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Carter Hart and Samuel Ersson Have Provided Flyers With One of Best Tandems in NHL

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

It’s been a very long time since the Philadelphia Flyers have patrolled the ice with a confident and comfortable tandem in between the pipes. It’s been almost 8 years since the Flyers had a goaltending tandem where the combined save percentage was above .910, but Carter Hart and Samuel Ersson are inching closer and closer to that feat with their play this season – especially since November.

This weekend was a good example of good goaltenders having an off game. Hart does have a proclivity for the soft goal here and there – Nathan MacKinnon’s 2nd of the game – but he’s still holding down the fort in 2023-24. Ersson’s emergence has made many believe that the Flyers should trade Hart before his contract expires but there’s no one who can back up Ersson at the moment and why break up a young tandem?

The prospects are nowhere close to being NHL-ready, Ersson only has 30 career starts under his belt, goaltenders are the hardest position to predict, and Hart’s new contract shouldn’t cost an arm or a leg nor should it interfere with Ersson’s development. 2 goaltenders can coexist in harmony while winning games aplenty as we’ve seen this season.

The 2015-16 campaign when the Flyers ran with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth was maybe the last time we had confidence in both goaltenders. Mason rolled with a .918 SV%, Neuvirth carried a .924 SV%, and the team posted a .920 SV% for the season. The Flyers finished the season 41-27-14 in large part because of their goaltending, a striking similarity to their 2023-24 counterparts.

Since then, the Flyers posted a 905 SV% in 2016-17, .907 SV% in 2017-18, .900 SV% in 2018-19, .907 SV% in 2019-20, .884 SV% in 2020-21, .903 SV% in 2021-22, and a .900 SV% in 2022-23. Currently, Hart carries a .906 SV% through 26 games, Ersson has a .909 SV% in 21 games for a grand total of a .908 SV%. Before this weekend’s play both goaltenders were above .910 but as fate would have it, they each allowed 5 goals.

That number is good enough for 7th-best in the NHL behind just the Los Angeles Kings (.909), Vegas Golden Knights (.912), Pittsburgh Penguins (.912), Boston Bruins (.916), Vancouver Canucks (.917), and the Winnipeg Jets (.923). The Flyers could be even better if we take away Ersson’s rough start to the season and this weekend’s debacle on home ice.

The young Swede uncharacteristically allowed 14 goals on 59 shots in his first 3 games this season, including 5 goals in an overtime loss to Dallas, 7 goals on 25 shots versus Anaheim, and 2 goals on just 9 shots in relief of an injured Hart against Buffalo.

Since then, Ersson has been unstoppable as he has posted an 12-4-2 record with a .926 SV% and has only allowed 36 goals in that stretch. He has defeated the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, and the Dallas Stars while adding 3 shutouts and winning 4 shootouts along the way.

His recent stretch of dominance has given the coaching staff the utmost confidence in rolling either goaltender, no matter the matchup. In recent years, Hart would have most likely been thrusted into games against the Canucks, Jets, and Stars, but the Flyers don’t need to run Hart into the ground and they can roll with their tandem as they see fit.

Tandems have truly taken over the NHL in recent years and it’s no surprise that most bell-cow goaltenders have had their number of games restricted due to fatigue by the time they enter the postseason. There are still teams who are equipped with an alpha netminder who earns 60+ starts like the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers, but many clubs are trying to move away from that formula.

Even while dealing with a few ailments last season, Hart was 12th in the league with 54 starts. The coaching staff didn’t have much confidence in Felix Sandström as he only earned 18 starts – all the while dealing with a few ailments of his own – while Ersson blew the organization away with his first of two stints. In totality, he played in 12 games but was the far more superior backup for Hart.

The number of starts this season is a lot closer because Hart was sidelined with a mysterious illness that kept him out for 6+ games. Nevertheless, Ersson earned his 20th start of the season on Sunday against Ottawa, compared to Hart’s 25. Health permitting, look for those numbers to remain on par as the Flyers look to qualify for the postseason for the first time since the 2020 bubble.

Ersson’s strong play of late should not cast a shadow of doubt onto Hart. There are far too many voices out there claiming the Flyers should look to move on from Hart because of Ersson’s resurgence. Let’s not forget how enthralled we all were when Hart first came into the league – akin to Ersson.

In his first 2 seasons, Hart posted a 40-26-4 record with a .915 SV% and a 2.59 GAA, all the while posting a 9-5 record in the postseason with an even more impressive .926 SV% and a 2.23 GAA with 2 shutouts. Hart’s game took a quick nosedive during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns before righting the ship in the last 2+ seasons.

Since returning from his lengthy absence, Hart has posted a 3-3-2 record with an .883 SV% and a GAA just over 3.50. It hasn’t been pretty by any means but when you factor in his 7-6 shootout defeat against Detroit, being shellacked in Edmonton with almost no help from his defense, and allowing 5 goals on 15 shots against Colorado, but his numbers don’t look all that bad. You take out the Wings and Avalanche games and it jumps up to a .908 SV% and a GAA just above 2.80.

The Flyers have a strength in goal and that should remain in place for the foreseeable future. How often have they rolled out with a good-to-great 1A goaltender just to be pushed down by their mediocre 1B/backup? The other half of Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott, and Martin Jones don’t need to resurface. Ersson doesn’t need to command 40+ starts just yet and Hart could benefit from a season or two of “load management” with all the ailments he’s dealt with in recent years.

Internally, Sandström doesn’t appear to be the answer as he has struggled a little in the minors this season with a .877 SV% and a 3.31 GAA in 13 games. Alexei Kolosov is still a few years away, Carson Bjarnasson and Egor Zavragin are even further away, and Cal Petersen would be a step backwards.

You look around the league and can spot that Alexandar Georgiev is being held up by the offensive dynamo that is Colorado, the Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling to remain afloat with their struggles in goal, the Golden Knights struggled for a bit after Adin Hill was sidelined, and the list goes on.

Then you have teams like Boston who are excelling because of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark and the Vancouver Canucks have played Casey DeSmith 15 times – which is saying something considering how well Thatcher Demko has played.

The Flyers have a luxury in having Hart and Ersson and should not look to dump one off for the sake of it. Strong goaltending is hard to find, developing goaltenders is always a crap shoot, and scoring woes eventually even themselves out. If and when the Flyers start scoring goals aplenty again, the stout goaltending will push them to even new heights.

Let’s not forget that the Flyers are currently 2nd in the Metropolitan Division while sitting 23rd in the NHL in goals per game. They are only ahead of the New York Islanders, Buffalo, St.Louis, Seattle, Montreal, Anaheim, Washington, Chicago, and San Jose. Their goaltending, improved defensive game, and penalty kill have brought them back from the dead.

Goaltending has always been a crutch and now that they finally have two responsible and confident netminders, it’s time to take advantage of it and keep things rolling while the iron is still hot. Ersson is under contract for 2 more seasons at a relatively low cap hit of just $1.4 million, while Hart is playing in a contract year. The Flyers will look to extend Hart and roll with one of the youngest and most successful tandems in the NHL for years to come.

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