Fast out of the gate never has been a consistent hallmark of Frederik Andersen. Read MoreEarly traction on part of Andersen could give Leafs a leg up in series versus Columbus — Toronto Sun
Fast out of the gate never has been a consistent hallmark of Frederik Andersen.
If the National Hockey League’s return to play plans fall into place in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the Maple Leafs clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round, one of the more crucial factors involving the Leafs will be whether Andersen can buck a career trend.
The 30-year-old Andersen usually has required some time to find his stride from the beginning of the season, with the month of October serving as a period to get the kinks out.
Andersen’s combined numbers in October through the first seven seasons of his NHL career — the past four with Toronto after three with the Anaheim Ducks — add up to a record of 30-19-7 in 57 games with a .911 save percentage and a 2.69 goals-against average. Last October, Andersen was 6-2-2, but had a save percentage of .901 and a 3.03 goals-against average. That’s well below Andersen’s career save percentage of .917.
Has Andersen traditionally been terrible in the opening month? We wouldn’t go that far, but he has not been spectacular either. In a best-of-five series against Columbus, there won’t be a choice for Andersen: He’s going to have to be at his best, even taking into account the Blue Jackets don’t score a lot of goals (they were tied for third-fewest in the NHL with 180 during the 2019-20 regular season), from the opening faceoff.
There won’t be the luxury of time for Andersen to find a groove, which he usually does in the regular season, as his career .928 save percentage in November is his personal best in any month.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno summed up in general terms last week the importance of being locked in from the moment the puck is dropped to begin Game 1.
“The advantage is going to be huge if you can get out on top early,” Foligno said. “I think that’s going to be a mindset of ours.”
One factor that could work in the Leafs’ favour is the presence of Jack Campbell behind Andersen. We would figure coach Sheldon Keefe wouldn’t hesitate to go to Campbell if Andersen falters, a legitimate option the Leafs have not had at No. 2 since Curtis McElhinney was lost on waivers in October 2018.
Campbell played in just six games with the Leafs after being acquired from Los Angeles on Feb. 5, but quickly became popular with his new teammates with his enthusiastic approach and ability to stop the puck. Something to keep in mind, perhaps — Campbell has never played in an NHL playoff game.
While we would argue that in the bigger picture Andersen’s overall experience should give the Leafs an advantage in goal, Columbus wouldn’t be entering the series with concerns in net. Despite losing Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers in free agency last summer, the Jackets didn’t suffer in the crease, as Joonas Korpisalo and rookie Elvis Merzlikins shone.
Korpisalo made the Metropolitan Division team for the 2020 NHL all-star game but could not take part because of a knee injury. Merzlikins stepped in and was excellent, recording five shutouts in eight starts between Jan. 11 and Feb. 7. Merzlikins’ .923 save percentage in 33 games was best among NHL rookies who played in at least 20 games.
After he signed a two-year contract in April, Korpisalo indicated the competition to be the Jackets’ No. 1 goalie going forward would be intense.
“I’ve been fighting for my spot for a while in my career, so it’s nothing new,” Korpisalo said at the time. “It has been a lot of fun with Elvis. It doesn’t matter who plays, we support each other.”
Merzlikins and Korpisalo backed a stifling defence in Columbus in 70 games during the abbreviated regular season, one that limited the opposition to 187 goals, tied for third-fewest in the NHL. Neither has played in an NHL playoff game. Andersen has 48 on his resume.
What will be similar for any of the goaltenders potentially involved in the series will be the preparation time. Too many months will have elapsed since the end of the regular season for anything to carry forward (positive or negative), and it’s going to be a fresh slate for all of them once Phase 3 starts with full training camp (which the NHL said this week will not be before July 10).
Andersen told reporters earlier during the pause that part of his daily ritual during the downtime was keeping himself “mentally in the game.”
Once the series begins (we’re all hopeful that it will), Andersen is going to have to be at the top of his game mentally and physically — and without having had to worry about load management, that should not be a challenge.
There won’t be time for Andersen to get into a rhythm.