TORONTO – Amid the noise, and the goal horns, Frederik Andersen chose to trust the process.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have done an awful lot of winning to open this season, but there’s been reason for some mild concern about the stoic goaltender. The most obvious warning sign came from the stat sheet – he carried an .892 save percentage into Monday’s game – but the Dane has insisted it’s only a matter time before his results started to align with the way he’s playing.
And then the unbeaten Los Angeles Kings came to town and threw a ton of pucks in his direction. He stopped 27 in the opening 30 minutes alone.
“There was no rebounds,” said defenceman Roman Polak. “He played great for us.”
It was arguably his sharpest performance since the season-opening victory in Winnipeg. Andersen bought the Leafs time to find their way against a heavy Kings team and was a big reason why they managed to grind out a 3-2 victory.
Playing behind a group with this much offensive talent occasionally has its drawbacks.
Sure, he’s getting more goal support than anyone else in the league, but he’s also been left to look like the weak link on a couple occasions. During Saturday’s 6-3 loss in Ottawa, the Leafs allowed a flood of odd-man rushes against – part of the season-high 17 scoring chances they gave up overall.
And yet, teammates have detected no hint of frustration from Andersen. Behind closed doors he’s not urging them to lock things down a little more.
“He’s such a good guy so I don’t think it matters,” said winger Leo Komarov. “Like last year, we lost those tight games and now we’re winning them. I think he’s happy for the win and he helps us a lot.”
As an added bonus, Anderson saw his save percentage jump by eight one-hundredths of a point to get back on the right side of .900.
With it being so early in the season he’s not very far from respectability – although that remains much more of an external measurement than anything he and goalie coach Steve Briere concern themselves with.
“Stats are never anything I worry about,” said Andersen. “What I look at is video and I prepare the same way no matter what my stats are. I approach the goals that go in and the saves I made the same, and it’s either something I’ve got to learn from or something I’m doing well.”
He didn’t have to steal the game against the Kings, but there were some highlight-worthy moments – most notably a slide across the crease to deny Tanner Pearson in the second period.
The only blemishes came when Adrian Kempe beat him with a snapshot from the off-wing – the puck may have deflected off teammate Jake Gardiner’s stick – and Trevor Lewis scored on a short-handed breakaway late in regulation.
Despite getting off to a 7-2-0 start, the Leafs are still tinkering with their game on the defensive side of the puck. Polak was paired with Andreas Borgman one day after being signed to a contract while Connor Carrick sat out as a scratch and Calle Rosen joined the AHL Marlies.
Los Angeles established plenty of zone time in the early going and wound up controlling 55.3 per cent of even-strength shot attempts. Leafs coach Mike Babcock felt a lot of the action was coming from the perimeter.
“I thought Freddie made the saves he needed to and I thought he was steady,” he said. “They broke out too easy in the first. We weren’t on them enough. Then, as the game got on, we got there.”
On a team built like the Leafs, steady should be good enough from the goalie on most nights. They have four lines that can generate chances – fourth-liner Mitch Marner earned praise on Monday for creating chances and making a nice play before Matt Martin opened the scoring.
Tyler Bozak chipped in a power-play goal while Patrick Marleau tipped home his fourth of the season.
No one was really talking about Auston Matthews and William Nylander and they combined for 13 shots on goal by themselves.
“If we don’t check them we don’t win,” Kings coach John Stevens said beforehand. “If you don’t check Toronto – they’re clipping at about five goals a game, so if you have got to score six to beat them – teams have found out you don’t beat them.”
That’s what makes Andersen’s level-headed approach so important. After dropping weight in the summer, he didn’t panic when the personal results weren’t there right away.
The games always tighten up as the season goes along, and he’s going to see more action than most. It’s a process.
“I think I’m moving well,” said Andersen. “Some details (to work on) here and there, but obviously I’ve got to do my part as well.”