The Flyers’ primary goalie for the second half of the season will be a veteran currently playing for another organization.
At least that’s the impression new general manager Chuck Fletcher gave before Carter Hart made a splash and became the seventh-youngest goalie in NHL history to win his first two starts.
That figures to give Fletcher reason to pause.
If Hart, 20, continues to look like he belongs in the NHL, Fletcher will suddenly be dealing from a position of strength. He can take his time if he decides to acquire another goalie.
Fletcher would still like to add a veteran because of a muddled goalie situation. Brian Elliott has been undergoing a series of medical tests and isn’t close to returning, and Anthony Stolarz could be sidelined another three weeks. Michal Neuvirth is healthy but fragile.
And, so, yes, bringing in a reliable veteran seems logical. Before Hart arrived, it appeared likely that an outside goalie would handle the No. 1 duties. But if Hart is indeed here to stay, that goalie may be someone who helps mentor the rookie and plays, say, 30 or 40 percent of the games.
Among the interesting goalies reportedly on the trade market: Cam Talbot; Jimmy Howard, who injured his back Tuesday warming up against the Flyers; and Jonathan Quick. Defensemen on the market include Colton Paryako and Jake Muzzin.
Hart was named the No. 1 star in each of his first two outings, going a combined 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. He dropped a 4-3 decision Saturday to Columbus, but could be faulted for only one of the goals.
Is there reason to get excited? Absolutely, especially when you consider the Flyers’ barren-goalie history, especially when you look at Hart’s pedigree and how he dominated the junior level — and was better in the Western Hockey League than Carey Price when he was there.
And when you consider that the short list of youngest-ever goalies to start 2-0 includes a Hall of Famer such as Martin Brodeur, well, it’s understandable why Flyers fans are giddy.
But also know this: Before Hart, the last goalie to win his first two career starts before his 21st birthday was the New York Rangers’ Mackenzie Skapski in 2014-15.
Skapski never played in another NHL game. After two games with the Rangers, he struggled in the AHL and ECHL and is now 24 and playing in Europe.
Hart is a much better prospect than Skapski and he won’t tumble into oblivion. He will have growing pains, though he seems to have the mental makeup to keep them at a minimum. He is poised beyond his years and has an unflappable, calm makeup that comes from working with a sports psychologist since he was about 11.
Veteran Flyers winger Jake Voracek was asked how the team’s leaders have approached Hart to try to help ease him into the league.
“He’s a goalie, and they’re a little different — mentally, I mean. So just let him be,” Voracek said after Hart made 31 saves in Thursday’s thrilling 2-1 win over Nashville. “I mean, he had success in juniors. Obviously the NHL is different, but obviously he’s got potential and just has got to stay focused. He’s the main reason we won the last two games.”
The defense has tightened noticeably with Hart in the nets, not allowing as many high-quality chances as they had before he was surprisingly promoted Monday from the AHL’s Phantoms by new general manager Chuck Fletcher.
Former Flyer Scott Hartnell, the retired winger who was honored throughout Thursday’s game and now does some work for the NHL Network, talked after the first period about his old team’s improvement in front of Hart.
“Look at the last game,” said Hartnell, referring to Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Detroit. “It looks like the guys wanted to defend and wanted to play hard. Obviously, the new goalie Hart was in net and the reason for them to do it, but they shouldn’t need a reason to play hard defensively. ... Hopefully they figure it out and the right way to play. Unfortunately, a couple guys lost their jobs. Sometimes, it takes that much to wake guys up.”
With a new general manager and an interim coach (Scott Gordon), the Flyers have been put on high alert. The addition of Gordon has seemed to lift a weight that was on the players’ collective shoulders under the lame-duck Dave Hakstol, a hardworking man whose voice had grown stale. The players now seem looser, more cohesive, more focused, more confident.
In addition, a new goalie — an early Christmas present for the people who have been clamoring for Hart to be here — has energized the players and the back-in-the-game fans, and given everyone hope that this season won’t be wasted, after all.