Flyers

Sergei Bobrovsky-Carter Hart duel gives Flyers firsthand look at tough decision ahead

Sergei Bobrovsky-Carter Hart duel gives Flyers firsthand look at tough decision ahead

It took six days into the Chuck Fletcher era for the Flyers to reenter the rumor business. Two weeks ago, there were whispers they will take a run at Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1.

On Saturday afternoon, the Flyers witnessed firsthand why that might be a solid idea even if it does potentially block Carter Hart from taking over as their No. 1 goalie full-time.

Bobrovsky stood on his head in the Columbus crease, stopping 34 pucks and making highlight-reel saves look routine. The Flyers fell, 4-3, to their former goalie's Blue Jackets.

"I try not to think about what's happened in the past," Bobrovsky said. "I have a huge amount of respect for this organization, for this club, but it's hockey."

This wasn't totally a case of the Flyers outplaying an opponent and simply running into a two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie. There were defensive breakdowns, careless turnovers and Ivan Provorov's confidence with the puck remains a huge concern (see observations).

That said, this wasn't totally a case of the Flyers flat-out being dominated either. The Flyers had 67 shot attempts to Columbus' 30 and peppered Bobrovsky with 37 shots on net. The advanced metrics largely favor the Flyers. They ended an 0-for-13 power-play drought, though the man advantage finished 1 for 4 and didn't completely change that narrative.

"As I said to the players after the game," interim head coach Scott Gordon said, "with the exception of the plays on the goals, we played a game where we certainly had our fair share of chances, we limited the amount of opportunities. We should go to New York feeling confident about our game. I think we've had a level of consistency in the three games to know that we're starting to build some momentum as to how we want to play."

When it comes to discussing the Flyers' goalie situation, it's important to weigh the now vs. the future, something this organization has historically struck out on so much.

When it comes to talking Flyers goaltending, it's important to learn from the malpractice that took place with Bobrovsky, an undrafted free-agent signing that had all the tools already in his toolbox that led to him winning the Vezina in his first season in Columbus.

The Flyers have never known how to develop a goalie. History doesn't lie, so when it comes to how they should handle their current situation, it's hard to know exactly what to do.

Hart is here, for now, and he made his third straight start Saturday. His stat line was ugly — four goals on 19 shots — but it doesn't tell the whole story. Egregious turnovers and defensive breakdowns led to three of the four goals. The loss isn't on Hart.

Bobrovsky can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and all signs point to him testing the market. He has a legitimate case to cash out this summer as the highest-paid goalie in the NHL and if the Flyers are going to "take a run" at him, they're going to have to muster up the big bucks. The Flyers certainly know what he can do, and they saw it again Saturday. In fact, this season, Bobrovsky is 3-0-0 with 89 saves on 98 shots.

There is a way to make this work, a way where Hart receives a little more AHL seasoning and Bobrovsky handles the No. 1 job. It's important to remember that Hart is 20. The Flyers have to handle this goalie dilemma properly this time around. They didn't with Bobrovsky by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract.

The Flyers need a goalie to get to Hart. It was Ron Hextall's biggest failure as GM. Hart is in The Show now and for all we know, he may change the narrative himself. He may prove that he's ready to handle all of the pressures that come with being the No. 1 goalie in the city known as the NHL goaltending graveyard.

But if he's not, and Bobrovsky's swimming in those waters come July 1, there isn't a better bridge to Hart than the one they should have never given up on prematurely.

Saturday was just a reminder of what could have been.

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Subpar start leads to Flyers loss vs. Lightning but doesn't hurt spot in NHL playoff race

Subpar start leads to Flyers loss vs. Lightning but doesn't hurt spot in NHL playoff race

BOX SCORE

The Flyers didn't bring their A-game to a game they needed it.

There would be no giant killing Saturday as the Flyers lost to the Lightning, 5-3, at Amalie Arena.

Goals from Ivan Provorov, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux weren't enough for the Flyers (32-20-7), who are 6-3-2 against the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, Penguins and Blues, the league's top five clubs.

Tampa Bay is the only one the Flyers haven't beaten. They'll get a final crack at the Lightning on March 12 in the same building.

The Lightning (39-15-5) have won 10 straight games.

• This really wasn't a bad loss for the Flyers.

They were at the end of a road trip and playing the NHL's hottest team. Tampa Bay is 22-2-1 over its last 25 games and hasn't lost at home since Dec. 19.

The Flyers entered Saturday with a 66.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com, and still hold an Eastern Conference wild-card spot (see standings).

Alain Vigneault's team just needs to recharge and be ready for a big home-and-home set against the Blue Jackets next week.

• Things got chippy in the second period. Travis Konecny was right in the middle of it all.

Steven Stamkos appeared to trip Giroux before a faceoff. Giroux didn't even look to be that mad about it.

During the final 6:09 of the middle frame, 22 penalty minutes were accrued.

• Brayden Point (10-game point streak) is good at hockey.

• Carter Hart, who was coming off his first road victory since Nov. 10, allowed four goals on 23 shots.

The 21-year-old wasn't the problem.

The first goal was a fluky one by Alex Killorn. On the second, Provorov was sloppy with the puck in the defensive zone and Tampa Bay capitalized to take a 2-0 lead into first intermission.

In the middle stanza, the Lightning beat Hart on a 3-on-2 to grab a commanding 3-0 advantage. Tampa Bay improved to 33-4-3 when it scores three or more goals.

Not only are the Lightning really good, but the Flyers also didn't play their typical forechecking, possession-based game until it was too late.

• Outside of the van Riemsdyk's third-period goal, Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy was strong with 30 saves, 15 of which came in the final stanza. 

Vasilevskiy improved to 18-0-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .940 save percentage over his last 19 starts.

• Provorov was far from his best against Tampa Bay but he did score the Flyers' first goal to trim the Lightning's lead to 3-1 in the second period. He also had an assist.

The 23-year-old has grown into a power play quarterback this season. He leads all NHL defensemen with seven man advantage goals after scoring only two over his first three NHL seasons.

• Travis Sanheim played 19:43 minutes Saturday after missing almost the entire third period of Thursday's 6-2 win over the Panthers because of a lower-body issue.

• The Flyers are off Sunday, practice at 11:30 a.m. Monday in Voorhees, New Jersey and host the Blue Jackets Tuesday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Flyers, Lightning have 4 p.m. start on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Flyers, Lightning have 4 p.m. start on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Saturday's game should be a good one.

The Flyers and Lightning are two of the hottest teams in the NHL. Since Jan. 8, the Flyers have the league's most goals (52) and only one team has more points (21) — the Lightning (27).

Tampa Bay is also on a nine-game winning streak and 21-2-1 over its last 24 games.

The big showdown comes a little earlier than usual. Puck drop will be shortly after 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Philadelphia, with Flyers Pregame Live set for 3:30 p.m. ET.

The matchup finishes off a three-game road trip for the Flyers, who then play four of their next five games at the Wells Fargo Center.

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