Throughout his three seasons as a Toronto Maple Leaf, goaltender Frederik Andersen has done nothing but provide stellar goaltending. As he heads into his fourth season as the starter, and second last before negotiating a new contract, Andersen is poised for another strong season this year.
The netminder has proven that he’s a starter in the league and that he’s capable of being one of the top goalies in the league. Last year with goalies that played in at least 45 games, Andersen was third in wins (36), eighth in save percentage (.917) and 14th in goals against average (2.77). Those are good numbers. As he continues to get better, this year could be a career year, as it’s even possible that a Vezina Trophy could be in his future.
Preseason an Indicator?
Although the preseason isn’t the be-all and end-all for a team’s success, it’s a good indication of where the players are at in terms of their performance. Throughout the preseason, he only allowed one goal and that was against the Ottawa Senators in his first game, followed by three consecutive shutouts.
You could make the case that Andersen played in games where he didn’t face strong competition, as teams didn’t have their best lineups penned in. However, Andersen played in games where teams had a number of regulars playing, especially against the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings. Andersen himself didn’t have a full roster play in front of him until the very last game when the Maple Leafs shutout the Red Wings 5-0.
Even when Andersen didn’t have his full starting lineup in front of him, he seemed to be more focused, dialled in and calmer in the net. This was the case in the first preseason game against the Senators when he made an outstanding save on forward Anthony Duclair over 30 seconds into the first period.
It’s clear that Andersen is primed to have another great season and once again be a key factor. Again, preseason may not matter to everyone, but it does for the players, no matter if you’re battling for a spot or a veteran. They want to give it their best and Andersen gave his best and then some.
It’s safe to say that Andersen was already in regular-season form before the season even started. While preseason stats don’t count, you can’t deny the fact that Andersen’s three straight games with a shutout is impressive no matter what part of the season it is. This could be the start of a career year for number 31.
Mindset and Training
When asked about his focus during the offseason with TSN, Andersen stated that his main focus was to maintain his health and get more ice time and practice ahead of training camp.
For Andersen, health is a concern. During the 2018-19 season, Andersen missed most of his game time as a result of a nagging groin injury. While he didn’t miss any extensive time, his health is key if he wants to have a career season and play his best when it comes to the playoffs.
Even before getting to camp for this year, Andersen went through an interesting yet unconventional training regimen last season. He took part in one of the most gruelling Navy SEAL training sessions, Hell Week.
With the assistance of goaltending coach Steve Briere and Andersen’s performance coach Scott Prohaska, Andersen took part in a number of stress-inducing challenges that would make anyone want to quit in the first five minutes of the five-and-a-half day event.
“It’s a way of training your mind to be able to take a second before you make your instinct reaction,” Andersen said in a post on NHL.com. “It can be a way of learning how to get rid of stress and I think one of the key things that I took away from it was probably controlling what you can control.”
Andersen also added that; “Let’s say you have one thing you prefer that you do to a 100 percent comfortability and you’re only at 50 percent on the other two, but if you can work the other two up to close to the same and feel 100 percent comfortable in every situation then you have really nothing to worry about, you just go out there and play.”
As extreme as this event is, I can understand why an NHL goalie like Andersen would want to take part in this event. It’s a way for anyone to deal with and overcome stressful situations where you may not feel relaxed or at ease. There’s no more stressful position in hockey than being a goaltender. When the pressure is on in the defensive end, that’s when the stress can get to a player. For Andersen, we’re starting to see a calmer demeanour in the net. Improving his mental game is key to not let anything get the best of him.
Like this paddle save on Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Even though it happened a year before, it doesn’t get as stressful as this during the most important time of the year.
Load Management and Backup Situation
Head coach Mike Babcock wants to get the most of his starting goalie. But there might be times when you need to give one of your star players a break. If load management is the answer then so be it. Andersen recently talked more about possible load management and about playing fewer games this year.
Andersen has been one of the busiest goalies since the Maple Leafs acquired him. He has faced over 6,200 shots and has made over 5,700 saves while recording 107 wins. While those numbers are pretty high, he’s handled the pressure extremely well. Even so, resting Andersen for an additional few games won’t hamper the Maple Leafs run for a Stanley Cup. In fact, it’ll help to rest more during the season and playing him more down the stretch when the games start to matter.
Although there’s an improved team in front of him, that’s not where the question mark lies.
The real concern for the Maple Leafs would be at the back-up position. If the team does choose to give Andersen some time off and Michael Hutchinson steps up to the plate, will he provide some consistency? The club didn’t get that much help from Garret Sparks last season. Hutchinson hasn’t seen much action in the NHL since he played in 28 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016-17. He played in three during the 2017-18 season and nine games in total last season with the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
During the preseason, the role was going to go to him or Michal Neuvirth. Even after the Maple Leafs released Neuvirth from his professional tryout, Hutchinson did a great job and made the most of his starts to earn the back-up roll. If his play from the preseason translates to the regular season, then there shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
During a Toronto Maple Leafs Roundtable discussion, the topic of the team Most Valuable player came up and my choice was Andersen. If the Maple Leafs are going to make a deep playoff run, they’re going to have to rely on Andersen to carry the load and have a year unlike any other before.
If the workload is lightened and Hutchinson can help out at times to provide above-average relief in net, there’s no reason to suggest that Andersen, a top-10 goalie in the league, couldn’t have the best season of his career.