Hart must prove he can be among top NHL goalies, Flyers coach says

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Carter Hart still has to prove he can be a top goalie in the NHL, Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday.

“He’s still a very young player playing a real tough position,” Vigneault said. “With the right mindset, the right attitude, the right work ethic moving forward, he’s got all the capabilities to become a real solid goaltender. Now he’s got to go out and prove it.”

The 22-year-old went 9-11-5 in 27 games this season, and among the 32 goalies to play at least 25 games, his 3.67 goals-against average was the highest and his .877 save percentage was the lowest.

Those numbers were a significant drop from 2019-20 when Hart, in his second NHL season, was 24-13-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .914 save percentage, and 9-5 with a 2.23 GAA, .926 save percentage and two shutouts in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Hart, however, remains confident in his ability.

“I believe in myself and I believe that I can be a top goaltender in this league,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to a great offseason of training, get settled back in with my family and friends and get a good plan going forward for this offseason.”

Hart said there were technical parts of his game that slipped in part because of a lack of practice time and the condensed schedule. Some of that was related to Philadelphia having to pause its season from Feb. 8-17 because of NHL COVID-19 protocols, and then playing 17 games in 30 days in March, going 6-10-1.

He sustained a sprained MCL in his left knee during a 2-1 shootout win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 15. He finished the game but felt soreness in his knee the next day and did not play again this season.

He said living alone in his apartment during the pandemic, and the limited social interaction, also weighed on him, especially early in the season.

“You kind of go home and you’re just in your own thoughts the whole time because you’re just sitting your apartment alone,” he said. “But things were a lot better at the end. I was feeling a lot happier, hanging out with the boys more and I think that that was kind of a big part of my play towards the end, just enjoying the game more and being more grateful for where I am.”

Center Kevin Hayes said he and his teammates are grateful to have Hart as their No. 1 goalie.

“From getting to know him and seeing his work ethic and how he goes about his professional game, I think he’ll be one of the best goalies in the league next year,” Hayes said. “He’s a player that myself, this team, this organization is really relying on and I think everyone has a ton of confidence in him, knows how hard he works. I think he’ll get away from the rink, reset and figure out his best way to go about getting back to where he was.”

Hart is the second-youngest goalie in the NHL to have played at least 10 games this season, after the Dallas Stars’ Jake Oettinger, who is four months younger.

That’s one reason the Flyers remain confident any issues Hart had were more a function of a young player during an unusual season than any long-term downward trend.

“He’s a young man that’s finding his way,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We’ve asked a lot out of Carter. He’s a precocious talent. He’s climbed the ladder very quickly and clearly this year didn’t go the way he had hoped or the way we had all hoped.

“But there’s a lot of talent there and I think our expectation is that Carter will make the adjustments necessary and come back and be the goalie that we all want him to be and that he expects to be. He’s a top-end talent and it’s a tough league but he’ll make the adjustments he has to make and he’ll return to form.”

Hart has recovered from the sprained knee ligament that kept him out for the final 13 games of the season. It was one final bit of adversity he had to deal with, but Hart said he believes the struggles he went through this season will serve as a learning experience. 

“I think going forward, this is only going to help me with my career going into next season,” he said. “Have a great summer of training, and I’ll be ready for next year. I’m looking forward to having a clean slate next year. I think we all are, and we’re all going to be better next year. I know it.”

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