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Flyers Are Beginning to Fail Sam Ersson

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Sam Ersson has started five times in 11 nights for the Philadelphia Flyers, and he's suffered as the team's play in front of him worsens. (Photo: AP)

When it was revealed that Carter Hart would be away from the team for an indeterminate period of time to attend to legal matters, Philadelphia Flyers leadership – namely general manager Danny Briere and head coach John Tortorella – said that they would not run rookie goaltender Sam Ersson into the ground.

With a playoff spot potentially on the line, they’ve strayed from their words.

Ersson has started five times in the last 11 nights for the Flyers, getting pulled in two of them. In the three games he wasn’t pulled from, Ersson stopped a combined 80 of 84 shots, good for a cumulative save percentage of .952.

When Ersson was pulled – a 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 14 and a 7-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 9 – he allowed seven goals on 27 shots. That’s a save percentage of just .740. Ersson needs a break, and the Flyers have acted as if they can’t afford to give him one.

Of course, the Flyers neglected to address the backup goaltending position at the NHL trade deadline, instead opting to roll with Felix Sandstrom whilst buying low on players like Denis Gurianov and Erik Johnson.

Johnson, tasked with defending Ersson, had one of the worst nights of his career against Toronto on Thursday night, having been on the ice for four of the six goals against. Noah Cates, Ryan Poehling, and Cam York were the only Flyers who had been on the ice for three goals, and everyone else was on the ice for two or fewer.

Johnson’s performance over the course of the game was only a microcosm of the incomplete defensive performance by the Flyers against Toronto, one that left Ersson out to dry for the second time in under a week.

Ersson’s night against the Leafs only lasted 20 minutes, so let’s recap how that went.

Tyler Bertuzzi scores one of the easiest tap-ins of his career as neither Poehling nor Marc Staal – standing directly in the low slot – cut the passing lane, leaving Ersson no chance. Nearly eight minutes later, Morgan Frost loses a defensive zone faceoff, Morgan Rielly’s pass hits Connor Dewar in the skate, which hits Frost in the skate, which bounces to Pontus Holmberg, who, standing right in front of Johnson, rips the bounce past Ersson, who had no chance of reacting quick enough from that range.

Then there was the Timothy Liljegren goal that put the Flyers down 3-0 late in the first period. Should Ersson stop the shot? Sure, but Johnson needed to step up on the zone entry to deny Liljegren on the rush and instead sat back and watched Liljegren skate down and shoot.

The Flyers have quite the mix of veteran players and younger players, and right now, with the playoffs on the line, it seems only the veterans are making the back-breaking mistakes. Combine that with an ice-cold offense, a tired Ersson declining by the start, and injuries to three top-four defensemen, and the Flyers are very much in trouble.

The Flyers’ issues on the ice can be squashed as quickly as they arose, but it starts with self-recognition and a willingness to stop the bleeding. The next few games, with or without Ersson in net, will show this.

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