Frederik Andersen searching for answers after worst career start

Watch as Steven Stamkos is booed by some fans at the Air Canada Centre then capitalizes off a turnover to score.

TORONTO – The volume will be turned up real loud now.

It’s bound to hit a pitch Frederik Andersen never previously experienced while spending three years tending goal for the Anaheim Ducks, or prior to that as he made his way from Denmark to Sweden and eventually North America.

This became his fate the minute he signed a five-year contract with the Maple Leafs over the summer, but the 27-year-old can be forgiven if he thought it would take longer than five starts before his first “crisis” arrived.

In Toronto, this is what happens when the goalie struggles. When he has a slow start to the season and allows seven goals on 24 shots, just as the jackals are circling.

Andersen hasn’t looked the least bit comfortable during his brief time in Leafs colours and acknowledged after Tuesday’s 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay that there’s a pretty good reason for that.

“Well, it’s definitely an adjustment,” he said. “But you’ve got to just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t try to change too much. I think that’s something I’ve got to do better – just play my game and the results should come.”

There is enough in the past to back up his case. The Leafs certainly feel as though they did the proper amount of diligence before acquiring his rights from Anaheim and offering up a $25-million contract.

You don’t have to look far beyond the upper-body injury that forced him out of the World Cup for theories on why he’s allowed 22 goals in just five regular-season games for Toronto.

The most popular – and potentially legitimate – is that Andersen is playing more aggressively than he has in the past, although Leafs coach Mike Babcock indicated that his No. 1 goaltender hadn’t yet been instructed to change his game.

“Now we’ve got to help him help himself,” said Babcock.

“I don’t want to go too much into that,” said Andersen, when asked if he’s struggling with stylistic changes. “I think it’s not an issue or anything I should worry about. I think I’ve just got to be better.”

During a career spanning 130 NHL games, he’d never been worse than Tuesday night.

It started with a bad break when a defensive zone turnover became a Steven Stamkos breakaway less than two minutes into the game, and ended with him surrendering seven goals for the first time ever. His previous worse outing also came at Air Canada Centre, when he gave up six in a start here for the Ducks in March.

At this point, the only thing that really matters if you’re the Leafs is determining what course of action is most likely to restore some of Andersen’s confidence.

Perhaps it will involve sitting him in favour of Jhonas Enroth on Thursday night. Maybe he’ll want to be thrown right back into the fire with James Reimer and the Florida Panthers in town.

The team is mindful of showing patience.

Babcock contemplated removing him from Tuesday’s game after the Lightning took a 4-0 lead, but a goal from William Nylander late in the second period changed his thought process.

“The other thing is that he’s my guy,” said Babcock. “I want him to play. So I could pull him and then say ‘OK, I showed you’ but what did I show him? To me, dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.

“What part’s mental and what part’s physical? In anything you do, none of us really know. I just know when (you’re) really strong mentally you tend to bounce back in a hurry, so that’s the challenge for him.”

At this point, the challenges are many.

He’s playing behind a young team that isn’t likely to be a stingy as the one he came from, but it’s also a team that has been scoring for him. Auston Matthews now finds himself leading the NHL with 10 points, while Nylander is in the group one behind.

And yet, the Leafs only have one victory to show for their six games so far.

It’s still incredibly early in the season, but all of those factors have combined to point the detective’s flashlight in his direction.

“We’ve just got to give him a pat on the back,” said defenceman Matt Hunwick. “He’s a great goalie and we have to do a better job helping him out.”

That’s probably as good a start as any.

As more doubt grows around Andersen, he sounds like he’s doubting himself. The soft-spoken Dane was understandably rattled while trying to account for what went wrong against Tampa.

“I don’t know where to start,” he said. “I didn’t feel good right away, I felt like everything bounced the wrong way and I wasn’t able to make any saves when we needed to.”

New territory, indeed.

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