ANAHEIM, Calif. – This remains his happy place.
It’s been 17 months since Freddie Andersen migrated north to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he still exudes a California cool. The Dane returns here for two months of R-and-R each off-season – working on his body with trainer Scot Prohaska and easing his mind with the activities on offer in Orange County.
“You can relax, you can golf, you can live healthy,” said Andersen. “You can go out to eat and still get good food. It’s a good area.”
It might just be where Freddie got his groove back.
There were no signs of Andersen’s October blues during a 3-1 win over Anaheim in his first start at Honda Center since he played for the Ducks. They were nowhere to be found in the dispiriting loss at San Jose on Monday, either.
Even with the Leafs playing much better in front of him, Andersen needed to be sharp. He tracked the puck well through traffic, absorbing a Hampus Lindholm chance and gloving a Francois Beauchemin point blast as part of a 17-save second period.
“It feels nice,” said Andersen. “It’s a big win for our team though, because we need to get back on track and we did.”
The Leafs had lost three straight and seen head coach Mike Babcock make widespread changes to his lineup. The move to centre didn’t hurt Patrick Marleau. He scored the winner early in the third period and saw linemates James van Riemsdyk and Connor Brown connect on the opening goal.
Marleau was even on the ice when Leo Komarov hit the empty net.
The Leafs did a lot of winning during Andersen’s early struggles because they outscored their problems. The goals have dried up with the power plays no longer getting handed out like Halloween candy. Toronto went an incredible 131 minutes 30 seconds without a man advantage before Antoine Vermette was called for tripping in the second period.
“We’ve got to find other ways to score,” said van Riemsdyk, who feathered a pass between Sami Vatanen’s legs to set up Brown’s fourth goal of the season.
You’d never know that those two Leafs have seldom played together.
“I was actually looking to do something else the whole way – a different way to get him the puck – and then that was pretty much the only play available,” van Riemsdyk explained.
The only goal Andersen gave up came when Ondrej Kase’s shot deflected off teammate Andreas Borgman’s skate. Jakob Silfverberg briefly appeared to tie the game 2-2 with 1:38 left in regulation, but he was deemed to have kicked the puck in.
Andersen stopped 64 of 67 shots overall in California and will cede the crease to backup Curtis McElhinney for Thursday’s game in Los Angeles.
His save percentage has crept up to .901 and, more importantly, the results are starting to match the work he’s put in. The No. 1 has been in some need of positive reinforcement.
“It’s hard to believe that a NHL player wouldn’t have confidence because you think they’re that good,” said Babcock. “But it’s true. It’s fleeting. So when you’ve got ‘er going you feel good about yourself, you’ve got jump and you’re loose. And when you don’t have ‘er going you spend all your time wearing yourself out thinking about it and trying to get it going.
“But the secret is if you work hard all the time when you’ve got ‘er going you keep it going.”
Andersen had some bounces on his side with Rickard Rackell and Beauchemin each striking iron behind him. Auston Matthews and William Nylander met the same fate behind Anaheim’s John Gibson.
The Andersen-Gibson tandem helped the Ducks reach Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference final and was only broken up because there wasn’t enough net to go around. Andersen was the older and more expensive of the two, and now describes his trade to Toronto as a “win-win for both of us.”
He didn’t get the start here when the Leafs visited last season because it fell on the second half of a back-to-back. The Ducks are still getting used to seeing him in blue and white.
“I know him very well,” said Silfverberg, who faced Andersen in a playoff series in Sweden before playing with him here. “He’s a hell of a goalie and it’s tough to score on him.”
That wasn’t the case over a 10-game stretch to start the season where he was beaten 36 times. His first month last year was rough as well.
Babcock didn’t mince words when asked if his goaltender’s calm exterior helps him handle the more stressful aspects of his job: “Well, I haven’t seen it in Octobers.”
He quickly pointed out that the calendar had just turned to November.
Andersen was in a positive frame of mind after meeting former teammate Andrew Cogliano for sushi at Nobu in Newport Beach on Tuesday night and visiting with a few other pals here at Honda Center.
“It’s always fun to see some old friends,” he said.
It’s even better to feel like your old self.