Samuel Ersson had a less-than-ceremonious entrance into the NHL. The netminder’s NHL debut came somewhat unexpectedly, as the Flyers hit the road for a pair of games before the holiday break. It would have been easy for John Tortorella to stick with Carter Hart for those two games, but he gave Ersson a shot.
The first shot Ersson faced was a goal for Jesper Fast. By the end of the first period, Ersson had allowed three goals on 14 shots. By the 7:58 mark of the second period, two more goals had found the net for Carolina and Ersson was mercifully given the hook. Well, for 10 minutes anyway.
After Hart returned to the net for the second straight night, this time in relief, he gave up a power-play goal and was injured on the play, forcing Ersson back into the net. The rookie goaltender was perfect from there, making another eight saves on the night as the Flyers nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback in a 6-5 loss.
With Hart out, Ersson got his chance. Tortorella wanted another look at him when the team returned to play in San Jose. Ersson made 25 saves as the Flyers completed a comeback win in overtime for the goaltender’s first NHL win.
Two days later, Ersson was back in goal and made 27 saves in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Two days after that, on Jan. 2, Ersson made 28 saves as the Flyers built up a 4-0 lead on the Anaheim Ducks. Just 40 seconds shy of a shutout, the Ducks scored their only goal of the night.
Ersson was back in goal a week later, this past Monday night, as the Flyers faced the Buffalo Sabres. He again got a 4-0 lead from his teammates. This time, he completed his first career shutout and fourth straight win, making another 28 saves.
Recency bias is certainly showing in light of Ersson’s emergence, so much so that there is a part of the fan base ready to dismiss Carter Hart and start fresh with Ersson. Pump the brakes for a moment.
Sure, Ersson’s strong start to his career is standing out and leads to a difficult decision for the Flyers. But it has nothing to do with Carter Hart. For now, Hart remains the team’s top goaltender with perhaps a few extra starts to go around for Ersson if the Flyers feel Hart needs some extra rest. Ersson is not the first goaltender to make his NHL debut and have some early success. Hart went on an eight-game winning streak in his first 17 games in the NHL back in 2018-19.
It creates a good problem for the Flyers to have, but a problem nonetheless. What happens with Felix Sandstrom?
The reason for Ersson’s opportunity to play is because of Sandstrom. As the Flyers were preparing to embark on that two-game trip before the break, Sandstrom didn’t go due to illness. As the team returned home from the three-game West coast trip following the break, Sandstrom had not played in a game since Dec. 13.
For now, that created an easy solution. Sandstrom accepted a conditioning stint in the minors for two weeks. This allows him to get back into game action as the Flyers extend their look at Ersson. But what happens when those two weeks expire after another five days? What will the Flyers do then?
Ersson can easily return to the minors. He’s waiver-exempt and the Flyers could call him back up at any time as needed. But the more he performs at this level, the more the Flyers are going to want him on their active roster and between the pipes in the NHL.
That could lead to the Flyers taking their chances on placing Sandstrom on waivers. Goaltenders are valuable commodities in the NHL. Most teams believe you can never have enough. It is a strong possibility the Flyers could lose their 2015 third-round pick for nothing to another team if they go this route.
For the next few days, the Flyers don’t have to worry about that decision. But it is looming, and Ersson’s performance may be strong enough to keep him around for longer than the Flyers have to decide.