Carter Hart’s disastrous season is over because of an MCL sprain in his left knee.
For the last two weeks, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said that the injury was mild and that the 22-year-old goaltender was expected to return to the ice and play again this season.
But the Flyers announced Thursday that they were shutting him down for the rest of the season. Hart will have missed the season’s last 13 games.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said Hart was shut down for precautionary reasons.
“With 12 days left in the regular season, there’s just not enough time to get him back to 100%, and, frankly, it’s the prudent thing to do for the rest of the season,” Fletcher said.
The injury can be trickier for a goalie than for a skater, Fletcher said. “We’re just taking a patient approach, and we’ll get him healthy before the offseason and he’ll be good to go.”
Fletcher said Hart probably would have been able to play if the Flyers were still in the playoff hunt.
Hart was outstanding in his last outing, making 31 saves in a 2-1 shootout win in Pittsburgh on April 15. Fletcher said he tweaked his knee in the overtime of that game.
“The next day, he felt OK,” Fletcher said, “and then the following day it was bothering him, so obviously we shut him down.”
Hart, a pending restricted free agent, has been skating on his own, and Fletcher said if he feels well enough, he may be able to face shots from his teammates next week, but he won’t play in any games.
“We just want to make sure he’s 100% healthy going into the offseason,” Fletcher said.
After a terrific first full NHL season (2.42 GAA, .914 save percentage) in 2019-20 and a strong playoff performance, Hart dropped off dramatically this season. He finished with a 9-11-5 record, a 3.67 GAA, and an .877 save percentage.
Among goalies who have played in at least 20 games this season, Hart is 43rd in the NHL in goals-against average and 42nd in save percentage.
This year, he allowed four or more goals in 12 of his 25 starts; he also surrendered four goals in a relief appearance.
“His last game was certainly one of his best of the season,” Fletcher said of the win over the Penguins. “I think that’s something he can hang his hat on. He’s a good young goalie, and I have full confidence that he’ll be the goalie he wants to be and we want him to be going forward.”
Phil Myers said the team’s defense should get some of the blame for Hart’s dip. He added that Hart was “an absolute wall for us last year, especially in the playoffs” and that the team had no doubt he would bounce back next season.
“This is just a bump in the road for him,” the defenseman added. “We believe in him as a group. We believe in him as an organization. I have no doubt in my mind he’ll be back stronger than ever.”
The Flyers started their downfall in March, which is when Hart, who didn’t get much help from his defense, had his worst month. They began March with the East Division’s best points percentage, but Hart went 2-6 in the month with a 5.04 GAA and an .815 save percentage.
He never recovered, and neither did the Flyers, who fell out of the playoff picture.
Center Kevin Hayes, goal-less in his last 15 games, was benched and replaced by Carsen Twarynski. It was the first game Hayes missed in his two seasons with the Flyers. Coach Alain Vigneault said Hayes wasn’t 100% healthy, but he sat him more because of his recent two-way play. ... Samuel Morin replaced Robert Hagg on defense, and Alex Lyon was the goalie. ... Shayne Gostisbehere (sprained knee) will practice Friday, and if all goes well, will be a candidate to play Saturday, Fletcher said. ... Fletcher wasn’t sure if goalie Felix Sandstrom, who has had two straight very good starts with the Phantoms, would make his NHL debut with the Flyers this season. “He’s trending in the right direction, and we’ll see how things go,” said Fletcher, adding he wanted Sandstrom to play a lot of games at the end of the season, whether with Lehigh Valley or the Flyers.