I’m not trying to start the talk radio debate about the most important position in sports. You wanna argue till you’re blue in the face that playing quarterback in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE is the toughest? Have at it. I’d contend that a 1A to quarterback is standing between the pipes of 72″ x 48″ net while a disk of vulcanized rubber is propelled through the air at 90mph. I’d elevate the position’s importance in Philadelphia, where -I don’t know if you’ve heard- the Flyers haven’t had a rock-solid net minder in… [looks at records] nearly thirty years since Ron Hextall. Even then, Hextall was far from elite. The late Pelle Lindbergh aside -seeing as we’ll never know how good he truly could have been- the last great Flyers goaltender was Bernie Parent back in the 70s.
“But, Russ, the Flyers had a Vezina Trophy winner in their organization and they traded him away.”
Fair, but it was never going to work here. Ed Snider practically forced the hand of former GM Paul Holmgren to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, who flat-out refused to mentor or help a young Sergei Bobrovsky.
This isn’t a matter of Philly fans being out of their minds or blowing the goalie issue out of proportion. When we sat down with head coach Alain Vigneault and mentioned Hart, his response -amid a smirk and chuckle- was, “So I’ve been told.” That’s why Carter Hart’s performance on Wednesday night, featuring the first shutout of his NHL career, wasn’t just big. It was… humongous big. In fact, it’s the biggest thing to happen to a Philadelphia sports team in the past few months.
(Side note: Save your Kapler firing cheers for joy. The Phillies are a fundamentally flawed organization and kept the architects of a mediocre-at-best franchise in favor of cleaning house like they should’ve done. Also, the Ben Simmons three was delightful and could prove to be the most important added dimension to a Philly team this side of DeSean Jackson popping the top off an opposing defense. I digress…)
Hart didn’t just make the saves. He dominated the Devils. He embarrassed them:
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 10, 2019
There were no fewer than six instances on Wednesday night where Carter Hart made a save on a high screamer or low trickler that would’ve found its way into the back of the net and resulted in boos for Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott, Alex Lyon, Cam Talbot, Anthony Stolarz, Cal Pickard, or Mike McKenna a year ago. He flashed the leather time and time again, including this absolutely gorgeous save:
CARTER HART. 🤯😳
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) October 10, 2019
Let’s see that again from another angle:
This Carter Hart save is art. pic.twitter.com/q6HweGXtY9
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) October 10, 2019
In that moment, I turned to a few others in press row and made the comment that it might’ve been the best save I’ve seen a Flyers goalie make in my two years covering the team. That opinion was met with nods and a chorus of ooh’s and ah’s as the gorgeous new scoreboard showed replay after replay in glorious 4K resolution.
Think it’s hyperbole? Think again:
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) October 10, 2019
To quote Kevin Weekes, Hart’s the real deal. His ability to make those saves sends shockwaves of energy through his teammates as well, including winger and noted trash-talker extraordinaire Travis Konecny:
It’s huge. We have a player of the game helmet and I said I should have given it to the whole 5 on 3 crew. Obviously, Hartsy’s save is a huge momentum swing for us, but the 5 on 3 was unbelievable for us and I think that is almost bigger than a goal sometimes when you get that momentum and you can come off that. You can hear the crowd because they know how big of a kill it is.
Center Sean Couturier added:
It was unbelievable. Especially with me and Hayes in the box there, we we’re pretty nervous. 5-on-3 for two minutes and he made some big saves, especially that one. It was 1-0 at that point, really a game changer there. It just gives confidence to the guys too. Play better and play the right way.
Hart flashed his potential in 31 games last year, in which he posted a .917 SV% to go with a 2.83 GAA. Those numbers, by the way, were the best out of any of the eight, yes eight, goalies the Flyers played in 2018-19. He did that at age 20 in his first year of professional play coming out of Juniors. He kept that momentum going this preseason, including a stretch of 56 saves on 57 shots faced. Sure, he got shelled in a friendly against the Swiss League’s Lausanne HC when he gave up four goals in just over a period of play, but he rebounded in a big way to deliver the Flyers their first victory of the season in Prague against the Blackhawks. While some might’ve wanted to preach a bit of caution after he gave up three goals against an xG of 1.69, I’d just as quickly point to his first career shutout on Wednesday night against an xG of 1.74.
Don’t just take my word for it. Head coach Alain Vigneault said of Hart:
Talent has no age and I am firm believer that there is no doubt that Carter has a lot of potential and growth and development. He is still a very young player. He played extremely well tonight. Now we have to regroup and focus on the next game. He is a big part of our team and I know he wants to continue to solidify that position for him and he is going to put in the time and the work that he has to do that.
He’s certainly on his way to doing just that.
For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie Radio Mondays from 5-6PM on 610 ESPN Philadelphia and subscribe to Snow The Goalie: A Flyers Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, GooglePlay, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and wherever else you get your podcasts. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony and Russ live stream during pregame and the first and second intermission breaks of every Flyers home game live from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page and Twitter.