Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen has done something only one other NHLer has ever done. In the process, the Dane has seized Anaheim’s No. 1 gig.
So much for the Anaheim Ducks’ goaltending controversy.
Entering training camp, no one knew much about Anaheim’s plans in net. We did know unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller was a goner, but that was pretty much it. The Ducks were blessed with John Gibson, the NHL’s top goaltending prospect and No. 2 overall prospect according to THN Future Watch, and Frederik Andersen, a less-heralded but highly effective Dane who flourished in his rookie year. It was anyone’s guess as to who would win the starting job in 2014-15. The long-term edge seemed to be Gibson’s, considering his pedigree and the fact Bruce Boudreau had enough confidence in Gibson to toss him into a Game 7 against the L.A. Kings.
But things haven’t gone exactly as expected between Anaheim’s pipes in this young season – and it’s actually great news for the Ducks.
John Gibson, 21, wasn’t ready for a Game 7 last spring, and he didn’t look ready for a No. 1 job in the NHL in his first start this fall, a six-goal clobbering, albeit it came against Pittsburgh.
And then there’s Andersen. The towering Dane, 25, has been the mightiest of Ducks, starting the season 5-0-0 and allowing just seven goals, producing a 1.38 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. He’s made some serious history, too. Andersen is now 25-5-0 to start his career, which makes him just the second stopper in NHL history to win 25 of his first 30 decisions. The other was Boston’s Ross Brooks, who opened 25-2-3 from October 1972 to February 1974.
It’s easy to write off Brooks as a flash-in-the-pan Jim Carey who got hot and never amounted to much after his supernova stretch, but that’s not exactly accurate. Brooks only made the NHL at 35. He performed at a high level for three years and only played one more season after he was done in the NHL at 37. He didn’t flame out after a hot start. He just got hot late, and age got the best of him. In other words, Brooks does not work as a cautionary tale for anyone extremely excited about Andersen. The first man to win 25 of 30 actually didn’t choke away his sudden success, and maybe Andersen won’t, either.
Even as about the most ardent Gibson supporter you’ll find, I see this as great news for the Ducks. This team is a bona fide Stanley Cup contender and, as the Ducks learned the hard way last playoffs, stability in net goes a long way. It’s a huge boost if Andersen can keep the reins for good, continue to excel and be ‘The Guy’ for the Ducks to lean on in the post-season. The last six Stanley Cup champions had one goaltender record all 16 of their playoff wins.
Andersen’s hot start also led to John Gibson’s American League demotion last week, which Gibson actually requested, as he wanted a couple starts to rebuild his confidence. The Ducks have since recalled him, but was that the smartest idea? With Andersen this white-hot and Gibson still so young, why not let Gibson play a ton in the AHL? Jason LaBarbera would make a respectable backup for Andersen. Heck, GM Bob Murray could even knock on Martin Brodeur’s door if Anaheim wanted a really experienced backup. Though the distraction may not be great for Andersen. Nevermind.
The bottom line: Andersen’s outstanding play to date increases Anaheim’s chances at a Cup, even if it’s at Gibson’s short-term expense.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin