Flyers analysis

Ersson focused on a ‘key word' as he prepares for Flyers' No. 1 goalie job

Tortorella said the Flyers originally had the rookie netminder penciled in for 18 to 22 games

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After playing his 51st game of the season and 32nd of the Flyers' final 38, Samuel Ersson wanted to keep playing.

He wanted the playoffs, an admirable wish from a 24-year-old rookie goaltender who had played far more than anyone imagined he would at the start of the season.

"Obviously played a lot, especially the second half of the year," he said following the team's finale last month. "But that's the type of player I want to be."

Ersson, currently playing for Sweden at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, is slated to be the Flyers' No. 1 in net next season. He was suddenly thrown into that role this season on Jan. 23 when Carter Hart requested and was granted an indefinite leave of absence because of the Hockey Canada sexual assault case.

Flyers general manager Danny Briere did not have an update on Hart's status last month and it appears the trial will not start until after the 2024-25 season is underway. The Flyers are planning to have Ersson and 27-year-old rookie Ivan Fedotov make up their goalie tandem to open next season.

Heading into last training camp, Ersson was trying to win the Flyers' backup job. Does his mindset change this time around as the favorite to be the Flyers' No. 1?

"I would say it stays pretty much the same," Ersson said at his end-of-the-season press conference last month. "You always try to take steps, right? You just try to get better and put myself in a good spot to compete for as many games as I can for next year."

Ersson will be trying to prove he can be a regular starter at the NHL level. He showed early signs of great potential this season and had struggles down the stretch as the year wore on and the outings piled up.

"It was a really tough situation for him, to lose his partner and to have to play almost every other night," Briere said last month. "I know down the stretch it got a little difficult and maybe he got overplayed, but overall it was an impressive season for a young goaltender."

John Tortorella noted that Ersson was originally penciled in to play 18 to 22 games.

"I've played the hell out of him," the Flyers' head coach said last month. "And he's tired."

From Jan. 18 to the end of the regular season, Ersson's 32 appearances were tied with the Sabres' Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for the second most among all NHL goalies. Only the Capitals' Charlie Lindgren played in more games over that span with 33.

The Flyers ended up playing five goalies this season and were tied with the Senators for the league's worst save percentage at .884.

"Let's face it, things got thrown into a really weird situation when we lost Carter," Tortorella said. "But having said that, we had discussions in the summer about the situation with Carter and figured something was going to go on, right? We've got to be honest about it, it's not a great situation for our team when we lost him. But it showed me a lot of good things about a specific guy in Ers, how he handled it. But it has been a lot. I made the decision — I made the decision — that I'm going to live or die with Ers when I played him all those games."

From Nov. 3 to Jan. 18, the Flyers went 21-9-5 over a 35-game span. In that stretch, Ersson went 12-3-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Over his final 15 starts of the season, he was pulled four times and went 5-7-2 with a 3.65 goals-against average and an .861 save percentage.

On the season, Ersson finished 23-19-7 with a 2.82 goals-against average, an .890 save percentage and four shutouts.

"I felt like it was some ups and downs," he said. "I had some tough stretches and I also felt like I had a long stretch where I think I played well consistently over a period of time. I think that is the key word that I'm trying to push is consistency. I feel like that is the key for me to be an impactful player in this league."

The Flyers dropped nine of their last 11 games (2-7-2), a stretch that included a costly eight-game losing streak. With three games left, the Flyers were able to halt the skid and stay alive in the playoff race for a Game 82 that mattered. Ersson was strong over those three games, picking up a 4-1 win over the NHL-best Rangers, a 1-0 shutout of the Devils and allowing only one goal in a 2-1 loss to the Capitals.

"I feel like I can hold my head a little bit higher," he said. "It was a tough stretch and it happened at a tough time of the year but I think coming out of it, we did make a valid push. I think that's something that is also a good experience for us.

"This is the first time we experienced it, for a lot of us. The grind of the season, the stretches where you're playing every other day for a month basically. It's something that I haven't done and you have to kind of learn how to deal with that, how to keep your body and your mind at the best level you can so you're ready for those games.

"We got to play some meaningful games here at the end of the season and chasing the playoff spot is something we can definitely learn from and take experience from."

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