John Tortorella is Helping Flyers’ Carter Hart, But Not How You Think
The primary reason that the Flyers have started the season by winning 4 out of their first 5 games is the performance of their starting goaltender: Carter Hart. To call his performance to date elite would be underselling it. He has been the best goalie in the league for the early part of the season.
This isn’t just an opinion derived from the ever-glorious eye test. It’s backed up by numbers. According to Moneypuck as of this date, no goalie has saved more expected goals than Hart.
But the numbers that shower Carter in glory don’t end there.
The inner slot is the most dangerous area on the ice for shooters to lurk. It’s a place where goals are almost expected go in as soon as they leave the offensive player’s stick.
But Hart has yet to let up a goal from that area, and he’s seen more shots from there than any goalie in the top-5 except San Jose’s James Reimer. And Reimer has let up five goals, as compared to Hart’s zero.
Carter Hart is playing–perhaps–the best hockey of his still surprisingly young career. And John Tortorella has played a role in that. Just, not in the way one might have expected him to.
See, the theory was that John Tortorella would instill some level of defensive structure in the Flyers and they would help Hart by keeping shooters out of high danger areas.
But that hasn’t happened. Hart has faced more high-danger chances than most goalies in the league. He has just stopped nearly all of them.
Now, the data tracking things like shot location don’t tell the full story, of course. There are factors like moving the puck across the crease to force sideways movement that these models can’t track. So maybe Tortorella’s team has limited lateral puck movement?
Well, not really.
There was definitely some very strong lateral passing on that play! Hart just made the kind of save elite goalies can make.
Here’s an example of one of the few goals Hart has allowed:
Yeah. Plenty of cross-ice movement preceded that Stamkos one-timer, and there was a Lightning skater in his blue paint to impede his movement to begin with. This definitely isn’t the type of shot that solid defensive structure should allow.
Besides that, there is no defensive structure that’s built under the premise of allowing your opponent to shoot the puck more than you do. And yet, that is exactly what the Flyers have done in all of Carter’s appearances.
This isn’t defensive structure. It’s elite play by an elite goalie.
But make no mistake, Tortorella has made a positive impact on Hart. It just has nothing to do with defensive coverages or the play of the team in front of him, and everything to do with how he’s handled Carter Hart as a person.
During the worst of Hart’s struggles in 2020-21, here was how then-head coach Alain Vigneault talked about Hart and his performance to date:
He blamed his poor play on a lack of hard work. He frankly and ridiculously accused Carter Hart of not working hard enough. The absurdity in this statement is multi-layered, and tearing it to shreds would merit articles all their own.
But just imagine how this would mentally affect Hart. His work ethic is legendary, to such a degree that his then-teammates immediately jumped to Hart’s defense as soon as their coach made that statement.
Well, actually, we don’t have to imagine. We were able to witness the 21-22 season, in which Hart got off to a hot start but eventually cooled off to reasonable levels before an injury tanked his season numbers entirely.
If you look up some of Hart’s best saves from last year, you’ll notice that there was a lot of acrobatics involved. And it’s always nice to see that your goalie can go into desperation mode to pull out a save that he realistically should not have made.
But acrobatic saves made out of desperation are not Carter Hart’s game. They are a secondary ability, only to be used when the heart of his abilities has failed him and there’s no other option.
At his core as a goalie, Carter Hart is composed and technically perfect. He follows plays as they happen with his eyes and his skates, presenting his chest to shooters no matter how much they try to deceive him into a compromised position.
At his best, Hart’s style of goaltending looks lazy. It looks like he isn’t working hard, because everything is bouncing off of his chest and into his glove.
His economy of movement is special, and his ability to track the puck is second to none in the goalie world. That combination of abilities is meant to prevent the highlight play from ever being made.
But never going into desperation mode–and never making the highlight save–looks lazy to the uneducated eye. The uneducated eye, or rather the uneducated coach, wants his goalie to look like Jonathan Quick or Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That is interpreted as tenacity and a willingness to compete. Instead of what it actually is: superhuman athleticism compensating for a breakdown of technique.
Hart doesn’t have superhuman athleticism. He’s a goalie on the smaller side at 6’2″ and his explosiveness–while good–would never get him compared to a feline, like “the Big Cat” Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The most heartening part of Hart’s start to this year is not his statistics. It isn’t how many saves he has made, or how many goals he has saved above expected.
The heartening part is that Carter Hart looks like Carter Hart once again. He isn’t obsessed with proving his work ethic to Tortorella, because Tortorella has already said: he doesn’t watch goalies closely.
He has no idea what to watch, and trusts the goalie coach. Just show up to practice and work hard, which Hart has always done.
Tortorella has watched just enough of Hart to be impressed by the very thing that the inimitable AV once despised: his composure and calmness in net.
Carter Hart looks like Carter Hart again. There is no abundance of acrobatic saves that’s buoying his save percentage. He isn’t being carried by puck luck. If anything, he’s had a bit of bad luck in a couple of goals that were well within his abilities to save… which he uncharacteristically let through.
John Tortorella is helping Carter Hart, but the fruits of defensive structure aren’t here yet. He’s just helping a young, immensely talented goalie by allowing him to play to his own strengths.
Mandtory Credit: Brent Fluharty