There are a few things that Philadelphia sports are known for. Each of the major four sports teams has something notorious that seems to follow them. For the Flyers, it’s goaltending.
We all remember two years ago when the Flyers used a record-tying eight goaltenders in a single season. They ended that season with a .895 save percentage, tied for the third-worst in the NHL and 15 points below the league average. It was bad.
In the middle of that season, however, there was a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Carter Hart. Hart finished his rookie season 16-13-1 with a .917 save percentage to pull the Flyers out of the doldrums.
Last season, Hart took a step back with a .914 save percentage due to some early-season struggles. However, from January 8th to the end of the season he went 11-3-0 with a .929 save percentage. He was a rock during the Flyers’ incredible January and February run. He still finished with a 24-13-3 record to help the Flyers to the playoffs.
In the playoffs, he was dominant against the Canadiens and played well overall. He went 9-5-0 with two shutouts and a .926 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers for any goalie, let alone a 21-year-old netminder in his first playoffs.
That brings us to this season.
Unfortunately, whether it be due to a shortened training camp, simply not playing well, or whatever it may be, Hart has struggled immensely. In fact, Carter Hart is in the midst of the worst stretch of his young professional career.
It all started with the game at Lake Tahoe. Since then, he is 1-3-0 –– the one win was a 28-save shutout. In those three losses (and two games he received no decision in due to either being pulled or replacing Elliott), he has made just 79 saves on 98 shots. That is a .806 save percentage. It hasn’t just been these past few weeks, though. After two good starts against the Penguins to begin the season, he is 4-5-3 with a .880 save percentage.
On the season, Hart is 6-6-3 with a .887 save percentage and 3.60 goals against average. Only five goalies who have played in 10+ games have a worse save percentage, and only three have a higher goals against average.
Elliott’s diminishing returns
Because of Hart’s struggles, Brian Elliott is playing too much and we are seeing those diminishing returns.
Elliott went 6-1-0 with two shutouts and a .926 save percentage through his first nine games (seven starts). He was able to remain fresh with at least two days off between starts –– if not four or five. He didn’t allow more than three goals in any of those starts, and the only loss was a 2-1 game against Boston.
Since then, however, Elliott has looked shaky in net and that culminated with three weak goals on Saturday night. Since March 4th, Elliott has played in five of the Flyers’ six games. He started on the 4th and 6th, came in relief on the 9th, and then started the 11th and 13th this week.
Elliott’s play has sharply declined over the past few games. He allowed four goals in back-to-back starts and was pulled after allowing three goals on Saturday, otherwise, it would’ve been three straight starts. Still, it’s been four straight starts that Elliott has allowed three or more goals in. In those four starts, he is 1-3-0 with a .839 save percentage (73 saves on 87 shots).
Hart isn’t playing well and Elliott is playing too much. We have a goalie controversy in Philadelphia again, but this time it’s focused around which goalie shouldn’t be starting. Hart should be able to work through his struggles to solve the issue, but in the meantime, it’s a big issue for the Flyers.
The result is a .894 team save percentage on the season, tied for the fourth-worst in the league. The Flyers are just 2-5-0 in their last seven games as well, with both of their wins a result of three-goal comebacks.
What makes this goaltending conundrum that much worse is that the Flyers are playing so poorly in front of their goalies. It doesn’t matter who is in net.
The Flyers should be able to work around their goalie issues, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot in the other aspects of the game as well. Everything is coming crashing down at the wrong time.
If the Flyers have to play boring hockey to control the puck and limit chances against, so be it. If they have to make a move to shake up the team, so be it. The only thing that is certain is that they can’t keep going on the way they are right now. Hart needs to figure it out, the team needs to improve their team defense, or additional help needs to be brought in; maybe all three.
Photo: Heather Barry Images