Carter Hart and Kim Dillabaugh were the last to leave the ice at Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone on Wednesday.
They worked on Hart's tactics in the crease. And then they chatted. And chatted.
No outside noise or a myriad of voices clouding the mind.
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Just goalie and goalie coach.
The Flyers' practice started at noon ET and ended around 12:32 p.m. ET. Hart and Dillabaugh departed the ice at 1:15 p.m. ET. The quietness of the empty rink and the simplicity of a conversation probably felt cathartic for Hart, just as imperative as the extra work done after practice.
The night before, Hart sounded emotionally spent. His emotions were hardly visible postgame as his Flyers Warriors hat casted a shadow over his eyes and his surgical mask covered the bottom half of his face. But the emotion was heard in his voice.
"It’s just sh---y right now," Hart said. "I don’t feel like myself and I've got to find a way to get back into playing the game that I love and trusting the game that I’ve built."
Many have become accustomed to Hart playing and appearing beyond his years, a kid that has impressively been unfazed by the unavoidable spotlight of playing the goalie position in a sports-craved city like Philadelphia.
On Tuesday night, for once, Hart looked his age of 22 years old. Finally, he looked like a kid overwhelmed in the big leagues. In the Flyers' 5-4 shootout win over the Sabres, Hart was pulled for a third time this season. Through 15 outings, Hart is 6-5-3 with a 3.61 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. He has made 389 saves on 438 shots.
"I’m just trying to stop the puck and right now I’m not — it's plain and simple," Hart said. "I just need to find a way to get back on track because I’m not playing well. I know it, everyone knows it and it’s hard right now. But the boys battled back and that’s all that matters."
As Hart faced the music and fought through his emotions, how much he cared was piercingly evident despite the face coverings. All of this bothers him and that greatly matters. His willingness to push forward will matter more.
"In life, it's not a consistent climb here — there's peaks and valleys, there's ups and downs," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday after practice, while Hart and Dillabaugh remained on the ice. "The ones that work harder, work smarter, don't feel sorry for themselves, push themselves, are the ones that become the best that they can be. And Carter's got to do that; he's not the first player or goaltender to go through a tough time. To improve and get better, you've got to work and he's got to work harder and he's got to work smarter. A lot of times I say, 'Enough meetings, enough video, you've got to work.' That's what Carter's got to do right now."
In the 2019-20 regular season, Hart went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Through his first 15 appearances, he was 6-5-3 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, making 309 saves on 344 shots.
In the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament, Hart went 9-5-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, giving him the best GAA by a Flyers goalie with five or more starts in one playoff run since Roman Cechmanek in 2003 (2.14 GAA in 13 starts).
Inside the organization, there is full belief in Hart's future. Presently, the Flyers are 13-7-3 in an uber-competitive East Division with a nonstop 56-game regular-season slate and little time for lulls.
"Right now, it's about winning games," Vigneault said Tuesday night. "We've got to find a way to win games and a goaltender has got to find a way to stop the puck. That being said, I’ve been very fortunate in this game to have some great goaltenders in front of me, in front of my teams — [Henrik] Lundqvist, [Roberto] Luongo, etc., etc., etc. All those goaltenders at one time or another went through challenging periods — all players do, not just at the goaltender position, but all players do. You've got to show mental strength, mental fortitude, you've to battle through — and that’s what we expect Carter to do.
"At the end of the day, it’s the toughest position in hockey. Carter's a very young goaltender, we all believe in him, we all think that he has got a tremendous amount of potential. It’s a tough position. He’s going to learn from this, he’s going to get better. I believe he has got to battle a little bit harder in goal at this time. I’m confident that he'll work with Kim and he'll try to get his game to where it needs to be so that our team can have a chance in every game."
Hart and Dillabaugh were working at it Wednesday — and talking about it, perhaps more than just the game. Hart collected the remaining pucks, plopped them in the equipment bag and slid it over to equipment manager Mike "Huggy" Craytor.
With nobody watching, making the last peep, the goalie left the ice about 45 minutes after practice ended.
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