DETROIT — The Flyers improved to 12-1-1 in their last 14 games with a 3-1 win in Detroit on Sunday night.
Here are my observations:
Make no mistake, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson is still the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. But Carter Hart, who made 37 saves Sunday and stole the victory in Detroit, is closing the gap. Quickly.
The Flyers goalie has gone 10-1 in his last 11 starts and has carried the dead-in-the-water Flyers back into the playoff race. Overall, he is 13-6-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
In the NHL, among goalies who have played at least 20 games, Hart’s save percentage is topped only by three veterans: the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.930) and Robin Lehner (.929) and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevski (.928). Hart’s idol, Carey Price, has a .916 save percentage.
The Flyers have never had a rookie-of-the-year winner in franchise history.
Pettersson leads NHL rookies in goals (26), assists (28), points (54), game-winning goals (7), power-play points (15), and shooting percentage (24.1, tops in the NHL) — impressive numbers, to be sure.
Hart, despite not being recalled by the Flyers until Dec. 17, is tied with Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark for the most wins by a rookie goalie this season.
“He’s taken the ball and he’s run with it,” interim coach Scott Gordon said.
St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington (12-1-1), 25, is another rookie goalie raising eyebrows. He has won eight in a row, as did Hart, 20, earlier this season. Binnington hasn’t played as much as Hart, but he has been sensational, compiling a 1.58 GAA and .937 save percentage.
If the three rookie-of-the-year finalists were selected today, they would probably be Pettersson, Hart, and Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
Then again, Claude Giroux somehow wasn’t an MVP finalist last year, so you never know if the voters are paying attention.
Rookie left winger Oskar Lindblom had his first two-goal game in the NHL on Sunday, including an empty-netter (with a Detroit player on his back) that sealed the victory. That Lindblom is on the ice in crucial situations shows the trust he has earned from Gordon.
Before Gordon arrived, Lindblom had been demoted to the fourth line. He is now blossoming as the second-line left winger and has scored 10 goals. Lindblom has six goals in his last 13 games and has moved to 11th in the NHL in points (22) among rookies.
Just 53 seconds into Sunday’s game, Wayne Simmonds challenged Anthony Mantha to a fight and won the decision. It was payback for Mantha’s cross-checking Giroux in the back during Saturday’s contest.
Besides Simmons’ consistent goal scoring, his intangibles will be missed if, in fact, he is dealt before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. I’ll have more on Simmonds — and his trade thoughts — in a story later today.
Defenseman Phil Myers played well in his NHL debut Sunday. He played nearly 10 minutes, was solid defensively, and finished at plus-1 while being used with four partners (Ivan Provorov, Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Robert Hagg).
“The pace and execution here is obviously a lot better, and guys are faster and are in the right spots all the time,” Myers said. “At the same time, I think it makes it a little easier. I just tried to keep it simple out there. Play hard and play my game.”
Myers said he will “still have butterflies in my next game, but I think I’ll be a little less nervous because I got the first one out of the way.”
Gordon was happy with Myers’ debut.
“On one breakout, there was a little uncertainty. But the things I saw [with the Phantoms] — his reach, his strength in front of the net — were” shown, Gordon said. "He didn’t get into any trouble, so that’s obviously a good sign.”