February 05, 2019
Carter Hart was curious. He was just 12, sitting in dad’s red Tundra, when he posed a question to his father after a game: “Why do I smell smoke every time the puck bounces off of my facemask?”
John Hart replied with a laugh, “That’s burnt rubber.”
That smoke seems to have followed Carter Hart from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, to Philadelphia.
No team in the NHL is hotter than the Philadelphia Flyers right now — and perhaps no player in the NHL is more on fire than the Flyers’ stunning 20-year-old rookie goalie, Carter Hart.
A month ago, thoughts of the Flyers making the NHL playoffs appeared light years away. Now, they’re very possible — because of Hart, the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for January, and because of how different the Flyers play when Hart is on the ice.
With Hart, the Flyers are 10-5-1 this season. They’re riding an eight-game winning streak after their 2-1 win over visiting Vancouver Monday night, a game in which Hart made a career-high 41 saves, including a spectacular diving stop with 5:35 left in the third period on the Canucks’ Nikolay Goldobin.
The Flyers, 24-23-6, with 54 points, are just five points behind Columbus (28-20-3, 59 points) for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
At the root of the Flyers’ renaissance is a kid whose profile picture make him look like he’s barely old enough to shave. Yet, this team plays with a different energy when Hart is in the net.
“You have a young guy coming up and you tend to pay more attention to details and you try to help him anyway you can, and make life easy on him,” Flyers’ defenseman Travis Sanheim said. “This is just the early stages of his career, and you can see already the spurts in games where he has a lot of potential to be a star.
“We’re just trying to make life easy for him right now. He gives us a chance to win every night. That’s a credit to him, the work he’s put in, and keeps getting better in the time he’s been up here. When he first got called up, I’m sure there were a bunch of people who didn’t know what to expect, and I’m sure there are a bunch of guys in this locker room who thought the same thing with a 20-year-old goaltender and how he would handle the NHL.
“We were a little surprised how easy he made the adjustments. He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time. But we all kind of look at him as a little brother; a talented little brother, but a little brother. You don’t want to let your little brother down.”
Flyers’ center Sean Couturier says the team has become more confident. Couturier has been a huge part of the Flyers’ resurgence, scoring 6 goals, with 9 assists over the last 11 games.
We all kind of look at him as a little brother; a talented little brother, but a little brother. You don’t want to let your little brother down.
“I think it gives a whole team extra energy when your goalie is making unbelievable saves and keeping you in games that you shouldn’t be in,” Couturier said. “It makes us believe that much more in Carter. We were down two [to Edmonton in the third period in the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime win on Feb. 2], and Hartsy kept the game tight.
“It helps the energy of a team when you see goalie stop everything. He makes it look easy. There is more energy with us, but that’s this team overall. Guys are pretty confident, because even if we aren’t playing our best, we know we have (Hart) back there. Ever since Carter has come, we’ve tried to make it easy on him — though there are times when we haven’t, especially with second opportunities in front of the goal.
“Hartsy has handled himself really well. His poise and confidence have helped us up front.”
On the season, Hart has posted a .925 save percentage to go with a 2.48 goals against average. During the team's current win streak, Hart has a .934 save percentage and a 2.43 GAA while picking up seven of his team's eight wins. He's also become the first goalie since Carey Price in 2008 to win seven straight starts before his 21st birthday.
Left winger James van Riemsdyk, who’s finding his legs after losing a month of the season with a knee injury, says there is a definite energy level when Hart is in the net.
“It’s one of those things, you start winning games and guys feel better,” van Riemsdyk said. “Hartsy is a great guy, and he exudes the poise and confidence that helps a team. It’s what you look for in any goalie, but with him, it’s a little different, because he is so young.
“Hartsy has earned his way and he’s done a tremendous job for us. But there was stuff earlier this year when we were too inconsistent with the details of our game, making some boneheaded plays that gave up great scoring chances. We needed to smarten up.
“Now, we have a young guy that we have to protect. He’s getting his first shake at the NHL. You don’t want to hang him out to dry, so maybe there is a factor there. As a team, we had to get better. Hartsy has played a big part of that. When you have a guy like that, there is a chemistry there to take a different, more aggressive approach, maybe close a little differently on certain plays. Hartsy has that composure that I think everyone has rallied around.
“It’s been good.”
And it looks like it’s getting better.
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