After the Toronto Maple Leafs blew a 2-0 lead Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, eventually losing 3-2 in overtime, goaltender Frederik Andersen let his team have it.
“We’ve got to regroup, I think we’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.
“I don’t think we’re tired. I think it’s a lack of effort at certain points and it’s something that can’t happen. We’ve got to figure this out if we want to play any meaningful hockey later.”
Andersen’s Comments a Long Time Coming
The Leafs’ loss to the Flyers was disappointing, to be sure. The fruits of two solid periods were squandered by two boneheaded plays in the third: Mitch Marner trying – and failing – to stickhandle his way out of trouble deep in his own zone, and, not two minutes later, no forward covering for a pinching defenseman, enabling the Flyers to tie the game on a shorthanded two-on-one.
A William Nylander misread in overtime created another odd-man rush against, leading to the winning goal.
Andersen was hung out to dry on all three goals against, there can be no denying that. But his frustration stems from more than just one game.
Leafs’ Andersen Under Siege
The Leafs allow the third-most shots in the National Hockey League (34.1 per game), while they average only eighteenth in shots for (31.3). Individually, Andersen has faced the most shots of any goaltender in the league this season (1,340), and it’s not even particularly close (95 clear of the next-highest mark heading into action Saturday).
On paper, the Leafs have the talent to even out that discrepancy. Throughout October and November, Toronto averaged 3.5 goals per game, while giving up an admittedly bloated 2.96. Nevertheless, a record of 17-9-1 is nothing to sneeze at.
However, for the last two months, Toronto has been in an extended slump, registering just eight wins in 20 games since Dec. 1 (their record is 8-8-4). Most concerningly, though they are allowing fewer goals against (2.7 per game) during that span, their scoring has fallen off a cliff, dropping 31 percent to an anemic 2.4 goals per game (for reference, only two teams have averaged fewer than 2.4 goals per game in 2017-18).
Andersen has not only had to play behind a Leafs team struggling to adapt to the more restrained, responsible style preached by the coaching staff, but also the utter refusal of Mike Babcock to ice his optimal lineup.
Throw in a sharp decrease in run support and some outright stupidity like we saw Thursday night – plays that hockey players learn not to make the second they pick up a stick – and it’s no wonder the guy snapped.
Leafs Saying All the Right Things
If I were Babcock, I’d welcome Andersen’s outburst; I’d rather someone be openly angry than silently frustrated; constructive outbursts like Andersen’s show a player cares. I’ll take engagement over apathy any day. And, as one of the most overworked, under-supported netminders in the league, he’s earned the right to vent.
To their credit, the Leafs seem to have taken Andersen’s message to heart, and are saying all the right things regarding their plan for turning it around (though Babcock did hint he would’ve rather handled things in-house).
It’s clear the team feels more than a little ashamed for the difficulty of the workload they regularly foist upon their starting goaltender. It’s good to see the players come out and take some responsibility for the way things have been going down.
It will be even better once they start translating their words into actions.
More Expected of Leafs This Season
If we pop back a few years, 2017-18 would probably not have been on the radar of Leafs fans as a campaign in which to expect much success. Certainly, challenging for a playoff spot would be preferred, but Toronto, should they qualify for the postseason, would still be at the “just happy to be here” stage of their development.
However, last season’s unexpected success accelerated the rebuild and outside expectations have adjusted accordingly. Whereas, in the depths of the miserable 2015-16 campaign, a hearty 11-point hold on the Atlantic Division’s third playoff spot this year would have been seen as nothing short of miraculous, the success of last season – a playoff appearance and surprisingly good showing against the powerhouse Washington Capitals – has rendered it expected.
With these increased expectations comes an increased need for accountability. Obviously, the Leafs’ coaching staff and management will hold the players accountable, while the fans and media will hold accountable the organisation as a whole. However, Andersen’s outburst shows the need for more internal accountability from the players.
Whether you want to attribute it to the team’s relative youth, the distractions and pressures of playing in Toronto, the decision to go another season without a captain, or something else entirely, it’s clear the team is still very much a work in progress, both on the ice and in the dressing room.
Leafs’ Schedule Allows for Opportunities
And that’s okay. We all need to be okay with that.
Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Dubas and the rest of the front office are the envy of most other organisations. Mike Babcock is one of the best – if not the best – coaches in the game. And the speed, skill and reasonable contracts that make up the on-ice product are perfectly suited for today’s NHL.
In terms of this season, only two teams have played more games that the Leafs, setting them up for a slightly more relaxed back half. Indeed, they have a (non-bye week) five-day gap in the schedule coming up, along with one four-day and two three-day breaks.
Maybe they can team-build on a fishing trip. What? What did I say?
Leafs Will Be Fine…Probably
In all seriousness, it seems like Andersen’s outburst was merely a case of him saying what everyone else was already thinking. Hopefully that translates into more success.
The Leafs are clearly rattled, but I think they’ll be fine.
That said, I’ve been saying that for two months now.
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.