Carter Hart and Mat Barzal just can’t get away from each other

by Kevin Nesgoda

There are some new faces heading into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Vancouver and Colorado have made their triumphant returns to the postseason in the West. But, despite this website focusing on the sporting events in the Pacific Northwest, I’d like to tell you about a new playoff series on the opposite coast that you should pay attention to. In the East, we say goodbye to the annual Penguins-Capitals series and hello to the Islanders and the Flyers.

Why, you might ask, am I talking about teams from New York and Philadelphia? Just in case the headline didn’t give it away, here it is:

Mat Barzal vs Carter Hart.

Barzal’s Seattle Thunderbirds and Hart’s Everett Silvertips were the top two teams in the US Division of the WHL in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, the latter of which they held the two best records in the entire Western Conference. Not only that, but as they played in the same division, they faced off against each other ten times per year.

If you were a fan of either team in the last five years, chances are you know both of these guys pretty well (and you probably like one a whole lot more than the other). And now we get a chance to see them go head to head in another playoff series.

Over the course of their WHL careers, Barzal and Hart took the ice as opponents 29 times, including back-to-back postseason meetings. That’s plenty of time to get to know each other, and a decent amount of data for us to make some wild speculations from.


Barzal is at his best when he is dishing the puck to his teammates, averaging over an assist per game for his WHL career. That’s translated to his time in the pros as well, as he’s consistently scored twice as many assists as goals through year three of his NHL career. But when we look at his games against Carter Hart, he apparently flips a switch and becomes a goal scorer. Sure, his assists have suffered, but when he went up against the CHL Goaltender of the Year he decided it was time to become a pure sniper.

Here he is with the game-tying third period goal and the overtime winner in Game 3 of their 2017 playoff series:

Unfortunately I can’t look into whether or not Barzal is actually shooting more when he faces Hart because the WHL didn’t start tracking individual shot totals until 2018, but the goal scoring seems like a definite sign that Barzal was letting it rip more often against Hart. They’ve played twice so far in the NHL as well, where Barzal tallied one more goal.

Now this all might seem a bit like I’m dumping on Carter Hart, but in actuality his play hasn’t been affected by the presence of Mathew Barzal. Hart’s WHL SV% was virtually unchanged whether he was playing Barzal or not (.927 against him, .926 otherwise). After a slow start to his AHL and NHL career, Hart has found his footing and solidified himself as the present and future starter in Philadelphia.

If you check the stats page, you’ll see his .914 SV% seems fairly average. But that doesn’t account for the number of high danger chances he’s faced. Per, Hart’s SV% is 0.5% higher than expected when you factor in shot location, the fourth highest mark in the NHL this season among goaltenders to face at least 1000 unblocked shot attempts. That translates to 7.25 goals saved above expected (GSAx), the fifth most in the league. Based on where the shots were coming from, Hart should’ve given up an extra 7 goals this season.

What all this really means is that Carter Hart is good. And Mathew Barzal is good. And we, hockey fans of the PNW, get to watch these two go at it once again in the playoffs, only this time the winner gets one step closer to a Stanley Cup. Will Barzal continue his pattern of letting more shots go against his long-time divisional foe? I can’t wait to find out.

Game 1 of NYI vs PHI will be on Monday August 24th at 4pm on NBC Sports

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