So which version of Carter Hart will we see in the Flyers’ final two-plus months of the regular season?
The goalie who has performed like vintage Bernie Parent in games at the Wells Fargo Center?
Or the one who has done a pretty good Mark Laforest impersonation in road games?
More than anything, Hart’s play will determine if the Flyers are going to punch their playoff ticket. Then again, if the Flyers defense is as suffocating as it was in its last game — allowing just 19 shots, none over the last 10 minutes, 49 seconds, and not giving stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin many good chances in a 3-0 win over the Penguins — it won’t matter much whether Hart brings his home or road game.
Brian Elliott recorded the shutout over the Penguins but was forced to make only a handful of difficult stops. He handled them flawlessly and probably earned a start Friday, when the Flyers return from their All-Star/bye week and play in Pittsburgh.
Yes, Elliott (2.89 GAA, .904 save percentage) will play an important role as the Flyers jockey for a playoff position. But Hart (2.61, .905) will be given every opportunity to show he can carry the team on his young shoulders.
“We have confidence in both of our goalies,” captain Claude Giroux said.
Hart, 21, who is expected to be ready to play Friday — he missed the last four games with an abdominal injury — is in his first full season. Elliott, 34, is finishing his 13th NHL season and is capable of playing a leading role if Hart falters.
During the Flyers’ current break, Hart went home to the Edmonton area.
“He’s feeling good, and he’ll be here Thursday at practice,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday, “but we won’t know more until we see how practice goes.”
Hart is having a strange sophomore season.
As has been well-documented, Hart has been nearly flawless at home, compiling a 13-2-2 record, a 1.69 goals-against average, and .940 save percentage.
He has also been outstanding against Eastern Conference teams, putting together a 12-4-1 record with a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage. That’s good news for the Flyers, who will play 23 of their remaining 32 games against the East.
Of their 32 remaining games, exactly half, 16, will be at home.
As a rookie in 2018-19, Hart was actually better on the road (2.48 GAA, .928) than at home (2.98, .912).
This season, he is 2-9-1 on the road with a 4.01 GAA and .850 save percentage. He is giving up more than 2.3 more goals per game on the road than at home.
Elliott is 8-4-1 on the road, and while his numbers (3.29, .895) are far from outstanding in away games, they are much better than Hart’s.
Hart also has struggled mightily against Western Conference teams, going 3-7-2 with a 3.21 GAA and .881 save percentage.
Parent, the Hall of Fame goaltender who won two Stanley Cups with the Flyers, said goalies “all go through different situations" that have to be overcome.
“To me, you lose as a team and you win as a team,” he said Monday.
Parent said when he struggled on the road, “you get the films and look at the goals that were scored and how they were scored, and then you go on the ice for a half-hour and practice the same shots and same situations that happened. And then you talk to your defensemen.
“Of course, you also work on what you did wrong and what you have to improve on, so the next time you go on the road, you don’t have the four or five goals a game on your mind. You have a lot of confidence because you’ve worked out the problems.”
Parent made it seem so simple.
“It’s a long season, and there are going to be stretches where things aren’t going to go real well,” he said. “So unless you face it and approach it on the ice — and work at it — it’s very difficult to overcome.”
Hart is one of the Flyers’ hardest workers.
Unless you work through it, “you’re guessing and your defensemen are guessing,” Parent said. “But if you and your defensemen work it out, there’s no more guessing.”
Parent thinks Hart will find his game on the road.
“I don’t see this as a problem because he’s very talented,” Parent said. “He has the God-given talent, and having said that, everybody has to make adjustments at some point and then it works.”
Coach Alain Vigneault could start Elliott in, say, 10 of the 16 road games, and start Hart in about 14 of the 16 remaining home games.
Unconventional? Absolutely. But Vigneault might be forced to do something drastic.
That hypothetical example would give Hart 20 starts and Elliott 12 the rest of the way.
The Flyers, who are one point out of a playoff spot, have seven sets of games on back-to-back days/nights remaining. Each goalie figures to get seven of those 14 starts. Five of the seven back-to-back sets are home-road games, so it would seem natural to start Elliott in the road games against Pittsburgh, the Islanders, the Rangers (twice), and New Jersey. In those instances, Hart would start the other end of the back-to-back games, all at home, against Colorado, Florida, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.