One player that earned a lot of respect and admiration for his play in 2022-23 was goaltender Samuel Ersson.
The then-23-year-old came almost out of nowhere to propel the Philadelphia Flyers during his short stint in late December to early January. He won his first 6 decisions, helped the Flyers sweep the daunting California road trip for the first time in franchise history, and brought about a calmness in goal that had not been seen since Carter Hart’s 2019-20 campaign.
Ersson came into training camp with a leg up on his competition for the backup spot to start the season. Cal Petersen found himself with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in short order and Ersson had edged out Felix Sandström with a few games to spare in the pre-season. The Flyers ended up keeping three goaltenders on their roster to start the year but Sandström was the odd-man out with the exception of one game, where Ersson was the starter, Sandström was the backup, and Hart was given the night off in the press box.
On the year, Ersson has played in 8 games and sports a 4-3-1 record with a 2.78 GAA, an .881 SV% with 1 shutout. On the surface his numbers don’t look good in the slightest and that’s because he started the year very poorly, allowing 14 goals on 59 shots through 3 games. He allowed 5 goals against Dallas in an overtime loss, 7 in his next game against Anaheim, and then 2 versus Buffalo when he took over for the injured Hart.
What has followed is the “Ersson of old” as he has gone 4-1-0 in his last 5 starts with a .937 SV% and has only allowed 8 goals on 126 shots, while recording the all-important shutout in his most recent game against the New York Islanders. In his first three games, the book was out and everyone was targeting his blocker side and finishing with relative ease. Ersson clearly shaped up and fixed his glaring weakness as he’s been a stalwart in goal ever since.
Ersson has provided Hart with something he has yet to have throughout his young NHL career: a reliable backup goaltender that can take on the back to back sets and perhaps lessen his heavy workload. Brian Elliott was always dependable until a certain point in the season when he would eventually be overworked by Alain Vigneault. Martin Jones was up-and-down at best, and last year Sandström did not win over the confidence of his coaching staff.
Hart has been his usual dependable self as he started the season 4-3-0 with a .921 SV% and a GAA slightly above 2 before he got injured against Buffalo. In the last 6 games, including the Buffalo game, he has allowed 15 goals, has gone 2-3-0, and holds an .897 SV% in that stretch. His most recent defeats came against the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Carolina Hurricanes, who were opportunistic and took advantage of some shoddy overly aggressive defensive miscues that led to odd-man rushes galore.
Nevertheless, Hart holds a 6-6-0 record, a 2.57 GAA, and a .911 SV% with 1 shutout to begin his all-encompassing contract season.
As for Ersson, his early season woes changed on a dime when Hart went down with a mid-body injury and was thrusted in goal as the de-facto number one with Petersen backing him up. He made 21 saves on 22 shots in their next game against Buffalo, was on the hook for their 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks but made 17 saves on 19 shots, and then made 35 saves on 38 shots against the Ducks in a revenge victory before making 20 saves on 22 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
All that culminated into his most recent victory where he was on the winning end of a 1-0 shootout victory. It was one of those games that had everyone on the edge of their seats by the midway point of the second period. The Flyers couldn’t solve Ilya Sorokin but this time around the Islanders had trouble navigating through Ersson.
— NHL (@NHL) November 26, 2023
The suddenly-dominant 5-on-5 Flyers threw everything including the kitchen sink at Sorokin, who made 40 stops including 4 during the overtime period. However, the Islanders might not have fired as many shots but of their 25, many were dangerous scoring opportunities, including 3 official shots in overtime and a bunch more that missed the net. Then on top of all of that, Ersson stopped Bo Horvat, Oliver Wahlstrom, Mathew Barzal, and Kyle Palmieri in the shootout, allowing Tyson Foerster to ice the game in the 4th round.
The Flyers’ upcoming schedule encompasses 3 more games against the Metropolitan Division as they face off against the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season on the 30th of November before a home-and-home against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the 2nd and 4th of December. That marks 8 straight divisional games and 9 of 10 overall, with a game versus Vegas squished in between.
The Flyers currently sit 3rd in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points through 22 games but have a hoard of teams chasing. The Hurricanes are in 2nd with 26 points in 21 games and the Rangers are sitting pretty atop the division with a 16-4-1 record.
The Washington Capitals are right behind the Orange and Black with 22 points but in 4 less games played with the New York Islanders righting the ship after a horrid start in 5th place with 22 points as well. The Penguins and Devils surprisingly sit 6th and 7th, respectively, however with their star-studded lineups they should never be taken lightly.
John Tortorella likes to ride the hot hand but expect Ersson to get into at least one of these games after the Flyers had played 5 games in a span of 8 days. This time around, the Flyers, their coaching staff, and the fan base should feel a lot more comfortable with whichever goaltender patrols the crease – maybe for the first time since pre-COVID days.
The Flyers will have a fantastic opportunity to keep their foes at a distance if they can come out victorious this week against Devils and Penguins.
Hart and Ersson will have to play their parts but with how Tortorella and company have fixed the Flyers even-strength woes, they should never be counted out against any superior opponents for the time being. If the power play ever figures it out, Ersson and Hart will be overly thankful with more victories added to their docket.
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