As teammates watched anxiously on Saturday night, Frederik Andersen remained calm in the longest shootout in Toronto history. The Maple Leafs goalie stopped all but one point-blank shot in 11 rounds in a much-needed victory.
“I have had more success not thinking about what guys would do, so I tried to just stay in the moment,” Andersen said Wednesday at the team’s practice rink in suburban Etobicoke. “I am at my best when I keep things really simple.
"Less is more with me.”
The 30-year-old Dane is 6-0-2 over his past eight games and Toronto seems to be righting itself after a shaky start to the season. The team is 8-5-3 as it heads into Thursday night’s meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights (9-5-2) at Scotiabank Arena.
“The better he plays, the more confidence he gives us,” said Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach. "He is a leader for us. The guys like him and play hard for him.
“It is nice when you make a mistake and it doesn’t end up in the net.”
A pleasant low talker, Andersen is like Muzak in the dressing room. He has a calming influence, which is a great quality for someone who faces a constant barrage of shots. An NHL’s goalie’s job is to manage mayhem as it swirls around him, and at that he is splendid.
He has 61 saves in the past two games, both narrow victories. Toronto trailed in both, before Andersen locked things down. When the Leafs fell behind the Flyers 3-2 on Saturday, Andersen told his teammates, “Enough is enough. We are going to win this one.”
"His demeanour in the net calms everyone down,” said veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin. “That is who he is. He has a calming effect on the team.”
Andersen played three seasons in Anaheim before he was traded to the Maple Leafs in June of 2016 for a first-round pick in that summer’s draft and a second-round choice the next year. The deal was a steal. In two of his first three seasons in Toronto, he faced more shots and made more saves than any other goalie in the NHL.
He went 107-54-26 over that span and largely because of him the team reached the playoffs each year. It is the first time that has happened in three successive seasons since 2003-04. And with all respect to Auston Matthews and his 12 goals, Andersen has been the Maple Leafs’ best player overall this season. The fellow fans call Freddie has been steady, if not spectacular, in all but two starts.
“We have so much trust in him,” John Tavares said. “We know that if something happens, he will make a big save.”
The captain looked rusty on Tuesday night when he returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a broken finger. History suggests that should not be much of a concern. There have been a few pleasant surprises on an already talent-laden roster – namely that of Alexander Kerfoot and Russian rookie Ilya Mikheyev. Tyson Barrie has started slowly but is showing signs of life. The defenceman acquired from Colorado in the offseason drew some ahhs from fans on Tuesday as he skated rings around the Los Angeles Kings.
Andersen is under contract through the 2021 season at a very reasonable US$5-million a year. He carries the expectations of a team and city on his broad shoulders. He appears to be built for it; at 6 foot 4 and nearly 240 pounds, he is the size of an NFL linebacker.
It is his mental makeup that allows him to flourish when things appear to be deteriorating around him. And he is the same off the ice as on.
He is surrounded by the media in the dressing room almost every day. He is accommodating and patient and never rattled by inquisitors. He talks up a blue streak, but afterward you look at your notebook and scratch your head while trying to find a quote. He is not terribly colourful, but that is not a crime.
“He shows a little more emotion and fire on the golf course,” Muzzin said. “That is something for you.”
When asked about it, Andersen thinks for a bit.
“I just like being out there,” Andersen says. “I like being active and to stay outside.”
He is the guy who settles everyone down in the middle of the maelstrom.
“You have to be who you are,” Andersen says. “It works for me. There are 23 guys in the room. Everybody can’t be the same.”