“It was a solid defensive effort.” – Mitch Marner
“Offensively, we’re generating a lot now, but at the same time, we’re being responsible defensively.” – Nazem Kadri
“It’s fun to face a lot of shots.” – Frederik Andersen
“Shots on goal is a deceiving stat. Not necessarily all the time the team that outshoots you outplays you.” – Nazem Kadri
“We did a good job of making sure I had a clean view of most of the shots.” – Frederik Andersen
You just gave up 57 shots in a game. Fifty-seven. A 40-shot game would get your coach flustered but could maybe, just maybe be explained away as a bunch of low-quality chances. But FIFTY-SEVEN?
It was the second-highest shot total allowed by any team in the NHL this year. It was the most shots Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen had faced in his career – or stopped, as he blocked 54 of them in Wednesday’s 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto’s ninth in its past 10 games. The last time the Leafs surrendered more than 56 shots in a game was about three decades ago. Of Columbus’ shots, 53 came at 5-on-5, including 43 scoring chances and 17 high-danger chances. That’s 17 significant, oh-this-is-probably-a-goal opportunities, most of which Andersen turned away, none more impressively than this Boone Jenner attempt, thwarted by Andersen’s outstretched toe.
“You look up at the shots when you're on the bench, and it’s pretty tough getting confidence, but when you have a guy like Freddie behind you, he’s going to stop the majority of those, so it definitely gives us confidence back there,” said Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott.
It’s time to start touting Andersen for a major NHL award. The Vezina Trophy goes to “the goaltender adjudged to be the best at this position” as voted by GMs of all 31 franchises. Andersen has certainly been one of the best. His .922 save percentage places him top-10 in the league among qualified leaders. He’s second in wins. Among the 36 goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played 5-on-5, he’s 12th in even-strength SP at .928. He ranks as above average or better in low-, medium- and high-danger save percentage. Still, if the Vezina goes to the best pure goaltender, it’s fair to argue Andersen won’t and shouldn’t get it. The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the league in wins and shutouts. The Blues’ Carter Hutton tops the league in 5-on-5 SP.
The Hart Trophy, however, supposedly goes to “the player judged most valuable to his team” in the NHL, and while skaters like Nikita Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon have dominated the discussion this year, Andersen deserves serious consideration at the moment.
Andersen leads the league in games played, minutes played, shots faced and saves. He’s first in low-danger shots faced 5-on-5, second in medium-danger shots faced and first in high-danger shots faced. He’s weathered 40 or more shots in a game eight times this season. His save percentage in those contests: .954. The Leafs’ record in those games: 6-0-2. The New York Islanders allow a league-worst 35.8 shots per game, and Andersen has faced worse than that – so, 36 shots or more – 18 times. His SP in those games: .941. The Leafs’ record in those games: 11-4-3. That’s a .694 points percentage in games where Toronto allows more shots than the league’s worst defensive team does.
Andersen is approaching a historic pace for shots faced, too. The league's single-season record for shots faced belongs to the New York Rangers' Gump Worsley at 2,574 in 1955-56. He also holds second place at 2,523 in 1962-63. Roberto Luongo owns the top two totals of the past half century, ranking third and fourth all-time with seasons of 2,488 and 2,475 as a Florida Panther in 2005-06 and 2003-04. Andersen has started 49 of Toronto's 59 games, good for about 83 percent. If he starts 83 percent of Toronto's remaining 23 games, he'll start 19 more games in 2017-18 and finish at 68 for the year. His league-leading shots against total of 1,667 in 2,931 minutes amounts to 34.1 shots faced per 60 minutes. Multiply that by 23 more starts, add it to Andersen's current shot total and you get 2,451 shots. He's thus on pace to finish with the sixth-most shots against in single-season history, trailing the two Worsley seasons, the two Luongo seasons and Eddie Johnston's 1963-64 campaign with the Boston Bruins.
Meanwhile, the Leafs enjoy a 19-point playoff cushion in the Atlantic, rank sixth in points percentage at .635 and have the fourth-best goal differential at plus-33 despite allowing 34.1 shots on goal per game, third-most in the NHL.
It’s thus difficult to find a single player affecting his team’s success more than Andersen is right now. And isn’t that exactly what’s supposed to epitomize the Hart Trophy?
“He’s been our backbone all year, so we’re going to look to him to continue that,” Kadri said. “He’s got high expectations for himself to be great, and he can certainly handle a starting position. He continues to impress, and down the stretch we’re certainly going to need him.”
The best goalie? Not quite, but one of them. The most valuable player? If not Andersen, then who?