Head Stand! Thoughts on Carter Hart’s incredible performance and Flyers 2, Hurricanes 1

carter hart flyers
Photo credit: © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

There was a debate in the Crossing Broad Slack channel recently between myself and another erstwhile writer about the value of specific hockey players.

I argued that the most important piece for any hockey team is a goaltender, hands down, and that teams that build from the goal line out will ultimately be more successful and have a better chance at the sport’s silver chalice every spring.

My colleague challenged that theory, said the need for goaltending is arbitrarily inflated in the playoffs so that even a mediocre goalie can get hot and be a difference maker and that the thing a team like the Flyers needs, and can not win without is “a reliable, recognizable, elite scorer.”

You know, guys like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Evgeni Malkin. You know where they come from? Picking at the very top of the draft – and they are rarely traded, if ever.

So, in order to get that type of player, not only do you have to plan on  being terrible, but do so from the offseason and then, get lucky enough to win the draft lottery in a year when one of those can’t miss prospects is available to be drafted.

Goalies, on the other hand, are often drafted later and are developed by teams from a young age to become good at their jobs. There’s no guarantee that these selections will hit, and they definitely take longer to bear fruit, but they are also a much lower risk with a much higher reward and can be developed while a team is even good or excellent.

This is a far more reliable path to success. There’s no question that I am right and my bloviating, hot-take artist of colleague isn’t.

I give you Carter Hart.

While I’m still waiting for the first final score in hockey to be determined by expected goals over actual goals, the point here is, Carolina dominated this game and would have won it ten times over were it not for Carter Hart.

And if the Flyers are going to do anything this season, it’s going to be mostly on the his shoulders.

If there is any doubt left that last season was a fluke and that Hart is in a much better mental state now and ready to be a difference maker for the Flyers, I give you Friday night.

Hart was, in a word, remarkable.

He made 39 saves against the team with the NHL’s best record and carried the Flyers to a crucial 2-1 victory.

So much for Hart not being able to steal games on the road. So much for Hart not being able to be a franchise goalie, as some of his critics have been wont to say. So much for Hart not being able to carry the Flyers to success.

Here comes the small sample size argument, I can feel it, but the reality is, it doesn’t matter that it’s only mid-November. It doesn’t matter that its only 12 games into an 82-game season. It doesn’t matter that the good feeling of such a great win can possibly be wiped out 24 hours later in another city against another team. Hell, it doesn’t even matter that the Flyers can’t score right now and only have 11 goals in their last seven games (4-2-1), they have a franchise goalie who is going to keep them in games, win them games they shouldn’t win, and yes, maybe get hot in the playoffs and carry them further than they should go.

Because that’s what makes a winning hockey team – goaltending and defense. Superstar forwards are nice and all, but they are a luxury.

Carter Hart has the game. He has the moxie. He has the determination. He wants to win. You don’t go into Edmonton and beat a team with the best two offensive players in hockey on their ice. You don’t shut down the best team in the game on their home ice. And even though Hart didn’t start the game in Washington, you don’t go on the road against one of the best teams in your division with arguably the greatest goal scorer of all time and shut them down.

The Flyers have done all three and done it with great goaltending supported by solid defense.

It’s why they are 7-3-2 and have points in 75% of their games so far. It’s why they are third in the NHL: in goals allowed per game this season at 2.33. It’s why they ultimately will be a dangerous playoff team, even if their scoring remains inconsistent.

Carter Hart is back. Hell, he might even be better than before. And that’s going to mean a heck of a lot more to the Flyers than the unattainable notion of adding a “reliable, recognizable and elite scorer” ever will.

Flyers Firsts

Zach McEwen scored his first goal as a Flyer and it was the game-winner for Philadelphia. He made a nice play to keep possession along the wall, and as the Flyers kept the puck in the offensive zone, he crashed the net and was able to deflect a shot from Justin Braun into the net.

It’s a huge play by a fourth line that is giving the Flyers a lot of energy lately. Patrick Brown made a nice play to shield off a defender and keep the play alive in the zone while Braun, who stunningly leads the Flyers defensemen in scoring with eight points, got the shot to the net. Brown picked up an assist on the goal, his first as a Flyer.

Brown and McEwen have been positive additions to the Flyers fourth line, but it’s likely that one of them will be the odd man out once Kevin Hayes returns to the lineup, which could be as soon as Saturday night in Dallas.

Out of Patience

The Flyers waived Nicolas Aube-Kubel Friday. We’ll find out Saturday if he cleared and can be sent down to the Phantoms, or if he is claimed. I have a feeling he is claimed, and we’ve seen the last of him in a Flyers uniform.

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