As Toronto Maple Leafs know, their team will be matched up against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2019-20 play-in tournament. The Blue Jackets are not sneaking up on anyone. This is a team with a great coach in John Tortorella, who shocked most hockey pundits when they eliminated – OK, devastated – last season’s NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning.
In other words, the Maple Leafs realize the Blue Jackets could do it again and they’ll be ready. Or, at least they’ll try to be.
Maple Leafs Goalie Frederik Andersen Will Need to Be Ready
One Toronto player who needs to be the readiest is goalie Frederik Andersen. The stakes are incredibly high and Andersen has a habit of getting out of the game slowly after a long offseason. And that’s exactly what he’ll be coming off – four months of playing regulation regular-season hockey, which is almost exactly the length of an offseason for many NHL teams.
Andersen is the last line of defense against pucks hitting the twine for a team that hasn’t gotten out of the first round in three seasons. He’s been a busy goaltender over his four seasons with the Maple Leafs, facing a league-leading number of shots against (7,798) and saves (7,142) during the last four regular seasons. And he’s been solid: for goalies who’ve played more than 200 games, he ranks in the top-10 with a.916 save percentage.
Andersen’s Trying to Stay Mentally Prepared
It’s no secret that Andersen must play well if the Maple Leafs will have any success this season. At the end of May, Toronto Sun writer Terry Koshan noted that Andersen has been preparing and staying “mentally in the game” (from ‘Early traction on part of Andersen could give Leafs a leg up in series versus Columbus’, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 5/31/20).
That’s exactly the mindset he needs if the team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Over the last three playoffs, Andersen was crucial in giving the team a chance.
During the 2017 playoffs, the Maple Leafs who faced the Washington Capitals were a young and inexperienced team. But the Capitals won the Cup the next season (2018), so they were getting ready. In 2018, the team had the dreaded Boston Bruins on the ropes but absolutely collapsed during the third period of a game seven they should have won. Again in 2019, they once again faced the Bruins and were ahead in the series but played poorly in Game 7.
That’s not all on Andersen. This season, Andersen will face either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins in the Blue Jackets’ net. Although neither has playoff experience, they’ve proved to be solid in net for the Blue Jackets this season.
A Little Number Potentially Means a Lot
If the Maple Leafs are to win this five-series, Andersen will have to carry them. But which Andersen will show up? Is it the goalie who starts every season with a .900 save percentage? Or is it the Andersen who consistently has, by each season’s end, a save percentage just under .920?
If you simply do the numbers, that matters more than it might at first seem. Specifically, if a goalie faces 33 shots during each game (the actual number of shots the Columbus Blue Jackets averaged over the 2019-20 season was is 32.5. The number of shots the Maple Leafs averaged was 32.9).
Over three games that means both the Maple Leafs goalie and the Blue Jacket goalie will face around 100 shots. If one of these goalie’s save percentage is .900, that goalie will let in two more goals over those three games than if his save percentage were .920.
Clearly, during the postseason, that difference could become a huge deal. Maple Leafs fans must hope that Andersen is on the plus side of that .020 save percentage.
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