Carter Hart has a lot on his plate this week.
The Philadelphia Flyers goalie will get his first taste of the Keystone State rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins when the teams play at Wells Fargo Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, NBCSP, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
The 20-year-old also can carve a spot in the NHL record book. A win against the Penguins would be his ninth straight, the most by a goalie before his 21st birthday. He made 30 saves in a 6-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday for his eighth straight victory, matching the mark set by Jocelyn Thibault of the Quebec Nordiques, who went 8-0-0 from March 6-26, 1995.
But Hart said he’ll prepare for Monday the same way he has for his previous 17 NHL games.
“We just want to win hockey games and that’s the only thing we’re thinking about right now,” said Hart, who is 11-5-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. “We have to approach things one game at a time. … Just prepare the same and we’ll be ready for Monday.”
That maturity and poise explains part of how he’s helped lift the Flyers from the bottom of the standings to within six points of the Penguins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Flyers forward Sean Couturier said. “I don’t know what to say anymore. He’s been a difference-maker that’s for sure. That’s what you want from your goalie.”
During his streak, Hart has a 2.35 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. He’s allowed two goals or fewer five times despite facing an average of 36.2 shots per game.
Thibault wasn’t under the pressure Hart has been. He faced 31.0 shots per game on a Nordiques team that was led by Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
“It was a championship team in the making,” Thibault said. “I’m just playing behind a really good team and doing my job, chipping away. … It was just not think too much, just playing.”
Thibault watched Hart during his junior career with Everett of the Western Hockey League and with Canada at the 2017 and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and remains as impressed watching him in the NHL as he did then.
“I saw him at World Juniors and I was really impressed by the way he played, by his poise and the way he handled the pressure,” Thibault said. “World Juniors, there’s a lot of high-pressure games. I really like his game. He’s a big kid, very athletic. He competes really hard, never gives up on any plays. That’s why he’s having success.”
Thibault played 586 NHL games in 14 seasons with the Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.
He sees in Hart the technical and mental strength it takes to have long-term success.
“You see goalies that reach that level, they’re technically very good,” Thibault said. “It takes a certain level of technical ability to be there. But what makes the difference is the compete level and your ability to play under pressure. I think so far Carter is very young and he’s got a good feel on things.
“Technically you can always get better but most of the guys know that’s not what the problem is. It’s to compete game in and game out, play under pressure, understand and learning how to do that every game. That’s the hardest thing to learn.”
Hart has learned other things since being recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Dec. 17, including how to get acclimated to the jam-packed NHL schedule.
“You don’t get a lot of practice time, and when you do you have to make sure you optimize your practice and make the most of every practice,” he said. “It’s just making sure that I’m focused on little details that I want to get better on and if there’s anything I want to focus on in practice, I have to make sure that I’m coming into practice with purpose.”
He’s also getting used to being recognized in public.
“I always pick up my pregame meal at the same restaurant in Marlton (New Jersey),” he said. “I go to this place called Brio and I order the same thing every time, so they know who I am now.”
He might have to find a new place for his standard rigatoni with pomodoro sauce and chicken. His other big moment next week is moving in with teammate Jakub Voracek; he had been staying in a hotel in New Jersey since being called up.
But Hart has shown no matter where he’s living, or who he’s playing against, or what record he might be going for, he’s going to keep the same level of focus.
“I don’t really think about [the record],” he said. “I don’t really look at those things. Sure, it’s cool, but we just want to win hockey games and right now we’ve been playing really good hockey.”
Thibault is hoping Hart’s streak continues.
“Records are meant to be broken,” he said. “It’s part of life. … I’m happy that Carter has reached that milestone and hopefully he’ll get past me.
“He’s going to be a really good goalie for a long time. I think he’s going to be someone [the Flyers] can count on for many years.”
Originally published at https://www.nhl.com/news/rookie-carter-hart-shows-maturity-poise-for-philadelphia-flyers/c-304698388