Flyers goaltending goes from deep depth to team need

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Flyers' Sam Ersson
A shot by Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang (not shown) gets past Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Samuel Ersson (33) for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

If a team is going through a rebuild, many questions surround who will be the cornerstones of a rebuild at each position.

A season ago, there were endless questions about the forwards and defensemen. How much better would the lineup be with Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson? Could Travis Sanheim meet the standard John Tortorella articulated to the team? Will there be any ill-lingering effects after trading Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov? Those were all points of interest at the time, but there wasn’t much to question about goaltending.

Ivan Fedotov and the complications furthered between his contract status between the KHL and NHL topped headlines regarding the goaltending pipeline. That eliminated one of the top goaltending prospects from the Philadelphia Flyers (26-19-6).

Then, there is the recent matter concerning Carter Hart and four other 2018 Canada World Junior teammates in the Hockey Canada sexual assault case. Those charges were confirmed Monday by the London Police Service. The investigation will continue to develop with another proceeding on April 30th, 2024.

So, there is a conversation to be had. On the ice, there’s room for a delicate discussion regarding the support Sam Ersson will receive. Cal Petersen is the current de facto backup to Ersson, but Felix Sandstrom isn’t out of earshot. Then, how might Daniel Briere attack this positional need?

Sam Ersson

His workload replicates Hart at the NHL All-Star Break. In the 2023-2024 season, we know that Ersson can handle the same share.

Some games got away from Ersson, and his overall 89.9%SV reflects that, but he recovered after the NHL All-Star Break.

In his last five starts, Ersson is 1-4-0 with an 84.7%SV and a 3.2GAA. The win came last night against the Florida Panthers. Previously, the Ottawa Senators completed a comeback when Claude Giroux visited the Wells Fargo Center. Ersson faced stiff competition before the NHL All-Star Break, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins.

Philadelphia Flyers’ Samuel Ersson, left, and Joel Farabee celebrate after the Flyers won an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Tortorella isn’t shy about Ersson. He routinely praises him for his mental fortitude and poise as a young goaltender. Recently, Tortorella cited how important it is for the Flyers to get their swagger and confidence when asked about the return of Owen Tippett. Rallying behind a young goaltender thrust into a concrete role as a starting goaltender for the remainder of the season is another way to regain confidence.

Cal Petersen

Petersen was the cost of doing business when the Los Angeles Kings helped facilitate Provorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets from Philadelphia. Briere accepting the $5mil/AAV contract tied to Petersen meant Rob Blake could negotiate with Vladislav Gavrikov, so it was a win-win if it meant moving Provorov. Los Angeles cleared cap space, the Blue Jackets received Provorov, and the Flyers rediscovered Sean Walker and gained the 22nd overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft (Oliver Bonk).

He spent most of this season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Petersen made two NHL starts against his former team to a 1-1-0 record with an 89.6%SV and 3.5GAA.

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Cal Petersen makes a glove save during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

What is critical about Petersen is what Tortorella said about him following a win on November 11th versus the Kings:

“He’s [Petersen] been kind of lost the last little while in his career; just not sure what was going to happen with him. I’m happy for him. I thought where he was good was [in] rebounds, where he didn’t give up many. When they did have rebounds, they were grade-A scoring chances. He made some key saves there. I’m happy for him. I’m still trying to learn about him. He’s at an inconsistent part of his career.”

John Tortorella; 11/11/2023

Tortorella and Kim Dillabaugh will monitor the goaltenders and who starts. It’ll be intriguing to note the length of the leash Tortorella gives Petersen as a backup goaltender. Will he allow him to work through some struggles to gain confidence, or will another goaltender available for recall creep into the picture? If Petersen flops, there is one more familiar face to turn to.

Felix Sandstrom

Sandstrom is a hail mary.

In 2022-2023, Tortorella often cited frustration about Sandstrom because he couldn’t make up a game-defining save. It was never that Sandstrom was a total failure at the NHL level. The Flyers just had more quality depth that stuffed Sandstrom into obscurity. Suddenly, the goaltending situation in Philadelphia is fragile enough that Sandstrom isn’t out of the question for a recall if the idea is to compete for every point, but the backup goaltender is leaking losses.

Flyers' Felix Sandstrom
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Felix Sandstrom (32) stops the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Last season, Sandstrom finished with a 3-12-3 record, an 88%SV, and a 3.72GAA. He is arguably as good as Petersen and on an expiring contract, expecting to be an unrestricted free agent.

Goaltender Pipeline

Carson Bjarnason, Alexei Kolosov, and Yegor Zavragin are stashed in the Flyers’ goaltending pipeline. These are all goaltenders selected in the second and third rounds of their respective NHL Entry Draft classes. Briere traded up to draft Bjarnason at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, and Brent Flahr mentioned that with Zavragin on the draft board, he was a best-value selection.

“Zavragin was there. We rated him way high. It was just a no-brainer to take him at that point. Kimmy [Dillabaugh] was really high on him. It’s just value at that point.”

Brent Flahr; 6/29/2023

Kolosov is still developing on loan to Dinamo Minsk, and Philadelphia isn’t rushing to place him out of the KHL and into the AHL. Zavragin could accelerate from the MHL to the KHL after dominating for Mamonty Yugry. Philly Sports Network‘s Nate Tennesen provided more insight about Kolsov and Zavragin in Russia.

Bjarnason will continue with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

The only goaltenders on contract next season in the AHL or NHL for the Flyers will be Ersson and Sandstrom. If Philadelphia, through evaluation, believes Kolosov is ready for the AHL, then there could be three goaltenders battling for a seat in the NHL. There will continue to be unanswered questions about the goaltending situation. However, some of those answers might be available in the offseason, and Ersson might’ve stood across from a future teammate in a 2-1 win from the Amerant Bank Arena.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)