Frederik Andersen finding groove as Leafs' busy No. 1 goalie

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who stopped 40 of 42 shots in Tuesday's shootout loss to San Jose, is on pace for a career-high 67 starts this season, a sizeable uptick in workload from his three-year stint with the Ducks in Anaheim.

On track for career-high 67 starts after part-time workload with Ducks

Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen is on pace for a career-high 67 starts this season, a sizeable increase in workload from his three-year stint as a part-time starter in Anaheim. (Getty Images)

Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith usually blows the whistle shortly after practice wraps and orders those lingering to get off the ice, especially goaltender Frederik Andersen.

The Leafs' busy first-year starter from Denmark is playing a lot and playing well these days, the club wants to ensure he gets his rest so that continues.

The 27-year-old, who stopped 40 of 42 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, is on pace for a career-high 67 starts this season, a sizeable uptick in workload from his three-year stint as a part-time starter in Anaheim.

Andersen started 12 games last month, the second most of any month in his brief NHL career.

The Leafs intend to play him a whole bunch more the rest of the way, likely another 40 starts and perhaps more if the backup goalie situation fails to be resolved. Toronto demoted veteran Jhonas Enroth last week and has currently handed secondary duties to 22-year-old rookie Antoine Bibeau with veteran Karri Ramo, signed to a professional tryout, an uncertain long-term option.

Toronto head coach Mike Babcock has indicated that Andersen will make at least 60 starts. Only five Toronto goalies have ever started that many games in a single season, with Andrew Raycroft (a franchise record 71 in 2006-07) topping a group that includes Curtis Joseph (three times), Felix Potvin, Vesa Toskala, and Ed Belfour.

Andersen topped out at 53 starts in his sophomore season with the Ducks.

The increased demands have required adjustments, beginning with how he handles things mentally.

Andersen struggled badly in October and was admittedly overwhelmed between the ears, the weight of a new job, contract (five years, $25 million US), and pressure-packed market all taking their toll. The NHL's first and only Danish goaltender would often lay awake at night, stewing over what went wrong. He'd sink down the "rabbit-hole" and have trouble getting back out, the low-point of which was a career-worst seven-goal shellacking against Tampa.

Netflix serves as distraction

Andersen posted an ugly .876 percentage in his first month as a Leaf, surrendering four goals or more four times in his first five starts.

Working off the advice of Babcock, Andersen learned to disconnect from hockey when he left the rink, sinking into Netflix as one means of distraction. There was no time to be dwelling on the past; the schedule, which has seen him start 23 of the Leafs' first 28 games, was simple too busy for that.

"Those wins you enjoy them for a little bit and obviously if you don't win you think about your game a little bit. No matter what after that, you've got to just get over it," Andersen said before starting against San Jose with likely appearances ahead Thursday against Arizona and Saturday versus Pittsburgh.

Andersen has turned around his season since those early stumbles, compiling a strong .932 save percentage in 18 starts since that Oct. 25 thumping by the Lightning.

Some technical changes proved beneficial. Andersen realized he was being too aggressive in the crease, stepping too far outside the blue paint to challenge shots and relying more on his long six-foot-four frame than skill.

What mattered more was getting into position early, getting set for the shot.

Betting positioning

"A lot of goalies talk about how it's really 90 per cent of the save," Andersen said. "It's not really the shot, it's what you do before."

Andresen's better positioning and trust in his skill were evident against the Sharks. He wasn't overly aggressive when San Jose's captain Joe Pavelski fired a shot from the point on the power play. Instead, he was tucked just inside the blue paint, perfectly square to the shot and in proper position to make the save.

In another instance, Andersen quickly slid from left to right, correctly anticipating a good look for defenceman David Schlemko on another Sharks man advantage.

The Leaf goaltender was perfect for almost 53 minutes until San Jose struck for a quick pair before winning in the shootout.

Beyond technical and mental tweaks, Andersen has taken to keeping his off-days light in terms of physical activity. He might get in a good stretch or take a dip in the pool, but nothing overly taxing, even when it comes to practice.

Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere typically has Andersen and his backup on the ice a half-hour before the team's on-ice sessions, working through a few items before teammates join a short while later. Andersen uses that time to address Briere's concerns, get loose and see a few shots before the pace and intensity pick up.

"That way you know you're ready and you're not going to hurt yourself trying to keep up with the guys coming down the pipe and shooting to score," Andersen said.


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