One of the toughest jobs in hockey might be backup goaltender simply because he simply doesn’t play every night and can fall out of rhythm.
For the Flyers’ Samuel Ersson, that’s probably the biggest challenge. At least it was a couple months ago when he didn’t start a game for more than two weeks, a stretch of action spanning the end of preseason and the start of the regular season.
At Monday morning’s pre-game skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J., coach John Tortorella talked about the way Ersson has adapted to his utility role.
It’s apparent things are going well. In Ersson’s past two starts, both have ended in shootouts. Ersson has gone seven-for-seven in stopping tiebreaker attempts – first blocking all three tries in a 1-0 win at Long Island on Nov. 25 and then turning aside four more in a 4-3 victory at Pittsburgh this past Saturday night.
Even so, Ersson was scheduled to yield duties to regular starter Carter Hart in Monday night’s home game against Pittsburgh.
“When he started the season, he hadn’t played in 18, 19 days,” Tortorella said. “I think as a backup, he better figure it out, not playing every night. That’s just where his spot is right now.
“But just the close proximity of the games he’s played now, I just think he’s found his rhythm. He didn’t start (the season) off well but each start he plays, he just seems more and more confident.”
The numbers back that up. Ersson sports a 5-3-1 mark with a 2.78 goals-against average. The Swede was a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“You watch him in the shootout, you don’t see any net,” Tortorella contended. “He makes the save on (Sidney) Crosby, you can see his confidence. That’s a big part of Sam’s game, his mindset.
“I’ve said it every time I’ve talk about him, he’s got the right type of arrogance. I just think he feels that good about himself.”
Defenseman Cam York keeps getting more responsibility and he’s been up to the challenge. Tortorella credits his exceptional mobility.
“He’s just a good skater,” Tortorella said. “I think that’s what makes him a really good defender. He can get his body turned sideways, whichever way he needs to go to defend, to be big, stick position, all that stuff. He’s just that athletic on his skates.”
York has been paired with Travis Sanheim on the Flyers’ No. 1 defense tandem and there are nights when they shut down some of the NHL’s most talented stars.
“He (York) has matured,” the coach said. “I don’t want to get too excited because you never know. But when the season started, I hated his last quarter last season. I wasn’t sure what he was. A little bit of the responsibility falls on me because I was playing him on the right side (he’s a lefty shooter).
“I just think he’s matured. You talk about offense, I’m not sure that’s ever going to be a mainstay but he’s a good defender because he’s that athletic. He’s shown me a willingness which I’m not sure he had.”
>Better locker room
The Flyers definitely had locker room issues last season. Some guys just didn’t want to be here. In the offseason, Tony DeAngelo, Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov found new addresses.
The room seems like a happier place this season. Veterans Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson are back, plus there’s been an influx of new faces, including some rookies.
“There’s going to be mistakes, bad luck, you just try to overcome it,” Tortorella said. “I like our room. I think that’s where our biggest improvement has been so far this year, our locker room, as far as some of the things that go on.
“The Pittsburgh game (on Saturday) was a good game for us, the ups and downs. We’re almost going to win the game (the Penguins tied it up with 20 seconds left), we get scored on and it didn’t affect us. We find a way to win in the shootout. Those are all good things as you continue to try to grow.”