The Leafs won this goalie battle. Freddie Andersen is in a better place
The Danish word for schadenfreude is … um … skadefryd.
Pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune, in whatever language.
Which Freddie Andersen would have good reason to be feeling ’round about now, though he’d certainly never admit it.
“No, I worry about what we’ve got to do on our team,” the freckled netminder mumbled Thursday morning, when asked if he’d paid any mind to Toronto’s woes between the pipes these past couple of months, issues that haven’t dissolved despite some magical thinking in the last week. “I’ll let them deal with that.”
Still speaking softly but carrying a big goalie stick, the kind of commanding paddle he’d been up a creek without in his waning days as a Leaf.
If Andersen wasn’t exactly ridden out of town on a rail last summer, he was certainly pushed along on a handcar, free-agent jettisoned as the Maple Leafs reconfigured their net presence, all-in with Jack Campbell and certainly that was a rational decision at the time. But these have been anxious times for Toronto in the crease, even as some have fallen in “love at first sight” with Erik Källgren, the 25-year-old who made his second career NHL start against Carolina on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena. With Andersen at the other end of the ice.
Swede out-backstopped Dane, it turned out, as Toronto prevailed 3-2 over the Hurricanes, Andersen handed his second loss on ex-team ice in five weeks — on this night with the Leafs tarted up in vintage St. Pats jerseys, glaring o’ the green to mark the Irish patron saint holiday.
It was Källgren who held the Hurricanes at bay, particularly during a 9-1 shots-on-goal stretch in the first period wherein Andersen barely saw a puck — and is still looking for the one that Ilya Mikheyev somehow stuffed past him short side backhand at 15:48. Mitch Marner streaking down the right side after John Tavares adroitly chipped in the puck off the boards made it 2-0: two goals on just eight shots against Andersen.
Källgren’s blanking spell was broken after 104 minutes and nine seconds, 4:09 into the third frame, beaten five-hole by Ethan Bear. The Leafs restored their two-goal bulge three minutes later on a two-on-one, red-hot Ondrej Kaše one-timing a terrific saucer pass from William Nylander.
How long does this feel-good goaltending redux story last? Campbell continues to recover from a rib injury, Petr Mrázek has been a godawful bust when given the opportunity to seize the net, and Kallgren, on the heels of a debut shutout Tuesday, is the latest putative saviour, guarding the cage for a club that hasn’t had a knockout goaltender since Eddie Belfour almost two decades ago.
Andersen wasn’t the answer to Toronto’s prayers, if maybe a novena on the rosary for most of his five years hereabouts. He was certainly a key component in three of five consecutive opening-round playoff ousters, not yet part of the crew for the Collapse on Causeway Street in 2013 and never summoned to the net at all 10 months ago against Montreal, supplanted by Campbell. While Andersen can point to a tiffany 2.78 post-season goals-against average as a Leaf, he was definitely not a tall cool glass of Game 7 water in back-to-back eliminations by Boston: six goals allowed in a 7-4 loss in 2018, three in a 5-1 loss (a pair of empty-netters) in 2019.
Just to make the point that Andersen did not come up six-foot-four and 230-pound large in his most critical games whilst a Leaf. And faith had utterly eroded last spring, when he started just one regular-season game for Toronto after March 19, a downward spiral he blamed on a chronic knee issue that didn’t respond well to treatment.
Keep that in mind if regretful about the masked man that got away. Toronto could barely give him away not long ago and Andersen actually took a pay cut when signing with Carolina in July — the team that first drafted him in 2010, though he chose to go back into the ante pot because he didn’t see a route to the NHL in Raleigh.
Obviously Andersen has reverted to the form he’d shown in Toronto in his best of days: Entering Thursday, a league-leading GAA of 2.06, second in save percentage (.919), second in wins (30), lah-de-dah. He is thriving on a club that sits second in the Eastern Conference, but with a game in hand on Florida. While the Great Dane — until not-so-great — has silenced his detractors, demonstrating anew that his No. 1 chops, he still needs to prove his mettle in the playoffs. Which likely won’t be quite so arduous with a stalwart blue-line cadre in front of him.
“We have a really, really good D-corps,” Andersen noted following the morning skate. “So many players I’ve been impressed with coming in. It helps knowing where everyone’s going to be here.”
Was that a gentle shot at the defence platoons that routinely hung him out to dry in Toronto? On the other hand, can’t say errors from the rearguard were responsible for the infernal, soul-crushing soft goals Andersen gave up with confounding regularity.
For better or worse — clearly the former — Andersen survived his tenure in Toronto, where goalies come to be praised and then condemned. It’s a tough market for a netminder, no less with a current sparkly roster. “I felt a lot of different things that you didn’t see a lot of the time,” he hedged. “Definitely before the pandemic, it was a fun time for me. The world changed pretty drastically after that. During the first few years here I loved it.”
What went wrong between then and right now? “There were a lot of factors, it’s tough to put (your finger) on one thing. The main thing for me is probably the work I did in the summer to get healthy, to get ready to play. And obviously grateful for the opportunity to play on a really good team. The guys have an incredible culture.