The numbers, impressive as they be, are not the only indicator of whether 20-year-old Carter Hart is ready for the big-boy league.
It’s how he got to them during this six-game winning streak. Holding the fort when his team fell behind by two goals against Boston and Minnesota here. Holding it again Thursday night as the Flyers again rallied from behind to beat the Bruins in overtime.
Getting up laughing after being repeatedly plowed by a big Minnesota team. Controlling his emotions as his childhood hero Carey Price looked on from the Canadiens' bench during a 5-2 victory in Montreal. And now, facing his hometown team, the Edmonton Oilers, for a Saturday matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.
"It should be pretty special,’’ said Hart, who Friday was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for January.
Hart went 6-2-1 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in nine January appearances. Five of those victories came against teams either in or on the fringe of the playoff race.
He led the entire NHL in saves (283) and ranked third in time on ice (540:13) during January. He became the 10th goaltender in NHL history to post five straight victories before his 21st birthday and the first since Price did it 11 seasons ago.
The Oilers, who appeared to be making a playoff push when the visiting Flyers lost to them 4-1 just before Hart was called up in mid-December, have retreated to the recesses of the Pacific Division. But Hart knows that everyone back home will be watching.
"It’s a similar situation to last week against Montreal, facing off against Carey Price and seeing him in person,’’ he said. "You’ve gotta go and just do your job. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta just stop pucks. Factors like that don’t have any affect on my game.’’
Well, they might. He played one of his best games against Montreal. The more the Wild swarmed him, the more locked in he became. More than anything, he has been able to quickly shake off those rare soft goals he has allowed, and has "competed’’ – a favorite word of his -- as teams have emptied the revolver late in games.
"He’s done a really good job,’’ said veteran goaltender Brian Elliott, who is back practicing with the team after sitting out the last two months with a lower-body injury. "It’s a tough league to come into and he’s done well just handling the pressure. We always say as goalies, you’ve just got to focus on that day. One game, one save at a time. And I think he’s done a really good job of that.’’
This game will test that. Hart not only cheered for the Oilers growing up, he practiced with a few of them over the summer – particularly Cam Talbot. Talbot, who is expected to start for the Oilers Saturday, has texted encouragement to Hart throughout the season.
"He’s actually the guy that I called the night before my first game just to ask him a couple questions and get some knowledge from him,’’ Hart said. "He’s been an elite goaltender in the NHL for a while, so just to get his insight. ... He’s a really good guy.’’