Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Eulogy for October Freddie Andersen

Frederik Andersen is the best Leafs goaltender I have seen in my adult life. I want to start with that, because I think it’s important we establish that he’s a goaltender worth believing in and there’s a lot of reasons to believe he’ll get better. Now that the qualifier has been put out there, we can focus on how through the first 15 games of the season, 11 which have been played by Andersen, he hasn’t been very good. Perhaps, that isn’t fair, the word I’m looking for is inconsistent.

OTT W 3 26 0.885
CBJ W 1 29 0.966
STL L 3 30 0.9
TBL L 7 28 0.75
DET W 2 27 0.926
MIN W 2 29 0.931
BOS W 3 46 0.935
CBJ O 4 38 0.895
SJS W 1 17 0.941
WSH O 4 33 0.879
PHI W 3 40 0.925

So far he’s put together a 7-2-2 record, which looks pretty darn good. He’s had six games with save percentages over .92 and has faced over 30 shots in a game 5 times, including 2 games with over 40 shots. The fact that Andersen seems to be settling in a bit more after the Tampa Bay blowout is encouraging as well, but it’s still worth exploring what’s going on with Freddie.

GP W Sv%
Career 57 30 0.911
19-20 11 7 0.904
18-19 10 6 0.919
17-18 11 6 0.896
16-17 7 2 0.876
15-16 8 0 0.932
14-15 8 7 0.931
13-14 3 3 0.944

As you can see above, during Freddie’s time with the Leafs, October hasn’t been too kind to him. Last year was certainly a pleasant change, but something about October in Toronto isn’t agreeable. The most notable difference is the workload, and perhaps Freddie needs to be eased into the year a bit more.

No matter the reason, it seems that we can count on a better Andersen emerging at some point throughout the year, and perhaps patience is all that is required.

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Of course, saying be patient makes a for a boring article and there is a hell of a lot more to goaltending than just save percentage and wins. In fact, those are probably the two worst measures of goaltending I can think of after goals against average, so let’s see how Andersen is doing compared to some other goaltenders around the league this year.

As of the end of games on November 3rd, there are 31 goaltenders who have played 400+ minutes in the league (using all situation data). Here’s how Andersen stacks up against them…

Stat Value Rank
Shots Against 31.23 14th
Save Percentage 0.904 20th
Goals Saved Above Average/60 -0.14 20th
High Danger Save Percentage* 0.773 25th
High Danger Shots Against/60* 6.01 27th

*shot location data for the first seven games of the season is inaccurate and will impact xG and HD numbers.
data from naturalstattrick.com

So Andersen has pretty much been below league average compared to other starters, and while the shot location data has been flawed this year, there might still be something to the fact that Andersen hasn’t faced a ton of high danger shots, but has been letting in the ones he has seen.

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Again a grain of salt will be required as we attempt to explore the idea of shot location playing a part in Andersen’s problem while knowing the data we have on shot location isn’t great, but so far this season the average shot distance against Andersen is 38.49 feet (25th closest to the net among NHL starters) and the average goal distance against Andersen is 22.21 (13th closest to the net among NHL starters). On the surface it seems like the Leafs defense is doing a good job of keeping the opposition away from the net, but when they are getting a chance, they are capitalizing on quite frequently.

To add to that number, Frederik Andersen has allowed the second fewest rebound attempts per 60 (2.09) of NHL starters this year, which is potentially both a feather in his cap, as well as a feather in the cap of the defense that we have enjoyed criticizing so much this year. Of course, one sure way to keep your Rebound Attempts and High Danger shot totals down is by letting in the goal on the first shot, and that may be what is happening as well.

What seems to be the problem?

Well, if we shift our eyes over to rush attempts against per 60, we see what seems to be biting Freddie Andersen and the Leafs in the ass, and it’s that at 1.91 attempts per 60, Andersen has the second highest number of rush attempts against after Mikko Koskinen of the Oilers.

Rush attempts aren’t exactly something that Andersen can prevent from happening. Is it something that he can work on and be better prepared for, knowing these are coming at a high frequency? Sure, but ultimately this is on the rest of the Leafs on the ice, especially the defense.

Maybe trying to eliminate or reduce rush attempts is a bit of a flawed notion, since to path to reduction comes with the Leafs playing a more conservative game, and not only ties the hands of the forwards, but limits players like Rielly, Barrie, and Dermott who are at their best when they are essentially the 4th forward on the play. Maybe this needs to be an area that the Leafs have accepted they will be exposing Andersen and need him to be prepared better. (Although that doesn’t mean that the Leafs need to play odd man rushes so poorly. I’m starting to think that Jake Gardiner was the only one with this problem.)

When taking a look at Andersen next to Hutchinson, it appears the Leafs are slightly worse when playing in front of Hutchinson (not surprising when he’s getting the second half of back to back games) and that Hutchinson’s rebound control is significantly worse (as potentially is the play of the tired defense in front of him), which accounts for a lot of that high danger shot increase as well.

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When looking at all goaltenders around the NHL, Hutchinson actually sees the 2nd most rush attempts, while Andersen has seen 7th most, so with that the Leafs are left with a decision to make.

Do they want to adjust their style of play to minimize rushes? Or do they want to work with the defense and goaltenders to increase their chances of preventing poor outcomes from rush attempts?

Not the only problem

Okay, so at the end of the day, the Leafs are really only offering up an extra rush attempt over the best teams in the league per sixty and considering that even with poor HDSV% they are likely stopping that attempt 3 out of 4 times. There’s a lot more to it than that and probably involves equal parts questionable defense and shaky goaltending. While it seems that target has been painted on Michael Hutchinson’s back, and arguably, rightfully so, the Leafs defense outside of Muzzin, Holl, and now Dermott need to some interest in keeping the puck away from their goaltender.

As for Andersen, well, he’s a career .926 save percentage goaltender in November, and was 8-3-0 with a .942 save percentage last year. He’s gone 5-0-2 since the thumping that saw him chased from the net against Tampa. Hopefully we’re at the point when we don’t need to worry about goaltending in 3/4s of the starts from now on.