What Flyers fan didn’t want to reminisce about was 1986, when a 20-year-old rookie goaltending phenom lit the hockey world on fire, lifting the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship over the Flames?
There’s still plenty of time for Carter Hart to transform into the next Patrick Roy. Then again, Hart will be provided plenty of grooming and seasoning to develop into reigning Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby or even current Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne.
Those were the names general manager Ron Hextall mentioned during a Sunday conference call as the goaltending barometer of why the waiting game is the best one to play with the talented Hart. Rinne spent 145 games with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals before becoming an NHL regular at the age of 26. Holtby played 132 regular-season games up the turnpike with the Hershey Bears before joining the Capitals full-time at 23.
So why is Lehigh Valley the right move?
Neuvirth should return soon
Hextall said that Michal Neuvirth, who suffered a lower-body injury that was considered “not days,” is now skating again. Neuvirth could be ready for the season opener or he may need a few more days to feel quite right.
Barring injury or first-period collapse, Elliott’s expected to hold down the crease for the upcoming two-game road trip and the home opener a week from Tuesday — not a heavy workload to start — and might even be called upon to start in Ottawa on back-to-back nights.
Had Hart made the opening night roster, in all likelihood, he probably wouldn’t have budged from his seat on the Flyers' bench. If Neuvirth has a setback and Elliott needs rest, there’s always an outside chance Hart could be recalled at any moment to earn a start, but don’t hold your breath.
The plan all along was for Hart to spend this season in Lehigh Valley and then re-evaluate for 2019-2020. Now, he can begin preparations for the Phantoms' home opener Saturday.
Improvement reading plays
If you listen to Hart in his postgame comments, he has alluded to plays developing a lot quicker than what he has seen during his four years in the Western Hockey League. The second period against the New York Rangers last Thursday may have been Hart’s most revealing body of preseason work, as he was touched up for three goals on 12 shots.
Two of New York’s goals came on the power play and coach Dave Hakstol was critical of Hart’s anticipation that led to a rather easy tap-in goal.
“If you really want to break it down, he can do a little bit better in terms of his read on the first one — the tip at the side of the net," Hakstol said, "and the third one, that’s one that gets through him.”
Improved reads and even better rebound control are two areas that were noticeable areas for Hart’s development. However, he was also a victim of his teammate’s play, which leads us to …
A better defense in front of him
Unless Hart has the Predators' blue line in front of him, he’s not stepping into an ideal situation.
Defensively, the Flyers have their own issues that need to be ironed out. Outside of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, there are some question marks within that group, and Hart was exposed to those flaws during that second period.
“We’ve got to sort out those two pairs,” Hakstol said after that game. “The play back there wasn’t nearly clean enough.”
The most notable was Andrew MacDonald falling to the ice, resulting in a turnover and a goal. MacDonald’s return to action came way sooner than originally expected and he’s still looking to regain his form. Christian Folin and Radko Gudas have also struggled throughout the preseason.
Combine that with a penalty kill that has finished in the bottom third of the league over the past three seasons and Hart’s confidence could take a significant hit behind a defense that is still a work in progress.