PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Carter Hart has earned the nickname Starter Hart in Philly.
Why sit him?
The most popular Flyers rookie this side of Gritty the mascot has certainly turned into their most productive one — and Hart has sparked a franchise on the brink of a breakup with a gleam of hope for the future.
Phil Varone, Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk scored to lead Philadelphia to its season-high fourth straight win, 3-1 over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.
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Hart has won all four of those games in goal for the Flyers, a needed highlight for one of the worst teams in the NHL. He stopped 31 shots against the Jets and won his seventh game since his late-December call-up.
“I feel comfortable at this level,” Hart said. “The boards are the same, the ice is the same, just got to go out and play. That’s the approach that I have to have.”
Varone knocked in his second goal of the season midway through the second period for a 1-0 lead. Jack Roslovic tied it on a deflection.
Konecny snapped the tie on a redirection past Laurent Brossoit with 1:14 left in the second for his 13th goal of the season. Hart made the lead stand up and van Riemsdyk scored late to help the Flyers build a modest winning streak against four teams with winning records.
“I thought we played fine,” Brossoit said. “I thought we outplayed them, for the most part. The goalie on the other end had a good game.”
The rest of the league should soon know the goalie on the other end’s name.
Philadelphia opened the second half of the season aware that these could be the final games together for a core group of veterans that have little to show for several seasons of solid individual statistics — and no deep playoff run.
“We have good players,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We haven’t been a good team.”
The Flyers entered 14 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and Fletcher is prepared to make changes by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. He said Monday that All-Star center and team captain Claude Giroux is the only veteran he won’t trade. Giroux does have a no-trade clause, but a deal that involved the popular holdover from the 2010 Stanley Cup Final team might cause a half-empty Wells Fargo Center to completely thin out.
“We have a lot of good players here, but I would never say never to almost anybody besides Giroux,” Fletcher said.
The Flyers can stick the 20-year-old Hart on the untouchable list, too.
Hart made a spot start in the minors Saturday to stay sharp because the Flyers’ bye week blended into the All-Star break.
“That was good for all of us to have that week off just to kind of not think about hockey and get a little bit of time away from the game so we can make a push here,” Hart said.
The Flyers would need an improbable run to make the postseason for the second straight year — and even the GM isn’t sure it’s in the cards.
“We’d like to get some pieces that could be a part of this for a few years,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher has talked to pending free agent Wayne Simmonds about his role in the rebuild. Philadelphia could stay the course and try to sign Simmonds to a new deal. But the solid scorer and team leader with a $3.75 million salary cap hit could net the Flyers key pieces as they look toward the future.
“Clearly in the next few weeks, we will have to resolve that one way or the other,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher won’t wave the white flag on this season quite yet. But the GM who replaced the fired Ron Hextall in November knows he wasn’t brought aboard to keep the status quo.
“We’re at a stage where we need a big run here,” Fletcher said.
NOTES: Flyers D Shayne Gostisbehere was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury.
The Jets play Tuesday at Boston. “I don’t want to make excuses after the break, everyone’s in the same situation, but we have to be sharper tomorrow,” defenseman Josh Morrissey said.
The Flyers play Thursday at Boston.
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