TORONTO – For most of us, the golf course can be a place where we discover frustration.
For Frederik Andersen, it will be the place he seeks to lose his.
The Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender — who got lit up Saturday like that Christmas tree you’ve totally been meaning to drag to the curb — will be among a foursome of Leafs hopping a flight to Augusta National during the bye week to swing the irons and forget the kind of week they’d all rather take a mulligan on.
“It’s time to just look in the mirror right now for everyone here, myself included,” said Andersen, as the Maple Leafs tumbled out of playoff position.
“It’s not a time to point fingers or anything like that. I think you’ve got to use this week to reflect and make sure we come with more intensity and more purpose when we play after the break.”
No, life hasn’t been all azaleas and pimento cheese sandwiches for the Leafs’ final line of defence.
And Saturday’s 6-2 shelling by the wild-card-hunting Chicago Blackhawks sends Toronto into its CBA-mandated vacation as losers of five of its past six and getting leaped in the Atlantic standings by Florida, a club with two games in hand.
Don’t be surprised if Andersen funnels his fury and outdrives teammates Jake Muzzin, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen in Georgia.
Regarded in this town as a master of his own domain, with his backups sopping up all the fan base’s goaltending-related vitriol, Andersen has been something less than up to his usual standard for more than a month now.
He’s allowed a minimum of three goals in 11 of his past 14 starts and has been pulled twice in January. Andersen’s save percentages in his past six starts read like this: .842, .893, .667, .862, .969, .824.
Ironically, due to this subpar stretch, the veteran goaltender will arrive at his first NHL All-Star Game on pace for his worst career save percentage (.909).
Post-game, Keefe said he’d contemplated pulling Andersen again — “for our good.”
“Nights like this where maybe we don’t have our game early, a goaltender of his calibre, he has the ability to keep us in that game, find our legs, find our game,” Keefe said. “I don’t think he’s happy with how things have gone here of late. I think that he recognizes that he can be better and that he’s part of our group.”
The whole team is better than this, of course. If it’s infuriating from a fan perspective, well, it’s starting to hit Keefe, who feels an onus to rid the room of immaturity.
In barking at his players during Saturday’s first TV timeout and in airing them publicly from the post-game podium, Keefe exhibited the most frustration of his brief tenure.
“Reality checks come. I thought we were an immature team down in Florida. I thought we were an immature team here today. That’s how we’re approaching these things. We’re not performing. We’re not playing with any level of discipline or consistency,” Keefe said.
“We have to just continue to remind them of it. I think what’s nice about events like this and events like Florida is, it’s obvious. It’s right there.”
To be sure, the Leafs’ swelling figure in the goals-allowed column isn’t all on Andersen.
A rash of turnovers, missed assignments and odd-man rushes parading down Main Street flares up every other outing, and the battered defence remains a work in progress. (Saturday, Keefe went with the unconventional seven-defencemen option to ensure call-up Timothy Liljegren got his first taste of NHL action.)
“It’s not on Freddie,” John Tavares said. “I feel bad for him because we just don’t do a good enough job consistently with the opportunities we’re giving up and the way we’re careless at times.”
Still, Andersen has to wear some of this.
Chicago’s Drake Caggiula beat Andersen 21 seconds in. Jonathan Toews followed by sniping five-hole during a delayed penalty call. And Patrick Kane set up the newly healthy Brandon Saad for a quick 3-0 lead and his 999th career point.
“They just came out really hard, came out with a purpose, and we were pretty flat,” Auston Matthews said. “They score a goal on the first shift, so I think it just means we weren’t really ready to play.”
Whenever Toronto began clawing back — a Nylander power-play marker here, an Alexander Kerfoot tip there — the Blackhawks struck right back with a goal or two of their own.
Toews finished with a four-point night.
His winger, rookie Dominik Kubalik, popped into the Calder Trophy conversation with his 19th and 20th goals, the latter a beautiful baseball thwack out of midair.
“They can score goals in bunches,” Keefe said.
The early onslaught sucked so much life out of the rink, the Leafs who gained the biggest cheer were legends Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming for this fun stunt:
Some @MapleLeafs legends in the house. #HockeyNight pic.twitter.com/X9tjtOWSAQ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 19, 2020
The fans at Scotiabank Arena, remembering a time when Andersen saved goals in bunches, even showered the home goalie with a Bronx cheer during a routine save.
That’s how ugly it’s getting.
“The way I see it, I think it’s easier for players to play well when you have support, and sometimes don’t get it,” said Andersen, sounding humbled but determined. “But you also got to work and play well to get that kind of support.”
Leafs Nation can only hope the goalie shakes his yips and rediscovers his fun, his confidence on the links.
“It’s in here,” Andersen said. “We all know that.”
When Andersen is dialed in, few are better.
When he’s not, the Maple Leafs are somewhere over that far mound, maybe bouncing to the right of that juniper, lost in the deep rough.