What started as an excellent season for the Philadelphia Flyers seems to continue to deliver disappointing news. There is nothing worse than a team that is already struggling to make their way up the standings than losing their starting goaltender to injury. Of course, that’s what happened to starter Carter Hart, and the team must now turn to Samuel Ersson and Felix Sandstrom to stand between the pipes in his absence.
Hart on Injured Reserve
Hart is one player who has stood out amongst the Flyers squad thus far. He had a few tough seasons but has proven that he wants to be the starter, with an above-average save percentage (SV%) of .910 and ten wins in 27 games this year. He’s been head coach John Tortorella’s superstar, starting 26 of the team’s 36 games (for a total of 27 games), which adds up to 75%.
So, what’s the worst thing that could happen? The Flyers are still without Sean Couturier, key players like Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes have been placed on injured reserve (IR) at least once this season, and the team is still struggling to find its identity. That should be enough, right? Wrong. The team can’t catch a break, and their starting goaltender has now been placed on the IR after a collision with Seth Javris of the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 23.
Sandstrom and Ersson Stepping Up
Although Hart missed most of training camp and preseason play, there was already a battle for the second-string goaltender between Ersson, Sandstrom, and Troy Grosenick. All three were solid and showed Tortorella that they were determined to back up Hart.
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Sandstrom was the Flyers’ third pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, going 70th overall. Unfortunately, he hasn’t spent much time with the team but has been the leading netminder for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In 44 games in 2021-22, he recorded a .900 SV% and secured 16 wins. It seemed he was a shoo-in to back up Hart, but with an injury keeping him from starting the season with the team, Ersson became the backup until Sandstrom returned. Ersson was a fifth-round pick by the Flyers in 2018 and was also Sandstrom’s backup in 2021-22 for the Phantoms, although he missed a handful of games due to injury. He only played five games that season for a .890 SV%.
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The Phillies’ season may have come to an end, but Ersson and Sandstrom have stepped up to the plate in Hart’s absence, and the underdog, Ersson, has been getting most of the starts over Sandstrom, who is still working on his strength after missing games against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 22 and the Hurricanes on Dec. 23 due to illness.
Ersson held his own after Hart left the game on Dec. 23, stopping 25 of 30 shots; although it didn’t end in the Flyers’ favor, he still came ready to play.
Known to be a harsh coach, Tortorella certainly has a soft spot for the 23-year-old goaltender. “I want to see him play. I think he deserves a chance…” said Tortorella. “We knew Carter was going to be our No. 1 guy, but Erss was our best goalie in camp” (from ‘Flyers’ Carter Hart placed on IR: What you need to know about his status,’ The Athletic, 12/28/22).
Ersson may be more suitable for the role than anyone might have thought. The Flyers solidified an overtime win (4-3) against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, with Ersson stopping 25 of 28 shots. Tortorella spoke to the media about Ersson’s play against the Sharks after the loss to Carolina: “I think he responded very well, especially after the tough spot I put him in, in Carolina… a big reason why we won tonight is in his play.”
What Happens When Hart Returns?
The Flyers end their lengthy road trip in Los Angeles against the Kings on New Year’s Eve, and the question is, who will be in net?
There’s a lot of speculation about Hart coming back sooner than expected; he continues to join in practices and seems to be staying consistent in his routine. “Carter continues to work, and we will see where it all goes, according to protocol,” Tortorella said on Dec. 28.
If the Flyers backdate Hart’s injury to Dec. 24, when he was initially placed on the IR with an upper-body injury, he technically could play on Saturday, as the league’s concussion protocol only states a 7-day rest period. At the end of the day, it will be up to the organization and what they feel is best for the young goaltender, but it may not be a bad idea for Hart to get much-needed rest, which would allow Ersson to continue to prove himself to fans and his team.