‘You have lit­tle dips’

Busy work­load hasn’t come with­out hitch for Leafs’ goalie An­der­sen

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JONAS SIEGEL THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Fred­erik An­der­sen is headed for one of the busiest sea­sons in NHL his­tory.

The 27-year-old is on pace to face 2,173 shots in his first sea­son with the Toronto Maple Leafs in what would be the 15th high­est to­tal ever. Only 31 times in league his­tory has a goal­tender faced even 2,100 shots in a sin­gle sea­son - Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward the last to do so five years ago.

Fac­ing four shots per-game more this sea­son than last with Ana­heim, An­der­sen should blow by a ca­reer-high for shots faced in one sea­son by the week­end. But the busy work­load hasn’t come with­out a hitch or two in the first go-around for An­der­sen, a part-time starter pre­vi­ously with the Ducks.

An­der­sen has posted an .894 save per­cent­age since Jan. 1. That in­cludes a su­perb 38-save ef­fort in a 2-1 over­time de­feat against St. Louis on Thurs­day night.

“Well it hasn’t been good enough but there’s times in the year you have lit­tle dips,” Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock said be­fore fac­ing the Blues. “You’ve just got to make sure you work hard ev­ery sin­gle day and those dips are shorter and they don’t hap­pen as of­ten.

“So that’s the chal­lenge for him.”

Un­like Cam Tal­bot, who’s been rather con­sis­tent while lead­ing the league both in shots faced and starts for the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers, An­der­sen has been up and down. There were sig­nif­i­cant Oc­to­ber woes (.876 save per­cent­age), stu­pen­dous highs in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber (.939), and a se­ries of lows in Jan­uary and early Fe­bru­ary.

He hasn’t been helped at times ei­ther by the Leafs some­times wob­bly de­fen­sive play.

An­der­sen says he and Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere cer­tainly take that into ac­count when eval­u­at­ing per­for­mance. Some­times an op­po­nent might score five and “you feel worse than you ac­tu­ally played” and other times the stat-line might look great but was more the re­sult of strong team play.

“You’ve got to take own­er­ship of what you can do,” said An­der­sen, stuck on 99 ca­reer wins for al­most a week. “Say it’s a big scor­ing chance; you’ve still got to look at what your­self could’ve done in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.

“That’s how you learn and get bet­ter. You can’t just pass up the blame ev­ery time. You’ve got to know when it’s re­al­is­tic for you to im­prove and do some­thing dif­fer­ent in the net.”

Briere keeps that in­for­ma­tion in “this lit­tle book and gives me the in­for­ma­tion he needs to give me”, added An­der­sen, the only Dan­ish net­min­der in NHL his­tory.

The big test for An­der­sen this sea­son was whether he could ca­pa­bly han­dle the work­load of a No. 1. Toronto made that bet in sign­ing him for five years and US$25 mil­lion last sum­mer fol­low­ing a trade from Ana­heim.

So far the an­swer would be yes, though re­cent re­turns un­der heavy strain have been less favourable.

This sea­son, An­der­sen has been a touch bet­ter than aver­age, tied for 15th among reg­u­lar starters with a .915 save per­cent­age and 19th with a .918 even­strength clip. He car­ries the 18th-high­est cap hit ($5 mil­lion) among all goal­tenders this year.

The Leafs need An­der­sen to be ef­fec­tive if they hope to qual­ify for the play­offs. But they’ve also be­come right­fully wary about his work­load - which risks not only in­ef­fec­tive per­for­mance but in­jury.

An­der­sen has al­ready faced 1,406 shots in 44 starts (nearly 32 per game) and clos­ing on the ca­reer-most 1,436 shots he han­dled in his sec­ond NHL cam­paign. He’s cur­rently pace to make 68 starts this year with a new ca­reer-high likely to be es­tab­lished by early March.

Ide­ally that num­ber would be closer to 60, Bab­cock said.

The ab­sence of a trusted backup over the first few months of the sea­son is partly to blame for An­der­sen’s hearty us­age. That’s why Toronto scooped up Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney off waivers from Colum­bus in early Jan­uary.

So far the 33-year-old has de­liv­ered, win­ning two-of-three starts with a .955 save per­cent­age.

Bab­cock said how many games An­der­sen plays the rest of the way will de­pend “on how he’s play­ing and how fresh he is and de­pend­ing on how our team is play­ing and also how (McEl­hin­ney’s) play­ing.”

His­tory, in other words, may have to wait.

CP PHOTO

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Fred­erik An­der­sen (31) makes a save against the St. Louis Blues dur­ing NHL ac­tion Thurs­day in Toronto.

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