Chuck Fletcher points out goalies such as Vezina Trophy winners Carey Price and Eddie Hellebuyck plus two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray all had something in common with current Flyers netminder Carter Hart.
That is, they have all had to go through rough patches early in their careers.
Fletcher, the Flyers’ GM with experience around the NHL for the better part of three decades, has seen goalies with all levels of talent come and go.
He states, in so many words, that the trouble the 22-year-old Hart has experienced in this rocky 2020-21 campaign is nothing out of the ordinary.
In fact, it would seem rather unique if Hart didn’t endure the maturing process so many stoppers have.
So during a Wednesday media Zoom call, Fletcher preached patience with Hart, whose numbers (8-8-3, 3.85 goals-against average, .875 save percentage prior to Thursday action) continue to plummet.
Has it become a confidence thing with Hart?
“Confidence is a funny thing,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s a results business. Sometimes you are not getting the results, it’s hard to feel you are on top of your game.
“Carter is a young guy. He had some success last year. This year, he hasn’t played at the same level. There’s no question that he’s struggled, particularly this month.’’
Going into March, Hart’s numbers were closer to what he posted his first two seasons when he went a combined 40-26-4 with a goals-against average in the 2.60 range with a .916 save percentage.
Maybe the NHL shooters have caught up to Hart’s style, exploited a weakness or two and now the Edmonton native might have to make some adjustments of his own.
“This month, both goaltenders have struggled in my opinion,’’ Fletcher said. “You look back at a young Carey Price at the age of 22, Connor Hellebuyck, Marc-Andre Fleury, just going through some names. All of those great goaltenders had some ups and downs early in their career and had some tough seasons.
“It’s a hard position. I believe in Carter. I believe in his talent and I believe he will be a very good goalie for this franchise for a very long time. Clearly right now, he’s not on top of his game.’’
Obviously the pandemic has to have some influence on the situation. Young guys on their own might have a tougher time than some of the established players.
“I think all those young single guys who live alone have had to deal with different issues like all of us have during this, but I don’t know that I want to get into naming names or singling out just from a privacy standpoint,’’ Fletcher said.
“Clearly I think the married guys have had it a little bit easier than the single guys that, like a lot of people in society, are stuck… you get stuck a little bit, there’s no question.’’
If this were a normal year, Hart would have more time to work on his game in practice with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh. But with the compressed schedule, the Flyers were just ending a 12-day stretch without one full-length practice.
Time is so tight that coach Alain Vigneault placed Hart in a full practice mode on game day this past Monday, opting to dress Alex Lyon as Brian Elliott’s backup that night against the Islanders so Hart could get in a full session with Dillabaugh that morning.
“I know Kim Dillabaugh and Carter are working hard every day,’’ Fletcher said. “I thought he played pretty well (Tuesday) night. He battled, he made some big saves to keep that game close enough where we could try to make a comeback. I do think you can make some adjustments in-season.
“Clearly the lack of practice time when you’re struggling is not a benefit. I think specialty teams, goaltending, your defensive zone coverage, there’s a lot of areas that if you’re not on top of your game, obviously the lack of practice time doesn’t help. But every team is dealing with that. I do think Carter’s working hard with ‘Dilly’ every day. Personally I’ve seen some improvements and I do think he can get it back during the season.’’
>Lindblom, Patrick making progress
Fletcher gives the impression he’s satisfied with the progress of both Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick, each coming off serious illnesses.
“I think both Oskar and Nolan are getting better,’’ Fletcher said. “Oskar went through a very difficult process with chemo and battling cancer. I think he’s getting better and better. He’s getting his timing back. I think with another full summer, I think he will be even better next year.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress with Oskar. Same with Nolan. It hasn’t been reflected in the stats necessarily, but I really liked his game recently. I thought he played really well on Monday night. I thought he created some chances. (Tuesday) night, I thought he was on pucks. He was skating and he was working. I think both of them are getting better.’’
>Upgrading defense not so easy
The Flyers tried to find reinforcements for the retirement of Matt Niskanen during the offseason but it wasn’t easy.
“Certainly our cap situation was not helpful for adding significant dollars without moving significant dollars,’’ Fletcher said. “We looked at a lot of different things, and this (Erik Gustafsson) is what we ended up with.
“It’s a flat-cap era, and most teams are not looking to take on any money or any term right now. To add a player with dollars, you have to subtract the same amount. Those types of trades are a little more difficult to make.’’
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