TORONTO — Frederik Andersen loves being a Toronto Maple Leaf.
The 27-year-old Danish netminder spoke briefly with SI.com after Maple Leafs practice on Monday, detailing how he feels about the city in the first year of a five-year, $25 million contract with the team.
“I love it here,” he said. “Everyone around the team makes this a world-class organization. They take care of you.”
And while the Toronto has enjoyed an overhaul in its off- and on-ice approach that has shed the tag of perennial disappointments of past, there is still one element of the team’s play that has yet to properly take care of Andersen, as it were: defensive gaffes, a natural by-product of a young, learning team, have meant that Andersen has been subject to a number of easy looks from opposing players early on in the season.
Andersen currently carries an .879 save percentage, ranking 21st of the 23 goalies who have played four games so far this season. The Maple Leafs have had a tumultuous recent history with their goaltenders, including sending Jonathan Bernier to the minors last season and never totally giving a more-than-capable James Reimer the No. 1 spot.
They started fresh by trading for Andersen in the off-season. But the results so far have been less than stellar.
“Sometimes we miss some assignments,” Andersen says, after being asked about the types of shots he’s seen so far this season.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock backed up that assertion and tried, for the most part, to divert blame away from Andersen.
“Guys weren’t doing their right jobs,” he said on Monday after being asked about Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Maple Leafs gave up two goals in the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation to squander another lead.
“We gave two layups,” said Babcock. “We didn’t give our goalie our chance to make the save.”
Babcock pointed to Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell’s pass off the pads that led to Artem Anisimov’s second goal of the game as particularly frustrating: “That makes no sense to me.”
Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, a scramble ensued in front of Andersen that allowed former Leaf Richard Panik to tap in the tying goal. “If the puck goes through goalies, that’s their responsibility.”
Never one to mince words, Babcock’s assessment of his team’s recent three-game road trip, in which Andersen started two games and the team conceded 11 goals in regulation, was clear: “The red flag is the goals against, any way you look at it.”
Babcock went on to say that if a team can find an empty net however, that’s the responsibility of the team.
“It wasn’t goaltending,” he said of the loss to the Blackhawks. “Let’s not leave here and say that way goaltending. That was all on us.”
For Andersen’s part, a change in scenery and being forced to understand a different system can often lead to early season struggles. Throughout the Maple Leafs dressing room on Monday, many spoke about how small the sample size is and the need to avoid any panic. In his three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks before coming to Toronto, Andersen posted a career .918 save percentage.
There were concerns about Andersen’s status after he sustained an upper body injury in early September during a pre-Olympic qualifying game between his native Denmark and Slovenia but Andersen was quick to squash that as being the reason for his early struggles. He has noted previously that he has been “second-guessing” himself in certain situations but he’s ready to turn the page.
“I don’t really think about that anymore,” he said.
At 27, Andersen isn’t often mentioned as part of the Maple Leafs youth movement. But as goalies take much longer to hit their stride that position players and Andersen is part of the collective effort of the Maple Leafs to come together as a team.
He, like so many on the young roster, has bought into the process.
“We’re working on making sure we play smart and ... hang on to leads and play smarter in different situations late in the game,” he said.
With the process in place, Andersen hopes the results will soon follow.
“I’m focused on getting my game where it needs to be and keep it there. I’ve been feeling really good the last week.”