Hart-Stopper: Thoughts after the Flyers’ Big Win Over the Hurricanes

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Everywhere you go today to find information on the Flyers, you are going to read about Carter Hart.

And why not? The wunderkind goalie made 33 saves and were it not for a questionable non-call that may or may not have been goaltender interference, he may have had a 34th and earned his second NHL shutout.

Instead, one Carolina goal got through, but that’s it, as the Flyers used a third period burst to surprisingly knock off the uber-talented Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 at Wells Fargo Center.

Hart was very good. Especially early in the game when the ‘Canes ambushed the Flyers with their speed and forecheck, a growing concern for the Flyers, who can’t seem to find any consistency on their breakouts and still give away the puck far too frequently in their own end.

But, on this night, Hart was a difference maker. Mistake after mistake kept coming back at him and he turned away every shot that he had a legitimate chance to stop.

Carolina was able to get five shots on goal in the opening 90 seconds of the game. Think about that pace for a second.

And it didn’t slow from there. Carolina actually had a 10-1 shot advantage before the Flyers got going later in the first period. It didn’t get much better in the second, but the Flyers finally found themselves in the third as Travis Konecny scored the game-winner and Joel Farabee and Claude Giroux added insurance markers for a very good win for the Flyers over a team they will likely be chasing for much of the season.

And as good as Hart was in this game – and he was very good – it’s important to remember that kids at his age (21) in the NHL playing his position are going to have ups and downs. We’ve seen it over the course of his young career already, and he hasn’t even been in the league for a calendar year yet.

This season alone he’s had lights out performances against New Jersey and now Carolina and he’s had forgettable outings against Edmonton and the New York Islanders.

But fear not, the talent is there.

Russ and I were talking to Sara Civian, the Carolina beat reporter for The Athletic during the game, and she said one of the things Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour talked about extensively leading up to the Flyers game is just how good a goalie Hart is.

Teams around the league realize it. They see the talent. They know it’s there. The Flyers do too, which is why they will be extra patient with him when he hits a brief skid.

There are no long-term concerns about Carter Hart. None.

So let’s move on.

I want to talk about a few other players. One who fans are rightfully excited about. One who is turning into the reincarnation of a Flyers fan-favorite, just with a bit more of an edge. And one who was being panned as a bad addition to the roster before he even put on a Flyers practice jersey for the first time.

The middle guy is Travis Konecny and Russ has a story coming on him specifically in a little bit. He’s going to take my comparison that I made to Danny Briere and run with it.

I actually got a chance to talk to Briere at the game last night and asked him if he sees a little bit of himself in Konecny. Danny gave me that wry, knowing smile that he was famous for when he was acknowledging your question as a good one, but gave me this answer, “I don’t know, I never saw myself play, I guess I’ll have to go back and watch some film.”

But then when I told him that since I got to watch him play for a good chunk of his career and that I see a lot of similarities, he said. “I love it. You go with that. I trust you.”

So, Russ will tackle that one.

But let’s start with the guy who got no respect:

Matt Niskanen

I can still remember the outrage on social media when the Flyers traded the Barry Ashbee Award-winning (Best defenseman on the team, as voted by the media – NOTE: neither Russ nor I voted for him) Radko Gudas to division rival Washington for Matt Niskanen and retained some of Gudas’ salary to boot.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher took some serious heat for this.

The narrative was that Niskanen, at 32, was past his prime. That he was on the downside of his career and not what he once was, so why trade a younger, cheaper defenseman for a guy who is coming off an injury-plagued year and take on extra salary in the process?

Because, as coach Alain Vigneault likes to say, Niskanen had “money in the bank,” meaning that he had a lot more cache. That battling through injuries and still being able to play at this level is a sure sign that when healthy, he could be the player he was before.

Keep in mind it wasn’t that long ago – just May and June of 2018, that Niskanen teamed up with John Carlson to play on the top defensive pair for the Capitals during their Stanley Cup run and the duo was sensational.

Fletcher gambled that the injuries would not diminish that skill set in just 365 days and that there was a lot left in the tank for Niskanen.

And so far, he’s proven to be right.

Niskanen has been the Flyers’ best defenseman this season. Hands down. Since being put back together with Ivan Provorov, the duo has been incredibly reliable for the Flyers – maybe their only regularly reliable pair.

The thing is, he does it in anonymity. Nobody is recognizing him. Nobody is writing about him. Heck, there are hardly people even mentioning him on Twitter in-game. Here’s a guy who had two assists and played some strong defense, even denying a Carolina goal at one point, and he barely gets mentioned.

Go ahead and do a Twitter search of “Matt Niskanen”. There were only 26 tweets between the start of last night’s game and the time you woke up on Wednesday morning that mentioned him.

So, when I was walking to Vigneault’s press conference after the game with the idea of asking him about Niskanen, knowing the odds were no one else would because, after all, Hart was the pack narrative,  I was formulating the best way to ask the question in my mind.

Then the presser began and the first two questions, of course, were about Hart. The third was about Sean Couturier, who still isn’t taking faceoffs, and in the process of answering that question, Vigneault started talking about players he liked in this game and this is what he said:

 “I thought on D Nisky was a force out there. He made some great plays as far as killing opportunities and getting the puck out of our end…”

He didn’t even dive into the two offensive plays. I mean, this pass to Couturier on the Flyers first goal was silky smooth:

He also set up Konecny’s goal with a low, hard shot on net that created the juicy rebound for a slam dunk.

But what impressed Vigneault was that Niskanen may be the only defenseman who consistently is getting the puck out of the Flyers end on breakouts without much trouble. He’s the one defenseman who seems immune to the forechecking pressure of the opposition.

The Flyers had 17 giveaways compared to Carolina’s five. Of those, 11 were by defensemen. Niskanen only had one.

And he made up for that lone blemish with some fine defensive work. He thwarted rushes with good positioning, keeping Carolina skaters to the outside. He blocked two shots and he absolutely saved a goal :

I admit, I started thinking about this story angle during the game last night. I try to come up with something that I think will be different than the rest. I don’t always nail it on the head, but in this one, I think I did:

And here are a few of the replies I got:

Even the usually fancy stat-driven analysts among us are impressed:

Fourteen games isn’t a huge amount of games. It’s still November. There’s a lot of season left. But when you are a veteran in this league you don’t play really well for 14 games and then suddenly go backwards.

The Flyers have a legit top defensive pair. Something they probably haven’t had since the days of Kimmo Timonen and Brayden Coburn.

This is a very big positive for the team, even if not a lot of people are talking about it.

Joel Farabee

Snow the Goalie Radio has some really good timing sometimes.

Joel Farabee scored his first goal on Friday. He joined Russ and I on the program Monday. He scored his second goal and was the best Flyers forward on Tuesday.

And he’s just 19-years-old.

I keep saying this, and I know it sounds like a skipping CD at this point, but he plays the game like he belongs in the NHL.

There aren’t many guys who are able to do that as a teenager. In the NHL right now the only guys who were teenage sensations that come to mind are Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, Nathan McKinnon, Connor McDavid, and Matt Duchene.

I’m not anointing Farabee to the level of most of those guys just yet. Heck, he’s still wearing his training camp number. But, the reality is, at his age, he’s a noticeable player on the ice and noticeable for all the right reasons.

His insurance goal was sheer determination:

Some additional context on this goal is that Farabee, Giroux and van Riemsdyk were deployed by Vigneault on this shift because of an offensive zone draw.

They lost the draw and ended up getting hemmed in a little bit in their own end. While you don’t want to rely on this line to play great defense, there’s going to be times it has to commit itself to a 200-foot game and Farabee made a fine play to poke the puck away from Carolina, thwarting a good chance for them and starting the rush back up ice where he finished with the goal above.

The Flyers had 28 shots last night. This line had 11 of them. Farabee and Giroux tied for the team lead with five shots each.

At his age, players are supposed to be finding their way. Somehow, Farabee seems to have found a short cut. This is another boon for the Flyers.

Miscellaneous Info

  • As well as Hart played, he probably earned another start against Montreal Thursday. Then Hart and Brian Elliott will likely split the two road games this weekend in Toronto and Boston. My guess is Elliott plays in Toronto and Hart in Beantown.
  • The Flyers’ record of 7-5-2 through 14 games may seem mediocre (They’ve won the same number of games they lost, so.. yeah…) but it should be noted that this is their best 14-game start since 2011-2012. That’s eight seasons of just uninspired hockey.
  • When Vigneault was talking about Niskanen, he also praised Farabee and Hart. But then he said this, “We had a couple of real strong performances, [but] we have a couple of players that it is a work in progress. We need to continue to improve. I can only imagine he is referencing the rest of the defense with all the turnovers.
  • And it isn’t just the turnovers. Plus/minus is often a misleading stat, but it’s one that teams still focus on, especially if there is a pattern forming. Having Justin Braun as a minus-11 through just 14 games is glaring. He and Shayne Gostisbehere are not a good pair at all. The Flyers need to try something else on defense entirely with their second and third pairings. Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers were OK against Carolina… but just OK.

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.


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3 Responses

  1. Great dub last night… where’s the Giroux and Hart haters now?

    I will say it yet again, ghost is toast and we need to bring in another veteran defenseman if we’re going to truly compete this year.

  2. It’s time to talk about Justin Braun. He looks sooooo slow out there, like a vintage mid-90s Clarkie mucker-and-grinder type. Backing up against the rush, he’s just a pylon who gets skated around by every opposing player. He was brought in to a be a steadying veteran presence on the blue line but appears to be more of a liability than anything else. Yikes.

  3. I think Fletcher was one for two on the D pickups this year …Niskanen great, Braun not so much …the key here is Ghost. What the hell happened to him???

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