At the Leafs’ morning skate prior to the team’s Tuesday game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, coach Mike Babcock had a few choice words for a reporter when hounded on the question of Toronto’s historically subpar goaltending.
“Holy (expletive). Let’s move on.”
Hours later, after the Toronto was thumped 7-3, the crowd of 19,449 at Air Canada Centre was likely uttering similar profanities following Frederik Andersen’s dismal appearance in which the netminder stopped just 17 of 24 shots.
To be as fair as possible to Andersen, the defensive effort in front of him was thoroughly suspect. Less than eighty seconds from the opening faceoff, Auston Matthews made an ill-fated clearing attempt into the middle of the ice that was picked off by Andrej Sustr, who spotted the most dangerous guy in the rink – Steven Stamkos – for the game’s first goal.
It’s a good thing that Matthews can find the back of the net. His goal and assist vaulted him into the top spot in NHL scoring with ten points (6 goals, 4 assists).
But back to Andersen, whose performance over the five games he has played as a Leaf has been worrisome, to put it mildly.
The game took a turn for the worse when Alex Killorn potted home a loose puck after Andersen flubbed the point shot from Lightning defenceman Braydon Coburn.
And while Andersen certainly wouldn’t be the first goaltender to be bested by Stamkos – who ended up with two goals in a four-point effort – the keeper’s play has been plagued by nervousness, and an appalling lack of rebound control.
Even when the Leafs crept to within 5-3 in the third period to make the game interesting, Andersen left a juicy rebound in the crease area on a Tampa four-minute power play on which Vladislav Namestikov capitalized to put the game out of reach.
Many pundits questioned Babcock’s decision to leave Andersen between the pipes for the entire duration of the game.
“I want him to play He’s my guy, I want him to play,” the coach said in response. “So, I could pull him and say, ‘Okay, I showed you.’ What did I show him? To me – dig in with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.”
The Leafs’ goals were provided by William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Matthews. The Matthews-Nylander combination continues to flourish, evidenced by each players’ two-point night. Nylander sits just a point behind Matthews in the scoring race.
Andersen, meanwhile, reflected on his dreadful start to the season in which he has posted a minuscule .851 save percentage and alarming 4.28 goals-against average.
“You’ve got to challenge yourself to work harder,” he said. “That’s the only thing to get out of it if you aren’t feeling like you’re being hit with the puck or seeing the puck. You’ve got to work hard to see it and I think that’s the only way to get out of it.”