VOORHEES, N.J. — Carter Hart was the last player off for Tuesday’s optional skate.
The rookie goaltender will be the first guy to take the ice when the Flyers host the Washington Capitals Thursday night.
Head coach Scott Gordon announced that Hart will make his first start since injuring his ankle on Feb. 21, exactly three weeks to the day of his last appearance.
Gordon made the decision not based on Brian Elliott’s last start against the Capitals, which may have been his worst since returning from injury, but which game made the most sense for Hart.
“I looked at what would be best for Carter routine-wise,” Gordon said. “As opposed to having to travel, no pregame skate the day of. I think just from a comfort standpoint, it would be easy to go through that routine than having to play his first game back on the road.”
With most of the team staying off the ice Tuesday, Hart got in a full workout with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh and will have two more practices under his belt leading up to Thursday’s game.
“I’m just excited to get back into a game. I know it’s been a little while,” Hart said. “Last night was good to get back into the lineup even though I wasn’t playing, just to get back into the rhythm of warming up again.”
Now, just three points back of the wild card, the Flyers will need Hart to pick where he left off prior to his injury and before the two games where he was pulled early after allowing three goals in the first 10 minutes of the opening period.
Hart will be the fourth different Flyers goaltender the Capitals have seen this season, and they don’t really seem to mind who’s in net. They ripped off five goals against Mike McKenna on Feb. 8 and then torched Elliott and Cam Talbot (who allowed just one goal in relief) for five more goals just a week ago.
Statistically, it seems to make sense as well.
In 16 appearances against the Capitals, Brian Elliott has a 3.24 GAA with a .890 save percentage — the worst career numbers against any Eastern Conference opponent. Elliott will then pick up the start in the second game of the back-to-back on Friday in Toronto.
Where Gordon goes from there, with Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, hasn’t been determined. It appears Elliott is still Gordon’s go-to guy for now with a .923 save percentage in the 486-plus minutes he’s played since returning from injury.
At the very least, expect Hart to pick up a couple of more starts with a jam-packed calendar this month, as the Flyers play 10 games over an 18-day span, including two more back-to-backs.
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