Consistent goaltending is an element the Philadelphia Flyers lacked for a long time. Quality starting goaltenders come at a premium. Backups the team trusts are even tougher to find. Suddenly, the tune changed during the pleasantly surprising 2023-2024 campaign. Carter Hart and Sam Ersson showed they can give their team a chance to win almost every game if the players in front of them do the same.
When Hart was drafted in the second round (48th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers assumed they were choosing the goaltender of the future. Hart proved he can be a franchise netminder. In 218 career games, Hart is 93-90-27, mostly playing on losing teams, with a 2.92GAA and 90.7%SV.
Hart is playing great when available this season, too. His 2.42GAA and 91.9%SV are better than his career average. In front of him, the defense helped. Unfortunately, Hart missed four straight games due to an illness. He could start tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, however.
“I used to never get sick and now I think I’ve been sick three times in the last month, so something is going on. It’s good that we got to the bottom of it and figured it out. Now I can take the right steps to treat it and fix it and feel better going forward.”Carter Hart; 12/16/2023
Fortunately, Ersson is a formidable backup to Hart. He overcame his early season struggles during the first three games, where he allowed 14 goals. Ersson steadied his play and became a critical component of the Flyers’ recent nine-game point streak.
After beginning 0-2-1, Ersson is 8-2-1 with two shutouts. During those 11 games, Ersson holds a 1.96GAA and a 92.6%SV, ranking amongst the elite NHL goaltenders with at least ten starts.
Ersson is impressive, but his play on the ice translates beyond the metrics; it passes the eye test. In the last matchup versus the Red Wings, the Flyers failed to clear the puck from out of their end zone for most of the final minute of play in regulation. Detroit had the six-on-five advantage, but Ersson didn’t allow a puck past him to hold onto a 1-0 shutout win.
Following an overtime win against the New Jersey Devils, Ersson commented about his comfort level and uptick in playing time:
“I mean, obviously, you get into more of a flow but it’s also just for me getting more games in the league under my belt helps a lot, just kind of getting to know the league and getting more comfortable and then for me, I know I take all the games I can get.”Sam Ersson; 12/19/2023
Finding his confidence as he plays more often is an assessment John Tortorella agrees with. Tortorella also notices the strides Ersson takes and his growing confidence:
“He’s a real confident kid anyway. The thing that’s impressed me about him is when he was struggling early on, he owned it. He talked about how disappointed he was in his play. Basically, it was him saying ‘I’m going to play better,’ and he has. Each start that he gets, he looks bigger to me. He settles ourselves down. In the third period [and] overtime, he makes some great saves to keep it tied so we have a chance to win. Each game, he’s playing better and better.”John Tortorella; 12/19/2023
In his career, Ersson made 26 starts. He was drafted in the fifth round (143rd overall) by the Flyers in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Once selected, Ersson played in Sweden from 2019-2021 before arriving at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in 2022. Most of last season he spent with the Phantoms before appearing in 12 games to a 6-3-0 record.
At age 24, Ersson might not have a vast amount of NHL experience, but his confidence and ability to handle the backup role with Hart make him extremely valuable to the Flyers. Behind an elite penalty-killing unit and a much-improved defense, Ersson and Hart are an effective one-two punch between the posts.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)