“Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!”
After Chris Stewart gave the Ducks a 2–1 lead in the shootout against Florida, the crowd in Anaheim’s Honda Center loudly chanted the name of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen, who was keeping his team alive yet again and looking to secure a comeback win with another shootout stop. Andersen had come up with several big saves in that Wednesday night game, and he’s been the lone bright spot for the Ducks during the horrific 3-7-2 start to what was supposed to be their “Stanley Cup or Bust” season, and the fans let him know they were behind him.
But the Panthers still had one final chance. As Jonathan Huberdeau approached Andersen in hopes of extending the shootout, the crowd grew quiet.
“Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!”
Given the heroic way Andersen has been playing, it was a fitting tribute from the Ducks faithful. After 10 games, he had a 2.03 goals-against average with a .934 save percentage. While those numbers are typically enough to make any fan base happy, Andersen has been overshadowed by the Ducks’ surprising offensive struggles that deposited them in the basement of the Pacific Division. Andersen started the season 0-5-2 before picking up his first win, 4–2 against Nashville last Sunday night. But in those seven starts, his teammates were only able to help him out with five goals, three of which came in a 4–3 loss at Dallas.
That meant little margin for error and a whole lot of growing pressure each night, especially with the rumbles that coach Bruce Boudreau’s job was in jeopardy, but Andersen shrugged it off.
“It’s a two-way street, sometimes they carry me, sometimes I carry them,” he told SI.com during a recent phone interview. “My job is to prepare and focus the right way, and it’s not going to change anything on how I play if we score or not. I just try to stop the puck, and hopefully, we score when we need to. And, for the last couple of games, we have.”
After two straight wins, things may be beginning to go right at last for Andersen and the Ducks. Maybe their October was nothing more than an ugly burp, and they will soon be back on track and in the thick of contention. The Ducks now sit only four points out of the Pacific’s third playoff spot.
“I know it’s only his second win, but in every game he’s played, he’s given us an opportunity to win,” Boudreau said. “He’s kept us close and kept us in it, and as long as you get goaltending like that, you’re going to always be in the game.”
A goalie’s won-lost record can certainly be misleading, especially when it comes to how strong Andersen has been thus far. Just look at Montreal’s Carey Price, who is thought of as the gold standard of current netminders. Sidelined by a lower body since October 29, his stats are nearly identical to Andersen’s: 2.01 GAA with .936 save pct., but the Canadiens’ league-leading offense made his life much easier and his record (7-2-0) much more impressive.
Anaheim’s rough start could have been even worse had it not been for Andersen. Take for example the game against the Panthers. The 26-year-old Dane stopped 23 of Florida’s 25 shots through regulation and overtime, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of how big he was for the Ducks that night. After star forward Corey Perry scored his first goal of the season to tie the game 2–2 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation, the Panthers still had a great opportunity in overtime to leave Orange County with two points after getting a 2-on-0 breakaway. But Andersen came up with a huge, diving glove save of a one-timer by Reilly Smith. Smith got his own rebound twice, but Andersen, who was sitting on his butt at this point, stopped both shots from Smith before finally freezing the puck.
It was the kind of save that highlight reels are made of, the kind that can give a goaltender all the confidence in the world. And perhaps most importantly, it was the kind that could turn the Ducks season around.
In Anaheim’s previous game against red-hot Nashville last Sunday, Anaheim’s defense struggled and allowed 40 shots, including several seemingly-wide open opportunities by Shea Weber. But Andersen never seemed to be fazed and he kept the Ducks out in front after they built a 3–0 first period lead.
“Freddie’s been strong all year, the last 10 games has been probably the strongest he’s played since he’s been here [since 2013-14],” Perry said. “His numbers don’t lie. He’s been the backbone back there.”
Andersen’s exploits bring to mind another former Duck, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who most famously led eighth-seeded Anaheim on a playoff run in 2003 that took it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy. The prior season, Giguere had posted a 2.13 GAA and a .920 save pct. that put him among the top five goalies with at least 25 starts, yet he posted a 20-25-6 record for a team that finished on the bottom of the Pacific.
Even though the start of this season has been frustrating, Andersen believes the Ducks’ offense will find its way back as it boasts some of the league’s top scoring threats in Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who will return from an appendectomy to play against Columbus on Friday night after missing four games. The Ducks also ranked 11th in the league in goals-for per game last season with 2.78 before adding players like speedy ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin.
“I know they’re working hard at coming back and scoring,” Andersen says. “We haven’t been able to have a good third period until last night, and that was a great example of them being resilient and finally beating the goalie.”
With four of their next five games at home, Andersen and the Ducks hope to continue to make up ground on the Pacific race. They’re off to a strong 2-0 start on the current home stand, and the netminder says they need to continue playing consistently to get a win streak going.
“Usually when you play consistent, the results happen to go in your favor and it has the last two games, so we want to continue that,” Andersen says. “It’s great that we’ve won two games but we’ve got some more tough games coming up.
“But we want to get that feeling back when we do get rewarded for our hard work.”
When the rewards come, Andersen will deserve his share of the credit and probably more.