Leafs Notebook – Dissecting Frederik Andersen’s slow start – October 30

Photo: USA Today Images

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Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs
USA Today Images

Maybe October just isn’t Frederik Andersen’s month.

Last season, he was the new goalie in town and had the type of slow start that gave Leafs fans bad flashbacks – in seven October games, he posted a .876 save percentage and allowed 3.67 goals against per game.

This season’s numbers are a marked improvement by comparison, as he has a .890 save percentage in 10 games and a 3.61 goals against average.

After October last season, Andersen started 59 games and posted a .922 save percentage. He was arguably the team’s MVP in helping to get them to the playoffs.

So first thing’s first: Any panic seems premature at this point. He would not be the first goalie, or player in general, to start slow.

For the team that has allowed the sixth most goals in the league, though, it’s not all on one player. They are giving up the seventh most shots against per game, although according to Natural Stat Trick, they are 20th in high danger scoring chances against. One big factor in all of this is score effects, as Toronto leads the league in first period goals with 19 and there have been a few games where they have run up early leads and taken their foot off the pedal.

I went back and re-watched all the goals Andersen has allowed so far. This is how I charted it:

One timer in slotShot in home plateDeflectionReboundPoint ShotOutside home plate
4156531

By my count, most of the goals so far are coming from the primary scoring area – right in front of the net. Shots in the home plate area include breakaways, two on ones, and goals off turnovers in the slot. Add in one-timers in the slot, plus the rebounds and deflections all happen in the slot, too. There was only one goal I really didn’t like when looking through the tape – the Val Filppula goal on Saturday that I recorded outside of home plate (although it’s close).

The easy thing to do is look at the goalie and blame him, especially coming off of a week in which the team allowed 13 goals in three games. But that appears to be a lazy narrative at this point. The team is generally going up early, taking their foot off the pedal, and giving up high-quality scoring chances that their opponents are burying.

Andersen started slowly last season, too. He found his form after a rough first month and went on to have a solid year; the team also settled down a bit defensively as the games tightened up. It has been a disappointing start defensively — Toronto is giving up the fourth most goals per game — but it’s not time to panic yet.


Notes

– One quote I’ve always liked from Babcock is that good teams dominate the second period because of the long change and managing the puck. The Leafs are tied for 27th in goals for in the second period and have a minus six goal differential in general.

– I was a bit surprised the team went with Kasperi Kapanen over Nikita Soshnikov. Kapanen has three goals in six games in the AHL on 11 shots on net, compared to Soshnikov’s six points in eight games on 26 shots on net. Points aren’t everything – and Kapanen has set up quite a few chances that haven’t been buried from what I’ve seen – but Soshnikov is averaging over three shots per game and is looking like he’s back to the form that earned him a spot last season over Kapanen. Plus, he’s left-handed, which would have allowed Leivo to stay on the right. Kapanen ended up playing only 7:31 against the Flyers with two shots on net.

Josh Leivo’s 2017-18 debut: An assist, four shots on goal, led the entire team in PP time, was on at the end of the game with the goalie pulled, and nearly 15 minutes TOI. As was evident in preseason, he just wins a lot of battles down low and knows how to use his body and go to the dirty areas. He adds something a little different to the team with that physicality along the wall and his 6’2 frame.

– The Leafs will lose a lot of depth over the next few years due to all the talent on the team. I’ve been keeping an eye on Brendan Leipsic on Vegas as a bit of a first look at what it’s going to be like for this team to lose talent due to the sheer numbers game. He was a healthy scratch on the weekend but has four points in eight games.

Leo Komarov has not had the strongest start to the season with three points in 11 games on 16 shots on net. Against LA at the end of the game, he was put on to protect the lead and drew a penalty that effectively ended the game. The hockey is still very wide open right now to start the year — teams haven’t fully established their systems yet — but his value will be shown as the games tighten up and the hockey gets more physical in the second half.

– It’s always interesting when the Leafs play the Hurricanes because they play basically the exact same system. It’s a bit of a chess match between two teams trying to execute the same plays. Carolina obviously outdueled Toronto very well at their own game, and you see the differences between a strong defense in that system compared to the turnovers the Leafs were making that burned them in the game. Think there were some really good learning lessons for the Leafs in that game.

– Connor Brown ended up leading the forward group in overall ice time against the Flyers. Very admirable the way he has worked his way up the lineup.

– Know that Andreas Borgman got burned for holding the puck too long against Carolina that ultimately resulted in an easy one timer goal in the slot, but it’s positive that he is not afraid to try to make plays. It will take some time for him to figure out what he can and can’t do, but he is fearless. He had a great rush off of a faceoff win at center ice this week as well and created a scoring chance. There is an old coach‘s saying that goes, “I’d rather tone a player down versus having to encourage him to do certain things.” Think that applies here. There will be more mistakes, but you don’t want to discourage him from being an impact player.


Quotes

“I think there is a lot to be said, with veteran players, that they’re confident, confident people and they talk. If you’re out there on a pairing and no one says a word, it’s because you’re both a little nervous. Confident people talk. When you’re out there and nervous and don’t know what to do, no one says a word, so you’re not working together. When you’re out there with Ron Hainsey, he tells you what to do every second, every shift. Not a bad gig if you can get it.”

– Babcock on playing with a veteran defenseman.

 

“He’s still young, still learning, needs to be talked to a lot. Looks like he can be a great player.”

– Polak on playing with Borgman

 

“I thought it was interesting, Roman’s back tonight and Borgman had his best game so that goes together”

– Babcock after Polak and Borgman played together

Beyond the penalty killing duties, I think one reason Babcock wanted Polak back is to serve as a veteran mentor to the young Borgman.

“We’ve got to play with more pride. We have to learn how to win 2-1 games. We have done that before, but we have to be able to do it more often… We got outworked for pretty much all game. I think we could have been better at getting it out of our zone. They were pressing and we weren’t quick enough… That’s how it goes when you play like that. I’m surprised we got out-battled like that.”

– Frederik Andersen after the loss to Carolina

I get that he’s frustrated, but I was surprised to see Andersen call out his team like that.

“Things were easy for us early, now teams have done real nice job in the neutral zone and made it harder on us. We had 10 neutral zone turnovers in the first period. Any way you look at it, that’s the National Hockey League: clog up the neutral zone, make it competitive.”

– Mike Babcock after the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers

I mentioned this last week while looking at the losses to the Sens and Devils. This is how teams are going to play the Leafs moving forward – clog up the neutral zone, slow the game down, forecheck their defense. Now it’s the Leafs’ turn to adjust.


Video Tidbit of the Week

No analysis of this goal – just watch the Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau backchecks here. But people focus on the defense and the goaltending all the time.


5 Things I Think I’d Do

1.  I think I would look at changing up the defense pairings. They’ve played 11 games so far – an eighth of the season – so there’s been enough time to get a good look at these pairs. They are still allowing quite a few fundamental breakdowns and are struggling to break out cleanly. I would pair up Gardiner – Rielly / Hainsey – Zaitsev and see what happens. We’ve seen Gardiner and Rielly play well together before. Hainsey and Zaitsev play at the same pace, so maybe they can work together as a pairing.

2.  With Babcock looking to jumpstart the Bozak line, I think I would consider putting Zach Hyman there. And that’s not a knock on Hyman by removing him from the Matthews line — he’s been good there this season. His effort, energy and defensive prowess can give a jolt to Bozak and his unit. At the very least, it will protect them defensively. For me, that would mean putting Marleau on the top line, keeping the Komarov – Kadri – Brown line together, and slotting Marner with Hyman and Bozak. I would also consider trying Leivo next to Matthews and Nylander, putting Marleau with Kadri and Brown, and moving Komarov down.

3.  I think it’s very clear that Leivo should be a regular in the rotation. I don’t know the exact answer as to how it should work, but the team is struggling defensively and the effort is not always there, which Babcock has acknowledged a few times now. Regularly sitting in the press box is a very capable and hungry player. Start rotating forwards in and out. He shouldn’t be sitting for 10/11 games.

4.  I think Curtis McElhinney should start the Thursday game (second half of a back to back) against Los Angeles. Beyond that though, I would consider getting him (or another goalie in the organization) in more games. The Leafs only play 13 back-to-back games this season. At this rate, Andersen is going to be on pace to start 69 games; he’s not playing well enough to justify that, and the heavy workload will eventually hurt him. This team is not just trying to get into the playoffs; they are trying to win in the playoffs. You have to keep him fresh.

5.  I think this team’s biggest enemy is themselves and this adversity is good for them. This is a really good team with (probably) the deepest forward group in the league. They will win a lot of games on talent alone this season. In saying that, it’s easy to get complacent. These are good lessons to happen early and they will come out of this just fine.