First came Alex Lyon with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh. Next was Brian Elliott to accompany them in warmups before Wednesday's training camp practice at Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone.
Carter Hart never walked out of the Flyers' dressing room as practice went on without the 21-year-old goalie who had to exit Tuesday's scrimmage and did not return because of an undisclosed issue.
What's the latest on the Flyers' franchise goalie as the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament inches closer? Let's get into that and more with five observations from camp:
A feel for the Hart
Hart on Wednesday was deemed "unable to participate," according to the Flyers. As we know, teams are not allowed to release specifications for any injuries/illnesses throughout camp or the tournament, per a mutual agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to respect an individual player's right to medical privacy during this time.
As a result, it's uncertain why Hart is out and a timeframe for his return is unknown (see story).
Head coach Alain Vigneault, however, was able to provide a slight remedy for the nerves of Flyers fans.
"We’re not allowed to comment on the injuries," Vigneault said after practice. "I would say to you that I’m not concerned."
Hart's timeline will truly be a day-to-day process given how little the team is permitted to disclose. Every day will be a game of is he out there?
The Flyers' run prior to the March 12 stoppage has become even more paramount because it earned the club a bye past the best-of-five qualifying round, which now buys it some more time — if needed — with Hart. The Flyers have an exhibition game July 28 and open their three-game round-robin slate Aug. 2 before the team's main priority begins — the first round of the playoffs on Aug. 11 (see Flyers' schedule).
The Flyers scrimmage Thursday, are off the ice Friday, practice Saturday and leave Sunday for the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.
"Any player missing any time in practice at this time, especially after the layoff that we’ve had, sets them back a little bit," Vigneault said. "Obviously it depends on the amount of time. He’ll have to do a little bit of extra work when he is capable of coming back."
While Hart's status will be worth monitoring each day moving forward, the overall takeaway is that his status to open the postseason does not sound in doubt, which is a major positive for the Flyers.
I do believe that Carter, the way he played throughout the year and how he improved throughout the season, has earned the right to start in the playoffs. That being said, though, we have four games until then. There’s no doubt that Brian is going to play in those four games. In my mind right now, Carter's the guy, but you never know what can happen.
Carter’s a young goaltender, a lot of young guys have stepped in and because they’ve played big games in their leagues prior to it, have just stepped in and picked off exactly where they were. Carter, we believe, can do that, but I do think that the experience of Brian gives us a great tandem and whoever we put in goal, they’re going to do a real good job for us.
Moose is loose
Another positive for the Flyers: Elliott looked sharp in practice Wednesday and is a 35-year-old netminder who knows how to spell his goalie partner when problems arise.
Elliott has made a career for himself in tandem work. He impressively picked up Hart twice during a couple of important junctures in the regular season (see story).
After suffering injuries over his first two seasons with the Flyers (see story), Elliott was healthy and clutch in 2019-20 on a one-year deal. His health will also be vital during the playoffs.
"I’ve felt better and better each day," Elliott said Wednesday. "Today I felt really good. It’s just getting back that competitiveness and battle level, things like that. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to ramp things up and getting a little bit more systems, a little special teams today. That’s good for us because we get to look through bodies, look through screens and try to really react to just play the game. That's what’s fun about goaltending; sometimes it gets a little much when guys are just coming down and shooting on you. Now we’re getting into game situations where it’s a little bit more fun for us."
Vigneault was able to rely on Elliott during the regular season, especially away from home. Elliott has 43 postseason starts on his résumé.
"There’s no doubt that for our team it’s a huge bonus to have a guy with his background and his experience," Vigneault said. "It’s a bonus for Carter to have somebody there that he can relate with and bounce ideas off. With Kim in that trio, both goaltenders and him, I think our whole group is really confident. Goaltending is a big part of season success and it's a real big part of playoff success. We're no different than anybody else — we’re going to need our goaltender to be at the top of their game and I think we’re all very confident that any one of those two guys will do a great job for us."
'Good news for the Flyers family'
Two days after being named a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist (see story), Sean Couturier was missing from practice Wednesday.
Vigneault sported a big smile when he mentioned the reason behind the 27-year-old center's absence.
"Next time we see him, he’s going to be a father," Vigneault said. "That’s good news for him, it’s certainly good news for the Flyers family — we've got another beautiful young child coming on the way."
Couturier and his wife Laurence were headed into labor. Vigneault said the two were expecting a baby girl.
Elliott, who is a father to two boys, was happy for his teammate despite knowing the team's departure to Toronto is coming up Sunday and the Flyers could be away for two months if the club goes on a deep run.
"I feel bad for him, you’re having a kid and you’ve got to leave right away," Elliott said. "It’s such a magical moment and you want to be part of it as much as you can. It’s going to be tough leaving a new mom and a baby behind short term, but I’m really happy for them. It’s such a cool time. I’m just glad that they're able to do it while he’s here. I can’t wait to meet another one of the Flyers family, for sure."
'I might miss his first birthday'
Claude Giroux became a first-time father last August. The Flyers' captain knows how hard this extended time away from family can be for everyone. Giroux's son Gavin was born Aug. 26, 2019.
"I was home for three months and got to know him as a person, got a good connection and had a lot of fun together," Giroux said. "We were together every day. Right now it’s tough, you want to be there to see him grow. I might miss his first birthday, so it’s really not easy."
Giroux then found a reason to crack a quick smile.
"He's going to have a chance to watch me play on TV," Giroux said.
During the tournament, the Flyers will be allowed a roster of no more than 31 players, which includes goalies.
Vigneault said he'll have an answer on Saturday for which players will be coming to Toronto. The Flyers have 34 players in training camp (see story).
If Oskar Lindblom is able to be one of the Flyers' 31 players (see story), here's my guess on who will stay back: Kirill Ustimenko, German Rubtsov, Egor Zamula and Tyler Wotherspoon.
If the Flyers want to play it safe and bring four goalies, they'll have to leave another forward or defenseman behind.
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