Things are getting rough for the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending. Carter Hart hasn’t looked the same since the demoralizing Lake Tahoe loss against the Boston Bruins. Even ever-steady Brian Elliott is showing signs of fatigue. And the defence’s many breakdowns in front of them haven’t helped in the slightest. Thanks to the Flyers’ history of inconsistent goaltending, it’s a fan’s prerogative to panic about the tandem’s downturn. But to fairly assess Hart and Elliott’s performance (and preserve one’s sanity), one must occasionally look on the bright side. Here are a few overarching observations, both good and bad, that paint a more complete picture of how the goaltending tandem has done thus far.
The Good and the Bad of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Goaltending
Good: Brian Elliott Was Steady, for a While
Initially, the man the Flyers call “Moose” was expected to slot into his usual role as the steady backup. Now, though, he has become more of a 1B goaltender (and occasionally even a 1A). Despite the sudden and surprising nature of the change, Elliott played solidly for some time. Through the first five games after Lake Tahoe, he had a .907 SV% – about on par with his first two seasons with the Flyers. Those numbers weren’t going to single-handedly carry the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Elliott was about as good as anyone could have asked of him given his increased workload and the discombobulated defence in front of him.
Bad: Things Are Starting to Look Shaky
Although Elliott’s many years in the league have shaped him into a solid, experienced veteran goaltender, they certainly won’t help during this shortened season. Since Lake Tahoe, Elliott has gotten a significantly increased number of starts – and the fatigue has caught up quickly. Last week, Elliott played three consecutive games against the Buffalo Sabres and the Washington Capitals. In the second Capitals game, he let in three of seven shots on goal before Hart took over. Then on Wednesday, Elliott started but was benched again for allowing five quick goals. So while he is perfectly capable of shouldering a heavier workload for short bursts, it’s not realistic to expect Elliott to be able to play the starting role for an extended time.
Good: Carter Hart is Working Hard, As Usual
If there’s one event that sums up Hart’s season, the infamous stick smash is it. After a frustrating 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins (his third straight), the typically-calm netminder pulverized his stick on the crossbar of the goal in frustration. Things still haven’t improved – Hart has a less-than-90 save percentage on the season. But the composure and hard work with which he’s managed his slump since then are far more reflective of the mature 22-year-old Flyers fans have come to know and love. After last Tuesday’s narrow win against the Buffalo Sabres, in which Hart was pulled after letting in three goals, he reportedly stayed late on Wednesday to practice with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh. Even if he’s not seeing the ideal results yet, it’s encouraging that Hart’s doing all the right things to try to rediscover his form.
Bad: His Confidence Level is Dropping
Hart’s current distressed state is a disheartening contrast to his typically-cool nature. His disappointment is palpable in post-game press conferences. When a shot makes it past him, his shoulders slump. He’s even directly admitted that he doesn’t “feel like [himself]”. At this point, a large part of getting Hart back to where he was last season will be helping him regain his confidence. However, the Flyers’ competitive schedule provides few opportunities to boost Hart’s morale. It’ll be more of a “building the plane in midair” situation as he tries to recharge while fending off the Flyers’ East Division rivals.
Good: The Veteran-Youngster Dynamic is Great
Since last season, it’s been clear that the Flyers want Hart to be their de facto starter. He’s the young franchise goaltender, whereas Elliott is the veteran backup. Their clearly-defined roles, as well as the significant differences in age and experience, have resulted in the creation of a constructive, mentor-protégé-type relationship. As a veteran, Elliott lends Hart valuable insight from his own extensive NHL career. And when Hart is confident in his game, he shoulders the majority of the workload, allowing Elliott to play comfortably in a less-fatiguing role. It’s clear that the two get along very well – Hart was quick to express his desire to see Elliott back during the veteran goaltender’s offseason contract talks – and especially during this rough patch, it’s good to know that the goalies trust and support each other.
Bad: Neither One Can Consistently Bail Out the Defense
Could Elliott and Hart be playing more consistently? Yes. Maybe if they were, the Flyers could have pulled off a few more wins in some of their closer games. Still, the root problem here is not Hart and Elliott. More often than not, goals scored against the Flyers are the fault of bad defence rather than bad goaltending. Sloppy turnovers, uncontained breakaways, and missed assignments have made the netminders’ jobs extremely difficult. The New York Rangers’ blowout win on Wednesday, for example, was not the goaltenders’ fault. It was Provorov’s mishandling of the puck and Sanheim and Myers’ inability to contain the Rangers, among other flubs, that allowed New York to easily net nine goals. Elliott and Hart had no chance. Until the Flyers minimize their defensive breakdowns, the goaltenders can’t be expected to lug the team to victory.
In all, the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending is not the source of their recent struggles. Hart is still very young, and he plays excellently when he’s getting support from the rest of the team. Elliott will be steady once Hart takes on more of the workload again. The bottom line is, their issues are temporary and the least of the team’s concerns. Right now, what the Flyers need most is better play in front of the goaltenders – and that problem won’t be so easily solved.