TORONTO – The afternoon after his worst NHL game, Frederik Andersen’s name was still trending on Twitter and a thick scrum surrounded a man who feels much smaller than 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds.
Giving up seven goals in Tuesday’s loss to Tampa and 22 through his first five starts as a Toronto Maple Leaf, Andersen admitted Wednesday after practice that his early struggles were “mostly mental.”
Yes, he missed training camp with his new club. Yes, he suffered an upper-body injury in September that kept him out of the World Cup. And, yes, as coach Mike Babcock noted, the Auston Matthews line everyone is raving about started Tuesday’s loss minus-2.
Six games into Andersen’s intended five-year run as the Leafs No. 1 goalie, fans and critics have jumped to questioning whether cash-flush Toronto may have misspent another $25 million. But no one is harder on Andersen than Andersen, the goalie will tell you.
“I have high expectations for myself, and I have to keep working on meeting them,” said the 27-year-old Dane. “Maybe that’s something that gets in the way. I try a bit too hard maybe. Once you relax and you’re able to play your game a bit more, you’re able to do better.”
It’s a nasty, spiralling paradox. He allows a bobbled deke or is slow to swallow a leaky rebound, then he grips his stick too hard, wanting desperately to play better, pressuring himself to relax.
“Andy knows that he’s my guy,” said Babcock, who debated pulling his guy after Period 1 but wanted to see him battle through the blowout with the rest of the team.
The Leafs are pot committed, so the coach sees a small-sample .851 save percentage that can only rebound closer toward the .919 Andersen posted last season in Anaheim — starting with Thursday’s start versus Florida.
“When you look at his numbers over the last three years and you look at his numbers with us, they’re not the same,” Babcock said. “I know these things have a way of evening out. When you’re good, you don’t just lose it. So we talked about that here today.
“We need him to be as good as he’s capable of being, and that’s what he wants too — and that’ll happen.”
Andersen says the path to confidence is persistence, and so he and goaltending coach Steve Briere put in time working on specifics he’d rather keep vague, citing the goalie fraternity code.
“Everyone’s had tough times, so you just gotta keep working at it, and that’s what we’re doing today,” said Andersen, soft spoken as always. He sounded like he was talking himself into belief.
“All that matters is what you do next. You just got to keep working hard. Work towards stopping the next puck.”
There’s no other choice.