Mistake on the Lake: Thoughts on Bruins 7, Flyers 3

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was a debacle. A sham. A fiasco. A disaster. A train wreck. A dumpster fire. A hot mess. Grab your thesaurus. There are dozens of words that describe the NHL’s weekend in Lake Tahoe.

The league tried to have a marquee weekend event with two outdoor games at a breathtaking site, with some truly picturesque settings and snapshots that would market their sport on national television with four of the sports biggest name teams.

Except, the following happened:

  • Both games were postponed because ice doesn’t do well under direct sunlight and warm temperatures.
  • As a result of the postponement, both games were booted off of NBC and banished to the soon-to-be no more NBCSN.
  • The Colorado/Vegas game was resumed at midnight here in the east on Saturday, after it was started some 8-and-a-half hours earlier.
  • The Flyers/Bruins game time was changed several times, from 3PM in the east, to 2PM, to 7:30PM, to a 7:40PM puck drop that was said to be delayed again 10 minutes, only to commence at 8PM.
  • The marquee matchup on Sunday featured a team missing six regular players because of COVID-19 protocols and was forced to dress half of their offensive lineup with AHL players, including a fourth line with two natural defensemen playing on the wings – which is what the NHL really wanted to showcase, right?
  • The portable lights that were brought in to light the rink now that there were night games and not day games, were only one one side of the ice, making half the rink a little darker than the other half. Of course, this was the night time obstacle. The day time obstacle was the setting sun causing a wicked glare where players admitted they couldn’t see where they were going.
  • The hastily-constructed setup left the teams with no locker rooms, other than poorly set up tents about 50 yards or so from the rink.
  • There was no setup for post-game press conferences, and instead the coaches and players had to stand outside in the bitter cold temperatures and try to talk to the media with the wind howling, on a portable headset. (remember, this was handled by the NHL because it was a league event, and not the individual teams. My bet is the team guys would have come up with something a lot better!)
  • Finally, the one guy the Flyers media really wanted to talk to was goalie Carter Hart, who continues to struggle against Boston at an alarming rate, but the headset crapped out on him, likely a victim of the plunging outdoor temperatures as well, and rather than rectify the situation, a league representative came on the Zoom call with reporters and said, “Sorry for the technical difficulties. This ends Flyers media availability.”

So yeah, the league basically said, “Screw it, we’ve had enough. We’re done.”

They should have quit much, much sooner.

As for the game itself, it was entertaining for a period. The Flyers played a strong first. Outshot Boston. Played a mostly simple style, much like they did against New York last Thursday, only to still be tied after 20 minutes.

And then, like everything else at Lake Tahoe this weekend, the Flyers just broke down.

Boston scored four times in the second period, chasing Hart, and blew the Flyers out by a score of 7-3.

Fun times were had by all.

There were definitely breakdowns in the second period, so the loss can’t solely be pinned on Hart. And yeah, the Flyers were facing a serious uphill battle against arguably the best team in hockey minus so many players, but there’s something just not right with Hart right now – especially against Boston. Let’s break it down.

1. Hart needs soul

The one thing that has been kind of a standard description of Hart since he broke into the NHL a couple seasons ago was that he never gets too high and he never gets too low. That his even-keeled nature and personality doesn’t let him get too full of himself when he’s playing well and equally doesn’t allow him to lose confidence when he has a bad game or two.

But, there’s something about the Bruins this year that is really getting to Hart.

You remember how he reacted when he stayed in net for the entirety of a 6-1 drubbing in Boston earlier this season, right? –

NOTE: I used this tweet of the now infamous clip for two reasons. One, it was the first one I came across. Two, rather than look for another tweet, I can take the opportunity to point out how idiotic Devils Insiders are. I know any moron can start a podcast, but to get to the level of popularity that they have attained with insight like that is frightening. And yet, this is a place hockey fans get information. Sad.

Back to Carter and the Bruins….

Hart has now faced the Bruins four times this season. He is 0-2-2 vs. Boston with a 5.31 GAA and an .843 save percentage.

In his other seven games against a variety of East Division foes, he is 5-1-1 with a 2.73 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

In fact, Hart has allowed more goals against Boston (20) than every other opponent combined (18) this season.

At this point, it’s all got to be about confidence. I was cued up on the Zoom with hand raised to ask him about that – if the Bruins are in his head a little bit – but, alas… NHL technology.

The fact is the Bruins have found a spot or two to shoot at against Hart – high glove, and short side – and it’s working.

When that happens, it’s got to start to take up residence in the back of your mind, no? Even the strongest-willed and most even-tempered folks are still not impervious to what’s going on around them or to human emotion. That was evidenced by the stick-breaking.

One has to think the whole Boston thing is starting to get to him a little bit. The numbers pan out.

Look, Hart isn’t off to a great start this season. His numbers are ugly, although they are skewed by the Boston games.

Still, goalies want a better GAA than the 2.73 he has against the rest of the division and maybe a tick better on the save percentage than the .919 he has against teams not from New England.

But there are certainly outside factors there too. The way teams play in front of a goalie can certainly impact a goalie’s production. So maybe his numbers would be a little better – even against Boston – if the team was better in front of him.

And that can certainly be evidenced by the Flyers getting pummeled in shot differential and puck possession metrics:

While I didn’t ask Alex directly, I’m assuming he’s including the playoffs and not reverting back to last year’s regular season.

So, it’s safe to say that if Hart is 5-1-1 in non-Boston games, and the Flyers are still getting out-statted to that degree, that Hart has been a big part of those wins – and he has. He’s made a lot of big saves this season and kept Flyers in games.

He’s just been inconsistent at times, and against the Bruins, he’s looked even worse.

To me, his reactions look off. He seems a little slow against the Bruins. But, it might not be a speed thing. I talked to a couple people who know a thing or two about goaltending last night and they said Hart’s positioning might be off a tad, which can be a nightmare for a goalie in the NHL.

He may be sitting too far back in his net – a product of uncertainty against a team who has throttled you a few times. It’s a natural reaction to protect the net, but in reality, it opens up angles to shoot at the net and it makes a goalie seem slower to cover those suddenly open areas.

Hart needs to be more assertive and challenge shooters. Get out to the edge of the crease or even a step beyond at times. Make the decision much harder on the opponent with the puck.

Secondly, he’s leaving a little too much of the short side exposed. Again, this could be related to his positioning, or it could be that he’s cheating just a hair – and not even realizing that he’s doing it – to be able to get across and thwart a cross-ice pass or to cover the back door – two plays that teams have tried a lot against the Flyers this season.

As such, if you give shooters at this level even the slightest bit of room – as Hart seems to be doing – they’ll make you pay, dearly:

This goal, for example, part of a three-goal outburst in a span of 99 seconds, just can’t happen. Sure there are other breakdowns on the play, but it’s obvious where the Bruins are shooting on Hart, and it’s clear he’s struggling with shots there now:

On this one, it looks like Hart is feeling Ritchie on his right and wants to prevent a pass across and instead opens up too much room on the short side, which Charlie Coyle simply snaps past him in a spot he’s got to make a save:

I’m going to get to David Pastrnak in a minute, but here’s another goal ticketed high glove. NBC analyst, former Flyer and a guy whose opinion I respect greatly, Brian Boucher, talked at length on the broadcast at how hard it is for a goalie to pick up this shot, even if it seems easy.

You can’t see it on this angle, but the puck is flat on Pastrnak’s blade when he shoots, and it knuckles a little bit, making it harder to pick up.

That might be the case (Boosh would know better than me), but look where they’re shooting on Hart again.

It’s something he’s going to have to figure out. No question. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hart gets a breather here. Let Brian Elliott start Wednesday against the Rangers and give Hart a week to just work on his game in practice – because the Flyers are going to need him to get back to being sharp when the schedule ramps up ridiculously in March.

One final thing on Hart – I’ve been trying to warn fans for two-and-a-half seasons now – don’t ramp up expectations for him too high too soon. He came into the NHL as a 20-year-old goalie. Not many guys have done that with success in this league. Only the best of the best.

Hart is still just 22. He’s still learning things. Figuring things out. Finding out the difference between being just an average goalie and being an All-Star caliber guy or even a Vezina Trophy-winning guy.

Putting that expectation on him now was always too much, too soon.

Here’s what you need to know: Carter Hart is a very good goalie. He will be a franchise goalie. He’s also still a pup, so there are going to be moments of growing pains. That’s OK. Be patient with him. Don’t put too much pressure on him. Let him come into his own. And soon enough, you’ll be glad you did.

And the Devils Insiders will wish they had him instead.

2. Pasta Fongool

David Pastrnak is really freaking good. He’s a thorn in the Flyers side. And he’s a beauty. I mean, his entire post game interview after the game was priceless:

Pastrnak registered a hat trick in the game. That’s his second one this season against the Flyers. That doesn’t happen often. In fact:

Dude is a stone cold killer on the ice and an absolute gem who would rather talk about dressing in 90s gear, dancing to Barbie Girl and the ridiculousness of having to stand in the freezing cold to do a post game interview than actually what happened on the ice.

He’d be an all-time rock star in Philly.

Oh, and he’s the one who also talked about Marchand not being able to see on the ice because of the sun. Just in case anyone thought I was pulling that one out of my keester.

3. JVR/Farabee/Coots stay hot

Somebody has to score for the Flyers with this makeshift lineup, right?

Farabee got the first Flyers goal off a crazy carom off the end boards. It was his eighth goal of the season. He had eight all of last season as a rookie. He continues to be opportunistic for the Flyers.

Couturier had a goal on some great work in front by the entire line (Kevin Hayes was on instead of Farabee as it was a shift as a penalty was ending), and he also had an assist on Farabee’s goal, as he continues to prove just how much he was missed for three weeks earlier in the season.

But JVR continues to be the story of the year. He scored another power play goal, his sixth. He added assists on each of the other two goals.

He now has 21 points this season to lead the Flyers. His 21 points are tied for 10th in the NHL, which is even more impressive as the Flyers have played fewer games than all the teams who have someone ahead on him in the scoring list.

Someone asked me if the Flyers should try to trade JVR so they don’t lose him for nothing at the Seattle expansion draft in the summer.

The only way is if the Flyers fall out of the playoff race by the trade deadline in April. Otherwise, how do you give up on your most productive player when you are trying to not only get into the playoffs, but make a deep run?

And I’ll say this…

If JVR stays on this pace, and somehow finishes somewhere close to 70 points or more, I’m not sure the Flyers don’t try to find a way to keep him from being taken by the Kraken in the expansion draft.

This is definitely a development to keep an eye on over the next several months.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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