Felix Sandstrom’s first NHL win was a long time coming
It took nine tries, but Felix Sandstrom finally earned his first win as an NHL goalie.
Felix Sandstrom’s first eight games as an NHLer didn’t exactly go smoothly.
Making his NHL debut last December in a tilt against the San Jose Sharks, the 25-year-old Philadelphia Flyers goaltender — then 24 — put together perhaps the best performance of his professional career. Sandstrom made a whopping 43 saves on 46 shots against that night to set the Flyers’ all-time record for most saves by a goalie in their debut. Still, his stellar performance wasn’t enough to earn his team the win as the Flyers fell 3-2 in overtime.
Following that tilt in San Jose, Sandstrom appeared in seven more games as a member of the Flyers, and all of them ended the same way — with a loss. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Rather, he was just pelted to submission with enemy shots. In his first eight games as a Flyer, he faced an average of 35.1 shots against per game.
Not exactly an ideal recipe for success.
Overall, the Swedish backstop had a .904 save percentage and 3.43 goals against average leading up to the Flyers’ latest contest against the St. Louis Blues. But despite those less-than-flattering numbers, Sandstrom showed out Tuesday night, turning aside all but one of the Blues’ 28 shots on goal to earn the first win of his NHL career while leading the Flyers to a 5-1 victory.
“It’s awesome, his first win. That’s huge,” said forward Noah Cates, who scored the Flyers’ third goal of the night. “With Carter (Hart) being out tonight — I think he was expecting to start — and then Felix comes up and has a huge game for us, some huge stops early to keep us in it.
“We’ve been relying on our goaltenders this year a little bit, but he was big for us and for him to get his first is really rewarding for this team and for him.”
Carter Hart, who has been the Flyers’ saving grace in the season’s early going, was initially on track to earn the start over Sandstrom against the Blues, but ended up being a late scratch due to an illness.
It’s unclear if Hart will be able to join the Flyers on their upcoming trip to Ohio for their contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night.
Sandstrom has haplessly been given some difficult assignments in each of his first three starts of the season — all of which coming in the second leg of back-to-back sets. But in his first opportunity to play behind a mostly rested squad, he didn’t disappoint. And frankly, it was an opportunity he more than deserved.
There’s been a common theme in many of Sandstrom’s recent starts with the Flyers, and it’s been a lack of goal support. In his first eight NHL starts, the Flyers averaged just 1.37 goals per game. They were shut out three times in those eight contests alone. But for the first time ever with Sandstrom in net, the Flyers managed to score more than three goals, and the offensive awakening ended up paying dividends.
“(Sandstrom)’s given us some good minutes. He hasn’t found a way to win, we gave him some run support tonight. He made some big saves when the game was still — who knows where it was gonna go,” said head coach John Tortorella.
“He’s worked hard, and I’m happy for him because he gets a result. He made a couple key saves at key times. It’s a 5-1 game, but when your goalie makes a couple key saves, you never know where it turns to if those pucks go in.”
If Hart does not join the Flyers in Columbus, Sandstrom could earn his second straight start. The Flyers recalled Samuel Ersson from Lehigh Valley Tuesday to serve as Sandstrom’s backup against St. Louis, and it’s possible he could back up Sandstrom once more against a poor Blue Jackets team that currently sits in the basement of the Metropolitan Division.