Leafs still fall in shootout

The Canadian Press
Jonas Siegel

TORONTO–The Maple Leafs got the Frederik Andersen they were hoping for last night.
Toronto’s struggling No. 1 stood toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist, stopping 37-of-38 shots before falling to the New York Rangers in a shootout–the Leafs seventh such defeat in eight tries this season.
“This is how I want to be playing,” Andersen said after the 2-1 defeat. “I know I can play like this.”
Only he hasn’t played nearly to that level in the new year.
Andersen, coming off a poor outing against Winnipeg (four goals on 20 shots), entered the night with an .894 save percentage since Jan. 1, his effectiveness falling amid the busiest season of his NHL career.
The 27-year-old has already faced more shots through 49 games this season than he had in any of his previous three campaigns with the Anaheim Ducks.
He’s on pace to make a career-high 67 starts.
Before facing the Rangers Leafs coach Mike Babcock said the Leafs were relying on their goaltender.
“We make mistakes so we need him to be good,” Babcock said. “We need him to be the top goalie in the league like he’s capable of being. He’s got the skill-set for that and the mental makeup to do it so that’s what we need and that’s what we expect.”
He certainly had it going early against the Rangers.
After Auston Matthews turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Andersen was there to stop Rick Nash, then made a left pad save off Brandon Pirri in transition, adding a denial of Mats Zuccarello attempt in tight.
“It’s nice to make the first few saves obviously, make you feel the crowd is behind you,” Andersen said. “The team knows you’re feeling good and you start playing well.”
Later, with the Leafs up 1-0 on the 15th goal of the year by Connor Brown, Andersen came up with the biggest of 14 first period saves, stretching to make a left pad stop on former Leaf Michael Grabner. Grabner had stolen the puck with Toronto on a power play, racing in to lead an odd-man Rangers rush.
The puck eventually found its way to New York captain Ryan McDonagh who fed Grabner cross-ice to his right, his attempt denied by the 27-year-old netminder.
“He was unbelievable,” Matthews said. “That save on Grabner and numerous saves that kept us in the game.”
The Rangers were the better team for much of the night, generating plenty of high-end opportunities against Andersen–both off the cycle and in transition–while dominating the puck possession battle (58 per cent). Among the deeper teams in hockey, New York entered the night with the league’s third-best offence.
The line of Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad posed a particular trouble for the Leafs top matchup line of Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Josh Leivo.
“I knew after the first, after (Andersen) made some big saves–he looked on top of his game–that it was going to be a tight game and tough for us to score a lot of goals,” Lundqvist said.
The Rangers tied it at 1-1 midway through the third when J.T. Miller banged in a Brandon Pirri shot that went wide off the Air Canada Centre endboards. A wild overtime with multiple breaks and breakaways for both teams settled nothing. Andersen was unable to stop either Ranger shooter (Zuccarello and Zibanejad) in the shootout.
Andersen is 1-6 in the shootout this year with a .500 save percentage.
Still, the night was a big success for the league’s only Danish goaltender. Toronto handed him a five-year contract worth US$25 million last summer to solidify its No. 1 goaltending spot and while he excelled in November and December after a slow start, he’d fallen back into trouble in January and February.
Andersen had given up three goals or more in six of his first eight starts this month, including a three-game stretch in which 16 goals found the back of the net. Andersen couldn’t put his finger on where things had gone wrong in recent weeks, but had come up with a few correctable fixes through video work ahead of Thursday’s test against New York.
He said it could be difficult to “step away” from the grind of the season and “reset”.
Babcock is counting on him (and only him really) to deliver in the Leafs bid to make the post-season. Toronto currently holds the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs coach has indicated that backup Curtis McElhinney will play only in back-to-back scenarios the remainder of the way with Andersen garnering every other available start.
In other NHL action yesterday, the Bruins blasted the Kings 4-1; the Flames beat the Lightning 3-2; the Islanders blanked the Canadiens 3-0; the Blackhawks beat the Coyotes 6-3; and the Predators stopped the Avalanche 4-2.