On Nov. 7, fans witnessed classic old-school hockey when the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen allowed only one goal on 38 shots in the 2-1 overtime victory against the Vegas Golden Knights. At the far end of the ice, Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban was as amazing – well, almost. Subban stood tall against his hometown Maple Leafs, but that just wasn’t enough.
Obviously, given the title of my post, I will make the point that Andersen has picked up his game and is fast becoming the “Steady Freddie” Maple Leafs fans have come to appreciate and expect. However, perhaps something should be said about Subban’s amazing performance as well.
Obviously, future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury is the number one goalie in Vegas and the team’s heart-and-soul leader; but, the 25-year-old Subban looked every bit an NHL goalie in his first-ever start in his hometown of Toronto. He was shaky in the team’s Hockey Night in Canada loss to the Winnipeg Jets last Saturday, but he was so much better against the Maple Leafs.
Subban made 35 saves in the game, and many were from close range. But the Golden Knights were being consistently frustrated by Andersen who not only stood on his head but seemed to play every angle perfectly and anticipate every possibility before it happened. He was also the epitome of confident – often simply tossing the puck from his glove up in the air and then to a nearby referee.
The only Golden Knights goal came early in the third period when defenseman Cody Ceci made a brutal turnover or an unlucky clearing attempt (choose the one you wish, depending upon what you think of Ceci). It was impossible for Andersen to make that save, but he was absolutely perfect for the remainder of the game.
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As a result of his heroics in net, both the team and the goalie have now won three games in a row. At this point in the season, Andersen has a 9-2-2 record with a 2.69 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage.
Before Andersen Came to Toronto
Prior to playing in Toronto, the “Great Dane” had a successful three-year career with the Anaheim Ducks. Actually, Andersen had been first drafted in the seventh round (No. 187) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. But, because Cam Ward was entrenched as the goalie, Andersen decided to remain in Denmark.
The Anaheim Ducks then picked him in the third round (No. 87 overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Andersen made his first NHL start on Oct. 20, 2013, when he replaced Jonas Hiller to start the second period in a 6-3 victory against the Dallas Stars. He made 24 saves to shut out the Stars during the final two periods.
During the 2014-15 season, Andersen and John Gibson became goaltending partners with the Ducks. That season, Andersen led the duo with a 35-12-5 record, a 2.38 goals-against average, and a .914 save percentage. He led the Ducks to the 2015 Western Conference Final.
Andersen also tied Canadiens’ goalie Bill Durnan’s long-held record as the fastest goaltender to reach the 50-win mark in NHL history with his 50th NHL victory in his 68th game. In 2015-16, Andersen and Gibson teamed to win the William M. Jennings Trophy by allowing the fewest goals (192) during the regular season.
Andersen is in Toronto today because, when his contract with the Ducks was ending, Anaheim decided to keep Gibson as their starting goalie. Andersen became expendable and was traded to the Maple Leafs for the 30th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (the Ducks picked Sam Steel, a 21-year-old center who’s playing in his second season with the Ducks) and a second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (the Ducks picked Maxime Comtois, a 20-year old winger who’s also playing in his second season with the Ducks). The jury remains out about the long-term impact of the trade from the Ducks’ perspective.
But we know what happened to Andersen. He immediately became Toronto’s No. 1 goalie, playing 66 games in each of his first two seasons, winning 33 games in 2016-17 and 38 in 2017-18. Last season, he was injured and “only” played 60 games, winning 36.
Is Andersen the Maple Leafs’ MVP?
There’s a case to be made that Andersen is the team’s MVP this season and has been since he came to the Maple Leafs for the 2016-17 season. Andersen is thriving with the Maple Leafs. He’s an aggressive goalie who attacks shooters, steals their angles, and uses his size to block shots. That was evident in the Nov. 7 game against the Golden Knights.
So far this season, the play of the Maple Leafs has been both a surprise and a disappointment. Frankly, the team was expected to be stronger. Obviously, that hasn’t happened – so far. However, the team has now won three games in a row and that might be the start of something. That Andersen is improving with every game is perhaps even more important.
Andersen’s rounding into form couldn’t come at a better time. During the last two games – the 4-3 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night and the Thursday night win over the Golden Knights – Andersen stood tall exactly when the team needed him to.
Against the Flyers, it looked as if the team was trying to give the game away by taking a penalty during the first minute of overtime, but Andersen held the fort. In that game, during a shootout that went 11 rounds, only Travis Konecny scored for the Flyers. Andersen stopped the other ten shooters; in round 11, Andreas Johnsson scored the game-winner for Toronto.
The Maple Leafs’ Prognosis for the Season
In truth, the Maple Leafs have a strong core of young players and veterans. Still, it’s not likely that they’ll go far either in the regular season or the Stanley Cup playoffs without Andersen leading them. If the team hopes to make a long playoff run, they simply need Andersen to be their best player.
Fortunately, he’s beginning to once again look like he’s becoming the “Steady Freddie” the fans have come to appreciate.