Philadelphia Flyers: Loss to Montreal shows importance of Carter Hart

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

In a predictable letdown game on Thursday night, the Philadelphia Flyers lost 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens, a game that demonstrated the critical importance of the currently-shelved Carter Hart.

To be clear, the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t lose on Thursday because of netminder Alex Lyon. Though the Montreal Canadiens managed to pump four pucks past Carter Hart‘s replacement, the team just wasn’t good enough overall to warrant anything more than a sound defeat.

But in a roundabout sort of way, the game exemplified how this Flyers team will sink or swim without Hart. And that not only goes for the remainder of this season, but potentially the next decade, more or less.

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For a cautionary tale, look no further than to the other end of the ice on Thursday night to opposing goaltender Carey Price. Price was, for a large chunk of last decade, the best goaltender in the NHL. In his prime, he put up otherworldly numbers, the highlight of which was his 2014-15 season that saw him win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.

Yet despite being blessed with an all-world talent between the pipes, the Montreal Canadiens managed to advance past the first round of the playoffs just twice during that period. And Price couldn’t even manage to drag his club to the Cup Final a single time. He might ultimately be headed for the Hall of Fame, but his best years were essentially wasted.

We can all complain about the Flyers’ never-ending goaltending issues (which Hart has hopefully solved), but it might actually be worse to have the right guy in place and still fail to win anything, with Carey Price being just one of many examples we have seen.

Even though Price was excellent last night in turning aside 40 Flyers shots, he is now 32 years old with a massive $10.5 million cap hit. That kind of number absolutely drains a team’s finances and effectively makes a player impossible to trade when they have experienced the kind of decline that Price has. Yes, he looked good last night, but his numbers are way down from last year’s semi-bounceback after a downright poor 2017-18.

It appears that Montreal is now stuck in limbo with their highly-paid goalie. He will still have nights like he did Thursday, but the consistency is no longer there. Ultimately, the blame lies with Montreal management for giving him such a contract while failing to surround him with the necessary talent to truly challenge for a championship. It sure wasn’t Price’s fault.

Flyers beware.

Carter Hart will be back in short order, with the upcoming all-star break and bye week meaning that he will only miss a handful of games. And though he has not been a world-beater this year, he at least has the potential of delivering a spectacular performance on any given night that could give the Flyers a chance to steal a point or two even when they play like they did on Thursday.

No disrespect to Alex Lyon, but he’s not going to be putting the team on his back anytime soon. Couple this with the fact that Brian Elliott‘s usage has to be closely monitored, and Hart’s return becomes even more crucial.

The decisive stamp of 2019-20 being a “success” or “failure” hinges completely on Hart returning early enough from his injury and playing well enough to get the Flyers back into the playoffs. Once there, all bets are off. But they will have an early tee time if Hart either misses too much time or isn’t good enough down the stretch.

Carey Price’s career trajectory shows us that even the best goalies only get a finite amount of cracks at accomplishing something special. We can only hope that Hart will achieve the kind of peak that Price did. But some day in the future, Hart will become Price. Older, not as good, and possibly being paid for past performance instead of current value.

The difference is that there is still a ton of time for Carter Hart and the Flyers to get it right. But that time will start as soon as he takes the Flyers’ crease for his next game. The clock is always ticking, even if you don’t notice it.

Hart needs to deliver his best, and the Flyers must uphold their end of the bargain by putting a team around him that will compete for and finally win a Stanley Cup. Otherwise, excellent statistics will just be window dressing in the end.

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When we look back on Hart’s career in many years, it could have gone any number of ways. And if we’re comparing him to the likes of Carey Price, that will be fantastic. But the most important questions are “Was he able to take his team to heights that Price never could?” and “Did Flyers management make sure that they maximized his best years?”