The Philadelphia Flyers finally found life in what has been a miserable season and have won six straight games heading into Saturday’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks, which is tied for their longest streak since last February’s six-game run.
It is also not a coincidence that rookie netminder Carter Hart was in goal for the first four games, which were all against playoff-caliber teams. His performance since getting called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last month has been nothing short of spectacular as he has already secured the No. 1 goalie job.
While he is just 8-5-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, Hart has injected an energy that was missing in the locker room and provided stability between the pipes for a team that hasn’t had it all year.
“I feel comfortable at this level,” Hart said following his 3-1 victory on Monday over the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets. “I think after the first couple of games, or even after that first game against Detroit [on Dec. 18], my nerves were just crazy for that game and after that just kind of realized, hey, it’s another game.”
Hart became the first goaltender in franchise history to post a four-game winning streak before turning 21, and he is just the fifth NHL goalie to win at least four straight starts prior to his 21st birthday in the last 20 years. During this stretch, Hart has a 2.40 goals-against average and an impressive .931 save percentage.
However, none of his success has surprised captain Claude Giroux.
“He does it every day in practice and in games,” Giroux said Monday. “He’s a pretty mature kid for his age and he’s playing some good hockey for us. He’s given us a chance to win every night.”
Don’t underestimate what having a reliable goalie means to the Flyers, who look like a different squad playing in front of Hart. They play more relaxed but with a spark – and even a bit of swagger – knowing their last line of defense is capable of making timely stops.
When the Flyers have coughed up the puck or failed to clear the zone, Hart has bailed his teammates out in the game’s crucial and waning moments.
“He’s been making those big saves when we need him,” Travis Konecny said. “It’s not like we can play looser [but] it’s definitely giving us the confidence to play offensively and create opportunities up the ice. He’s been a wall in there for us.”
His best stop against the Jets occurred with the Flyers on the penalty kill. On a cross-ice pass, Hart quickly slid post-to-post to make a pad save on All-star sniper Patrick Laine’s one-timer from inside the circle. While the save was impressive, the key was Hart never got himself caught out of position.
Many Flyers’ goalies this season have been victimized by the same play because they commit too far to one side and don’t have enough time to get across the goalmouth to take away the open net.
“From day one to where he is now, he’s gotten better every day,” interim coach Scott Gordon said.
There are 30 games remaining in the regular season and Hart will start the majority of them. But his only priority is to continue to get better every day.
“I haven’t really thought about any goals for the second half,” Hart said. “I just want to focus on the little details of my game and improve on everything within my structure and my game.”