Skip to main content

Steven Stamkos scores past Frederik Andersen in the first period of play on Tuesday.Dan Hamilton

Well, here we go again.

The Toronto Maple Leafs' No. 1 goalie is in a funk, a place this team's tender has been so many times before, at a position that will sink a season faster than any other.

We're only six games into the season. There shouldn't be panic. But because there's been a pattern, poor Frederik Andersen isn't going to get much benefit of the doubt.

Especially because, this time, the stakes are higher than ever.

The Leafs were dumped 7-3 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, and the goat was again Andersen – the big, friendly Dane anointed as Toronto's man in the crease in the off-season. With four shaky starts already behind him, he allowed four goals on the first 11 shots he faced in his fifth outing, putting his team down 4-0 only 27 minutes into the game.

No, the goals weren't all on Andersen. There was a Steven Stamkos breakaway (1-0). And a Steven Stamkos laser shot, post-and-in, from deep (3-0). But the 2-0 goal was certainly all ugly – and the reality is Andersen has had at least a half-dozen uglies in his first five starts with his new team.

The frustrating part for the Leafs is that, an .851 save percentage from their No. 1 goaltender aside, they deserve better than their 1-2-3 record. Again on Tuesday, against one of the best teams in the league, they led on the shot clock (43-24) and carried a lot of the play, especially in the second half, as they attempted a comeback.

Again, offensively, the kids looked great, with William Nylander getting his fourth goal of the young season with a brilliant power-play snipe. Linemate

Auston Matthews, meanwhile, added his NHL-leading ninth and 10th points with a goal and an assist.

The Leafs have one win to show for it all, but this has been a fun, potential-filled team to watch through the first two weeks.

"These guys just possess a ton of skill," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's almost very akin to the North American team [at the World Cup]."

Sure. But defensively it has been messy. And so has Andersen.

Toronto's recent history in goal is a horror show. It started with Andrew Raycroft a decade ago and continued with Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, Jean-Sébastien Giguère and Jonathan Bernier, who flamed out last season after a brutal start.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock was grilled about that history – even though he was only witness to the Bernier era – on Tuesday morning and wasn't a fan of the interrogation.

At one point, Babcock dropped a "holy [expletive]" and asked for a new line of questioning. Toronto's track record with goalies being what it is, he didn't get it.

"It's five games in, isn't it?"

Babcock huffed. "So look around the stats in the league [at all the goalies struggling] and let's take a deep breath here."

And he's right. It's too early to bury Andersen with the baggage of what's come before. But what's scary this time around is that there is less room for error than ever. There's none.

Raycroft had a cheap three-year deal. It was easy to buy out – and that's exactly what the Leafs did. Toskala had two years. So did Bernier.

It was easy enough to ride those contracts out, through a lost season or two, get a good draft pick, fire a coach or GM and say, "Hey, lesson learned." But the Leafs are tied to Andersen for big money through 2021, and the prospect of him failing in Toronto – with all these budding stars on entry-level deals – is grim.

What it also isn't is likely. Andersen's limited career numbers are better than any of the other goalies that have imploded before. He missed almost all of training camp with an injury, too, and the Leafs are rolling out one of the NHL's youngest lineup, one that's still learning to play without the puck in this league.

He should be, at the very least, a middling goalie for the next five years. This tough start, however, is going to be a test, not only for Andersen, but for Babcock, who has a history of being impatient with struggling goalies.

That's not a luxury he has here, not with the commitment the franchise has made. (Although working in backup Jhonas Enroth a bit more might help alleviate some of the building pressure.)

The Leafs simply have to hope history doesn't repeat itself – and that this bad blip is only that, a blip.

Interact with The Globe