Carter Hart celebrated a birthday a couple of days ago.
No, not the anniversary of the day he was born.
Rather, one year since he arrived in the NHL.
“The year,” the Flyers goaltender said the other day, “has just flown by. Can’t believe it’s already been that long.”
He is just 21 but plays with the poise of someone who has been in the league for 10 seasons, not one.
He is making Flyers fans forget about all the seasons when goaltending prevented the team from making the playoffs or making a long postseason run. He is making them forget about what transpired in 2018-19: The Year of Eight Goalies.
“It’s like he’s been here a long time,” defenseman Robert Hagg said. “It’s impressive to see how dialed in and focused he is every single practice. He keeps the same level and it’s fun to see.”
Hart’s NHL career started on Dec. 18, 2018, with a 3-2 win over visiting Detroit, which the young goaltender calls his most memorable game to date.
Since his arrival, he has lived up to his big buildup, earned from his ridiculously dominating play in the Western Hockey League. His stats in his one full year with the Flyers: a 27-20-4 record with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 54 games.
Those numbers are comparable to Carey Price’s first year (2.56, .920 in 41 games) and better than Marc-Andre Fleury’s in his first full season (3.25, .898 in 50 games).
Fleury and Price are probably headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame someday.
Hart? With his talent, work ethic, and the way he reads plays, he has a chance to blossom into one of the best goalies in Flyers history.
“When we need a save,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said, “he’s always there. Young guys are able to come in now and make an impact right away.”
Hart, who has a 2.33 goals-against average and .912 save percentage this season, said the biggest adjustment he has had to make has been taking care of his body during a crowded schedule.
“There’s a lot of quick turnarounds,” he said. “Like we have 17 back-to-back games this year. November was a pretty hectic month, so it’s really important you managed your time wisely — getting enough sleep, eating the right things, staying on top of your physical shape. That’s been a really important part for me.
“I think I’ve kind of settled in.”
Alain Vigneault, the new Flyers coach, was asked what he has learned about Hart in the season’s first two-plus months.
“There’s no doubt he’s a hard-working young man who really wants to continue to improve his game,” Vigneault said. “I really like the relationship he has with Dilly.”
Dilly is Kim Dillabaugh, the Flyers’ goaltending coach.
“They communicate real well; he [Hart] understands there are parts of his game that need to improve for him to become one of the top performers at that position in this league,” Vigneault said.
Hart’s stickhandling has been problematic and has led to some harrowing moments. Other than that, he has been technically sound.
“He’s 21 years old, and in my mind, he’s scratching the surface as far as potential, and at the same time, he’s permitting us to win games,” Vigneault said. “That’s good to see.”
Hart, who grew up outside of Edmonton, loves everything about Philadelphia. He talked about the fans’ passion, about how much he enjoys living in Old City.
“I’m comfortable here,” he said. “This is my home away from home.”
When it was clear he belonged in the NHL, he moved into teammate Jake Voracek’s old place last February.
“That was kind of a pretty cool moment for me,” he said. “It was kind of like, ‘All right, you’re here to stay.’ ”
He might be staying in the NHL but not much longer at Voracek’s spacious place, where he lives for free because the veteran right winger doesn’t charge him rent.
“Thank God he charges me nothing. He’s an awesome guy,” Hart said. “It’s a really nice place. It’s huge and it’s just myself. Unfortunately, he’s selling it this year and I couldn’t even afford it, anyway.”
If he keeps playing the way he has been, he will be able to afford almost any place he wants when his $730,833-a-year entry-level deal expires after the 2020-21 season.
Right now, he is more focused on winning games, helping the Flyers earn a playoff berth, and giving back to the community. Hart, a salt-of-the-earth, humble person who exudes an air of innocence, is constantly doing charity work for the team.
“I have a lot of fun doing that,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of other guys do, as well. We have the chance to be role models, especially for younger kids, the next generation, so it’s important that we set a good example.”
How refreshing. How Carter Hartish. How wonderful that his first “birthday” in the NHL is just the start of a long career in a city starved for goalie excellence.