John Tortorella Defends Sam Ersson's Play Down the Stretch

Philadelphia Flyers v Florida Panthers
Philadelphia Flyers v Florida Panthers / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Man, what a year it has been for Flyers' goaltender Sam Ersson. After winning the backup job last season, with Carter Hart injured and Felix Sandstrom struggling, he hoped to keep that job this year. Then the Flyers acquired Cal Petersen in the Ivan Provorov trade. In training camp, Ersson played well, but because of Petersen's high salary, there were questions about who would make it.

Because he outplayed Petersen and Sandstrom, Ersson was kept with the big club. When Hart was injured, Petersen got a chance to play and struggled. Then Hart took a leave of absence to deal with serious criminal charges. Ersson became the defacto starter. The Flyers' season was now in the hands of a rookie goaltender who, in the year before, played in only a dozen games.

Ersson, thus far, has played in 46 games. That's over half of the games this year, something that was unexpected. He is 21-16-7 with a GAA of 2.81 and a save percentage of .891. To some degree, those numbers have decreased over the last few weeks. Many have said that he's been overworked. After all, he's played in 27 of the team's last 32 games.

There are many out there, fans and experts alike, who question whether or not he can hold up for a playoff run, if the Flyers make the postseason. Do not count John Tortorella among his detractors.

""We're not even talking about trying to be better to get in at this time if it wasn't for Sam," the Flyers' head coach said Thursday. "It's a crazy situation with our goaltending this year. We don't have a sniff of having an opportunity with six games left to get in if Sam Ersson doesn't play the way he has played.

"He has played a ton of hockey of late. That was the decision we made, I just didn't have confidence in some of the situations with our backups at that particular time. He has probably played too much. But we have not lost a moment of confidence in Sam.""

John Tortorella.

The team couldn't rely on Sandstrom or Petersen down the stretch. The team lost some key defenders, which put more stress on the goalie. As the competition got tougher, the Flyers had no choice but to rely on Ersson. For a 24-year-old rookie, that is a lot to ask for. The Flyers play in one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL. Even a team like the Penguins, who could miss the playoffs, will fight tooth and nail to make sure a divisional rival can't make it in.

When the Flyers hand out their team awards soon, I can guarantee that Ersson will walk away with some of the hardware, whether it be team MVP or most improved player. He's earned it. He has the respect of the players, but more importantly the confidence of the coaching staff.

More importantly, Tortorella is correct. This team couldn't have made it this far without Ersson. He's saved the season. He's looked shaky over the last few weeks, but if you look at the whole body of work, he's been steady and reliable. Ersson has four career shutouts in 58 games dating back to last year. In comparison, in 227 games over six years, Hart has only six.

Tortorella has had his detractors as well. People feel that his edgy style makes for a rough clubhouse atmosphere. However, we haven't seen this side of him. He's defended players numerous times, even those he didn't have the best relationships with. He has publicly apologized when his comments could be seen as hurtful. He wants his players to put in 100%. He has a lot of passion.

However, when he rallies around one of his own, it shows the team he will fight for them as well. Heading into the playoffs, a team that knows their coach will give them his all is a great thing. More importantly, that means the team will give that coach everything they can to not disappoint them. That makes the Flyers a potentially dangerous team.