March 3 – Day 135 – Andersen’s revenge

Fridays usually aren’t too eventful in the NHL, but that’s not true tonight with half a dozen contests being played. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Arizona at Carolina. The staggered starts continue at 8 p.m. with St. Louis at Winnipeg, trailed 30 minutes later by the New York Islanders at Chicago. Detroit at Calgary drops the puck at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at Anaheim – waiting an hour before getting underway. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Penguins needed seven games to get past the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their fourth Stanley Cup victory.
  • New York at Chicago: For four years of Andrew Ladd‘s career, he wore the Blackhawksred-and-black. But now, he dresses for the Islanders.
  • Toronto at Anaheim: Frederik Andersen also returns to his former stomping grounds, as he called the Honda Center home for the first three years of his career.

Since Ladd only played 19 regular seasons with the Hawks last year, lets focus in on Andersen’s trip west.

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*Author’s note: All statistics were accurate at the time of composition. Three games (NYI@DAL, TOR@LAK and VAN@SJS) had yet to finish. My apologies for the inconvenience.*

Although originally drafted by Carolina in 2010, Andersen elected for re-entry after being unable to reach a contract with the Hurricanes and was selected by Anaheim 87th-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Only a season later, he was the Ducks‘ primary backup. He made 24 starts during that 2013-’14 rookie season, and earned a 20-5-0 on career-bests .923 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

That good impression earned him the starting job in his sophomore season, and he retained it through last year. Over his entire career in Anaheim (aka, the first three years of his career), he earned an impressive 114-77-26 record on a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and helped lead the Ducks to a 2015 Western Conference Finals appearance.

He looked to be the goaltender of the Ducks‘ future, but Bob Murray had other ideas. With the quick coming of age by John Gibson (Andersen’s backup from 2014-’16), he was presented with the perfect situation: two fantastic goaltenders both under the age of 30. Looks like it’s time to make a trade, but who to ship off?

Murray decided to stick with the younger Gibson, leaving Andersen as the odd man out. That’s how he ended up in Toronto. He was traded to the Maple Leafs this offseason in exchange for two draft picks (one of which became Sam Steel of the Regina Pats).

It’s easy to say it’s been a seamless transition. Andersen’s play has, for the most part, remained consistent to what he exhibited in Anaheim and the Leafs are in playoff contention for the first time since 2012-’13.

While Andersen has been good, the 28-21-13 Maple Leafs‘ offense has been better. They’ve buried 189 goals in 62 games this season – the sixth-best effort in the NHL – and that success has led them to fourth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, when you have the incredible Auston Matthews, that shouldn’t be that difficult to do. The rookie has been absolutely unstoppable this season, as he already has an impressive 55 points to his credit to lead the team. 31 of those points have been goals, another total that paces Toronto.

The Leafs are especially potent on the power play. Led by rookie William Nylanders‘ 20 power play points, Toronto leads the NHL with a 23% success rate with the man-advantage. If Gibson picks one Maple Leaf to pay extra attention to when his club is short a man, it should be Nazem Kadri. The center has 10 extra-man goals to his credit – the most on the team.

Toronto has also been solid on the penalty kill. Properly defending 83.5% of their infractions, the Leafs are ninth-best in the league in that situation. Much of that success is the fruit of Roman Polak‘s labor, as his 29 shorthanded blocks are best on the team.

Though playing without him, Andersen’s former club is still finding wins this season. They currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division with their 32-21-10 record, and most of that success is directly due to their impressive defense and goaltending, as the Ducks have allowed only 159 goals against this year – that ties for the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

It turns out keeping Gibson was, at minimum, a good choice. He’s earned an impressive 23-15-8 mark so far this year on his season .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, the (t)seventh and sixth-best effort in the league among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it never hurts to help a 23-year-old netminder with one of the league’s better defenses. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 105 shot blocks (he’s on pace to best his former career-high 122 blocks by 15), Anaheim has allowed only 29.3 shots-per-game to reach Gibson’s crease – the ninth-best effort in the league.

As you’d expect from a team that does almost everything regarding the defense well, the penalty kill is fairly solid. The Ducks properly neutralize 84.9% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best rate in the league. Fowler deserves a lot of the credit, as his 23 shorthanded shot blocks are tops on the club.

The Ducks have already made their yearly trip to Toronto, and it was certainly a successful trip. Thanks to Fowler’s game-winning power play tally, Anaheim won December 19’s contest at the Air Canada Centre 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the leauge] and a 2.24 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] on a .922 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (31 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

I like the Ducks to win tonight not only because they have home ice, but also because I trust their offense more than I trust the Leafs‘ defense. It should be a tight game, but Anaheim should prevail.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Murray (1951-) – A head coach with 10 years of experience, Murray’s longest tenured position was with the Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2005. He has a career 333-278-127 record.
  • Brian Leetch (1968-) – Probably the best hockey player from Texas all-time, this Hall of Fame defenseman was selected ninth-overall by the Rangers in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and played 18 sesaons. A nine-time All-Star, he won the 1994 Stanley Cup as well as two Norris Trophies, the 1989 Calder and the 1994 Conn Smythe.
  • Stephane Robidas (1977-) – Selected in the seventh round by Montréal in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 15 seasons in the league, spending 11 of those years in Dallas. He finished his career with a +16 rating and earned one All-Star Game appearance.
  • Colton Orr (1982-) – He may not have been drafted, but that didn’t stop him from playing 11 years in the NHL. Spending most of that time in Toronto, he was known as an enforcer and has 641 career hits to show for his work.
  • Alexander Semin (1984-) – Washington selected this left wing 13th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent the most of his 11-year NHL career. Currently, he plays for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.

First Star of the Game Paul Byron didn’t really feel like playing overtime last night, so he buried an unassisted wrist shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation to give Montréal a 2-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Nashville actually had the lead for most of the game. With 95 seconds remaining in the first period, Ryan Ellis (P.K. Subban and Mike Fisher) buried a power play slap shot to set the score at 1-0.

Not only would that tally last to the first intermission, but it would also hold through the entire second period.

With 9:05 remaining in regulation, things started to get interesting. Brendan Gallagher (Alex Galchenyuk) potted a wrap-around goal to pull the Habs even with the Preds. Then madness happened, as Byron won the game with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock.

Second Star Carey Price earned the victory after saving 24-of-26 shots faced (96%), leaving the gut-wrenching loss to Third Star Pekka Rinne, who saved 24-of-26 (92.3%).

Montréal‘s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, no small task given how successful the 70-45-22 visitors have been of late. Hosts now trail the visitors in the series by only eight points.

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