PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart introduced himself to the NHL in December, when the 20-year-old debuted with a win against the Detroit Red Wings, and has since backstopped his team from the basement of the Eastern Conference standings to just five points back of a playoff spot. Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby was introduced to Hart six years ago, when his sports psychologist, John Stevenson, told him about a kid he’d just started working with.
“I’m kind of the old guy now,” Holtby said with a chuckle. “I’d heard a lot about him from John through the years, that he was working with this kid who he thinks has a lot of potential with a really good head on his shoulders.”
Holtby was someone Hart idolized, a fellow western Canadian who had mastered all of the principles Stevenson was now teaching him. Holtby monitored Hart’s career from afar, and when Hart was tabbed in net for Canada in the World Juniors in 2017 and 2018, Stevenson connected the two. Holtby passed along some encouragement through a text message, and that began a relationship with both players taking a few minutes to catch up after the first two meetings between the Capitals and the Flyers. Thursday night’s game will be the first time they’ve actually manned opposite nets on the same ice.
“He’s one of those guys that he’s going to be around for a long time,” Holtby said.
“He’s obviously one of the best goaltenders in the NHL,” Hart said. “He’s a very good skater, he’s very positional, he’s very calm in the net. I really respect his game, and he’s somebody that I really watched growing up.”
Holtby idolized Patrick Roy as a kid, and he admitted that “it’s a little strange” that there’s an NHL goaltender who can say he looked up to Holtby. “You feel your age a bit, but it’s pretty cool,” he added. Hart is 13-8-1 in 22 games with a .917 save percentage and a 2.79 goals against average, and he was sidelined with a “lower-body” injury when Washington played here last week. Uneven goaltending has plagued Philadelphia for years, but with Hart, the organization’s 2016 second-round pick, the Flyers’ future in net actually looks bright. He’s a big reason the Flyers have been one of the league’s hottest teams since Jan. 1 with a 19-9-3 record after firing their general manager and then their coach earlier in the season.
The Capitals have similarly gone as Holtby has, surging since the start of February with their top netminder getting hot. Washington has vaulted back to first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 14-5-1 record over the past 20 games, and in that span Holtby has a .919 save percentage with a 2.47 goals against average. No matter the result on Thursday, Holtby and Hart will wander into the hallway between the two locker rooms after the game for a quick chat born out of mutual respect and admiration.
“You just see how he’s doing,” Holtby said. “Obviously, a first-year pro, there’s a lot of adjustments and stuff. Just because he’s on an opposing team doesn’t mean you can’t help out. But he’s got it pretty well figured out for his age.”