has seamlessly stepped in and thrived in the number one role. The 21-year-old owns a 2.42 goals against average and a .914 save percentage on the year with incredible records in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as a whole.
Hart has been the go-to option for the Flyers in their matchups against some of the Eastern Conference’s top teams with a 13-5-1 record versus Eastern teams participating in the 24-team playoff.
One of Hart’s most impressive feats of the regular season was his play against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins.
In three games against Boston, Hart posted a 2-1-0 record with both wins coming in the shootout. Hart took on the entire weight of facing off against the NHL’s leading team this season, just further proving the confidence the club has in him.
Of the few notable struggles of Hart’s 2019-20 season, one has certainly been games with the Lightning. In the Flyers two losses against the Lightning this season, Hart posted 27-save and 19-save outings, allowing just one goal on January 11 and 4 on February 15.
Since Hart joined the flyers full-time during the 2018-19 season, the Lightning
The Flyers’ 2019-20 improvement against the Capitals has been one of the many signs of their overall improvement against the league’s best clubs.
This season, Hart and Elliott saw an even split of the four games against the Capitals. Hart’s two games saw a shootout loss and a win, with the loss coming after one of his best performances of the year, with 35 saves on 36 shots.
The Flyers’ reliable goaltending combination has been a big part of turning over a new leaf against Washington, a key division opponent that swept them in all four games last season.
Elliott vs. BOS, TBL, & WSH
The 2019-20 season has also been a major turnaround for Elliott. Since Elliott joined the Flyers back in 2017, and especially after the team re-signed him to a two-year deal in the summer of 2019, there has been plenty of doubts as to whether or not he was the best available option for the backup position.
Now, those doubts have seemingly diminished with the 35-year-old’s excellent 2019-20 campaign. He has proven to be a great mentor and relief option for Hart and shown that he’s still capable of shutting down the NHL’s best.
Boston & Tampa Bay
Hart took on the full weight of the two elites of the Atlantic Division this season. Even in the season prior, Elliott didn’t see any time against Boston or Tampa Bay.
Although he didn’t see time against those two, Elliott still saw a fair amount of top teams this season. Over the course of the year, he earned wins against clubs like the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.
The major highlight of Brian Elliott’s 2019-20 season was undoubtedly his performances in two games against the Capitals.
In games on February 8 and March 4, Elliott posted identical games with 25 saves on 27 shots in two statement wins over Washington. It’s been incredible to see Elliott showcase confidence and reliability against such a powerhouse like the Capitals.
The Two Other Goalies On the Roster
Along with Hart and Elliott, the Flyers have also included goaltenders Alex Lyon and Kirill Ustimenko on their return-to-play roster.
Lyon has been the consistent third option for the Flyers this season, appearing in three games in 2020. He’s been a solid starting option throughout the year for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and will likely fall right back into the third spot for the postseason.
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Kirill Ustimenko, on the other hand, has split time between the Phantoms and the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate Reading Royals during the 2019-20 season. The 21-year-old is yet to see any NHL action so far in his career. His inclusion on the roster, like Lyon’s, is likely just as a reserve option in the event the Flyers’ goaltenders are struck by injury.
At the end of the day, Hart will be the first and foremost option for the Flyers when they meet the Bruins on August 2. The 2019-20 season has fully established Hart as the Flyers’ starting goaltender and there’s no doubt they’ll go ahead with the very best in their first game back in months.
With a four-day break in between their first and second games, the Flyers could easily get Hart back in net for their August 6 matchup with Washington. However, considering Elliott’s record against the Capitals this season, game two seems like the perfect place for him to make his start.
Lastly, the Flyers’ third round-robin matchup against the Lightning on August 9 is a bit of a toss-up. Hart has struggled against Tampa throughout his career and Elliott hasn’t faced them in quite some time. Hart seems like the better option, though, as a win against Tampa would be a great transition into the first-round where he’ll be the obvious starter.
The Flyers clearly have some tough round-robin matchups ahead of them with the very best of the Eastern Conference. Their goaltending tandem of Hart and Elliott led them to a wildly improved and successful regular season. With those two serving as some insurance on the back end, the Flyers have a good shot at finding some similar success in the restructured postseason.