Breaking Down Hart's 2020-21 Struggles
Prior to the 2020-21 season, Carter Hart never experienced any significant adversity in either his junior or pro careers. Before he turned pro, Hart was a three-time Del Wilson Trophy (WHL Goalie of the Year) winner, a two-time CHL Goalie of the Year winner, and an IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal winner as Team Canada's starter in 2017-18. In his rookie pro season, he graduated after 18 games from the American Hockey League to the NHL at age 20. In 2019-29, he broke Bernie Parent's single-season home save percentage franchise record and backstopped the Flyers to within one win of reaching the Eastern Conference Final in the playoffs.
Unfortunately and unexpectedly, Hart had a very poor third pro season/ second full NHL season in 2020-21. His 9-11-5 record, .877 save percentage and 3.67 goals against average along with being pulled early in four of his 25 starts and suffering a minor late-season injury fell far short of what was expected heading into the season.
In fairness, the team often played poorly in front of him and the sparsity of practice time seemed to affect the goalie (who is very much a creature of routine and habit) more than any other player on the team. However, the bottom line is that Hart did not hold up his end of the bargain this past season, either. A full return to form in 2021-22, regardless of his goaltending partner next season, is absolutely vital to the Flyers playing at much closer to their 2019-20 level than how they played this past season.
Digging beneath the surface of Hart's 2020-21 season, the campaign can roughly be broken down this way: In January and February, Hart's performance was inconsistent. Hart only had a few performances where he was at the top of his game without allowing any realistically stoppable goals, but subpar team defense was a bigger problem. In March, Hart shockingly struggled mightily with both mechanics (especially his glove side but also in terms of committing too early, and staying on-angle) and self-confidence. In April, he started to trend back in a more positive direction but then got injured and was preemptively shut down for the rest of the season.
At the time of the Flyers' 7-3 loss to the Bruins in Lake Tahoe on Feb. 21 -- a game in which Hart was pulled in the second period -- he had allowed 20 goals against the Bruins in going 0-2-2 (5.31 GAA, .843 SV%). However, against the rest of the East Division to that point, he'd allowed a combined 18 goals in seven games (5-1-1, 2.73 GAA, .919 SV%). That was soon followed by Hart recording a 28-save shutout on the road in Buffalo in his final start of February.
Let's break down Hart's four pre-March games against Boston a little further to gain additional context:
* Jan 21 @ BOS: The Flyers were massively outplayed in the first period and controlled the middle frame. Philly took a 2-0 lead into the third period largely on the strength of Hart stopping all 18 shots he faced (including 14 in the first period). Unfortunately, the Flyers were unable to hold off a Bruins' surge in the third period and ultimately lost, 5-4, via shootout. Hart allowed a stoppable turnaround shot through the five-hold by Charlie Coyle on the second Boston goal. The other three Boston tallies were primarily the fault of the skaters in front of Hart or the credit of Boston attackers.
* Jan. 23 @ BOS: Hart kept the Flyers in the game early, stopping nine of 10 shots in the first period as Philly took a 1-0 deficit to intermission despite being significantly outplayed. The final 40 minutes were rough, both for Hart and the team, especially a three-goal Bruins outburst in the third period that turned a 3-1 game into a 6-1 blowout. Two of the goals that Hart allowed were on shots he'd typically save and another, while not an easy opportunity, was also not unstoppable. At the end of the game, the normally even-keeled Hart shattered his stick over the crossbar in frustration.
* Feb. 2 vs BOS: Hart (31 saves) played fine in this 4-3 overtime loss to the Bruins. Bad penalties by the Flyers, three unstoppable point-blank goals by the deadly David Pastrnak and a 4-on-3 overtime power play marker for Boston were the Flyers' problems in this game as they were unable to nail down a win after leading 3-1 midway through the third period.
* Feb 21 @ BOS (Lake Tahoe): None of the goalies in this game fared well, but Hart in particular struggled. He was pulled after two periods, allowing six goals on 23 shots. Boston won, 7-3.
Hart's shutout win in Buffalo raised hopes of the player quickly recovering his game. Unfortunately, the month of March was disastrous both for Hart and the entire team regardless of the opponent. Hart started 10 games, was pulled twice and posted a 2-6-0 record, 5.04 GAA and .815 save percentage. Brian Elliott fared only marginally better (4-4-1, 3.74 GAA, ..847 SV%).
The month of March saw the Flyers, after an 11-4-3 start to the season, tumble in the standings and fall out of the playoff race. The club never recovered. At least Hart, after getting in some much needed extended practice time, started to look a little more like himself despite a 1-2-2 record (2.31 GAA, .910 save percentage).
In his final start before missing the rest of the season, Hart took first-star honors in the Flyers' 2-1 road shootout victory in Pittsburgh. The Penguins generated five odd-man rushes in regulation and two more in overtime as well as multiple medium to high-danger chances during the second period and beyond. Hart wound up with 30 saves on 31 shots. Hart then went 2-for-3 in the shootout.
This offseason, if the Flyers do not re-sign unrestricted free agent Elliott, they may look for a netminder who could push Hart for playing time next season if Hart (who will turn 23 on Aug. 13) struggles for consistency. Hart is a restricted free agent this summer for the first time in his career. He does not have arbitration rights. Hart's difficulties this past season make it more likely that he will receive a bridge contract from the Flyers rather than the long-term, top-dollar extension that seemed probable after his 2019-20 season.
Quick Hits: August 1, 2021
1) Best wishes for speedy recovery go out to longtime Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates after undergoing heart surgery.
2) Today in Flyers history: On Aug. 1, 1970, the Flyers sold the contract of Claude Laforge to the Denver Spurs of the Western Hockey League. Laforge, a 5-foot-8 finesse forward who played in 193 NHL games for the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Flyers was never the same player again after he was victimized by a blind-sided sucker punch by infamous St. Louis Blues' Noel Picard during a brawl during the 1968 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Blues.
Seeing Laforge laying unconscious in a pool of blood after hitting his head as he feel to the ice sent Flyers owner Ed Snider into a rage. Snider privately vowed that he'd never again see a Philadelphia team manhandled in that manner. In the years to come, the Flyers assembled the team that became known as the "Broad Street Bullies." LaForge did not play again in the series. He finished with three points (one goal, two assists) in five games.
The next year, LaForge played two additional games for the Flyers - his final appearances his NHL career and then returned to the AHL's Quebec Aces. For Quebec, he posted 21 goals and 52 points in 57 games. The French-Canadian forward remained with the Aces through the 1969-70 season (28 goals, 67 points in 72 games). He finished his playing career with three seasons in Denver.
3) This past week on Flyers Daily, Jason Myrtetus did a series on one-on-one interviews with the team's three newest additions: Cam Atkinson
, Rasmus Ristolainen
, and Martin Jones