Still a Hart-beat: Thoughts after Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (SO)

Flyers Carter Hart
Photo credit: © Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Flyers season is on the path to coming to an end far short of expectations –barring a miracle in the next week– there will be some intriguing story lines for fans to follow over the course of the season’s final five weeks.

Like, what initial moves, if any, will Chuck Fletcher pull off prior to next Monday’s trade deadline to try to improve the team for next season.

Like, getting a first glimpse at some other prospects –specifically Cam York, the 2019 first round draft pick of the Flyers who signed an entry level contract last week after completing his sophomore season at the University of Michigan.

York will start in the AHL, but it’s almost a sure bet he’ll get time with the Flyers this season to start to get him assimilated with the NHL. There’s no other reason the Flyers would have started his contract this soon and sacrificed a year of potential control over York before he can hit free agency down the road if they didn’t intend to play him with the big club right away.

And there will be more players fans will be able to get a look at for the first time in NHL action. We got to see the debut of Tanner Laczynski Saturday. Wade Allison might not be far behind. Ditto Linus Sandin. And Yegor Zamula.

But the biggest and most important thing to keep an eye on moving forward is the play of goalie Carter Hart.

Hart, after being shut down from game action to reset for the past week, was back in goal Saturday and maybe for the first time all season, truly looked like the version of himself that the city fell in love with a year ago.

Hart was really good. He was only credited with 22 saves, but the people counting shots on Long Island Saturday were drunk. Had to be. Because Hart seemed to stop plenty more than that over the course of 60 minutes.

And although the final outcome wasn’t exactly what the Flyers were hoping for as they continue their Quixotic chase of the final playoff spot in the East Division – a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders – there was definite encouragement with the play of their young goalie who went through the wringer for much of the past month.

He looked confident. Poised. In control. The puck stuck to him. There weren’t many rebounds. He looked big in net.

And his glove. Oh, his glove.

It has been well chronicled that teams had been picking on Hart high to his glove side this season, and for good reason. That suddenly became a weakness of his. It was the result of offseason mechanical work to improve other parts of his game that inadvertently created this new problem area.

Hart struggled with it. Mightily. It led to him being the worst goalie, statistically, in the NHL. It led to the Flyers pushing the reset button, scratching him for a week and having him practice hard, every day but one, with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh.

“He’s been practicing every day except Thursday which was a mandatory day off,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He had some good workouts. Yesterday when I asked him if he was ready it was a definite yes. In my estimation it showed in his play tonight. He was determined and he made some big saves at the right time for us.”

The glove saves were the most noticeable difference in Hart’s game Saturday. He was tracking the puck beautifully. Even through traffic. He seemed determined that if he was going to allow a goal, it wasn’t going to be high glove. He didn’t drop to his knees too quickly. He didn’t sit back in net and give the Islanders more space to target. Instead, he stood tall and, and Jim Jackson would say, committed several acts of left-handed larceny while in goal.

I asked him about working on his glove hand saves this past week. He wouldn’t get into specifics, but here’s what he said:

“Yeah, I was just tracking them into my glove and I caught them,” he said. “It felt good. It always feels good when you make a save.”

And although the abundance of glove saves were noticeable, they weren’t the only things Hart was doing well:

And maybe the biggest difference was seeing the confidence in his demeanor after the game. He was having fun answering questions again. He was loose. Relaxed. He was definitely the Carter Hart we had all grown to appreciate a season ago.

It was just one game. Sixty minutes. In and of itself it doesn’t undo the entirety of a disappointing season for Hart and the Flyers. But it’s definitely a good first step toward rectifying part of the problems that have plagued this team this season.

The Captain was impressive, too.

The Flyers found themselves in a hole again Saturday. I know this isn’t a surprise. It’s seemingly the same thing every game. But there they were down 2-0 after two periods, going against the best third period team in the NHL.

And every time they’ve been down like this and needed a miracle comeback, one player has been at the forefront of every single effort to bring the team back – and I’m not the only one saying it anymore:

Claude Giroux scored twice in the third period, with two really pretty shots, to tie the game, force overtime, and at least procure the Flyers one point, meaning that there is at least a couple more games of meaningful hockey on the docket for the Flyers next week against Boston.

The first was this beauty of a backhand:

And then he got a little fired up with the tying goal:

And here’s the celly:

And here’s my take on the captain:

And he has done it again. And again. And again this season.

  • 3/4 @ Pittsburgh – two goals and an assist after team was down 3-0 in a 4-3 win.
  • 3/9 vs. Buffalo – scores a goal doing a 5-4 come-from-behind victory after the team trailed 4-2.
  • 3/13 vs. Washington – Flyers trailed 5-2 and lost 5-4, but Giroux scored the fourth goal in a failed comeback attempt.
  • 3/15 @ NY Rangers – Assisted on one tying goal and then scored another as the Flyers trailed twice late before winning in OT 5-4.
  • 3/29 @ Buffalo – with the team trailing 3-0, Giroux scored a goal, assisted on the tying goal and forced the turnover that led to the winning goal in a 4-3 OT victory.
  • 4/3 @ NYIslanders – scored two third period goals to erase a two-goal deficit and force overtime in an eventual 3-2 shootout loss.

All told, it’s been a horrible run for the Flyers and no one deserves high praise, But Giroux has posted 10-5-15 in the last 17 games and if there’s a reason this team even has a pulse at this point, it’s because of their captain.

Finally…

The Flyers are four points behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the East Division. They play the Bruins three times this week, but the first two are the most important. They play in Boston Monday and back in Philly on Tuesday. The Flyers basically have to win both, or else GM Chuck Fletcher is going to go into sell mode for the deadline.

And while the Flyers have not been able to beat the Bruins yet this season (0-3-2), they played the Bruins when they were rolling at the start of the season. Since the last time the two teams met, the Bruins record isn’t much better than the Flyers.

Since Lake Tahoe:

  • Flyers – (9-10-2, 20 points)
  • Bruins – (8-7-3, 19 points)

If the Flyers win both games in regulation, they’ll be tied with the Bruins for the final playoff spot, although Boston would still have two games in hand. Nevertheless, if they win those two games, the Flyers likely won’t be sellers and may in fact buy a little bit at the deadline.

Longshot, I agree. I don’t see it happening, but then again, nothing ever really surprises when it comes to this team.

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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