If you are or have ever been a Toronto Maple Leaf, you have a narrative that follows you. Frederik Andersen isn’t exempt from that reality.
A popular narrative for Andersen has revolved around his slow starts, or “October Freddie.”
In reality, his October numbers in Toronto weren’t that bad. He had a 20-13-5 October record with a .900 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t disastrous. But still, you would expect better than out of your starting goalie.
There were many concerns surrounding the Hurricanes’ new goalie duo, and a slow start from Andersen was among them.
Well, this year, October Freddie has taken on a different meaning.
Andersen backstopped the Hurricanes to seven of their eight wins in their perfect month of October, and he was absolutely phenomenal.
In his seven starts, he allowed just nine goals and recorded a league-best .956 save percentage and 10.2 goals saved above expected.
After allowing three goals on 28 shots on opening night and two goals on 40 shots in game two, he allowed one goal or fewer in each of his next five starts, including his shut out of the Boston Bruins last week.
His in-net style contrasts heavily with what we saw from the likes of Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. He’s calm and poised between the pipes, which has gone a long way in giving the team in front of him the confidence to go out and play their game without having to worry about if their goalie will be there to back them up.
“Freddie has just been a rock,” said Steven Lorentz of Andersen after he stopped 24 of 25 shots against the Maple Leafs. “We knew coming in that he had that calm, cool, collected demeanor about him. Just to be able to see him play these games with such poise and having that confidence in your goaltender back there to be able to make those saves and bail you out when you have mistakes. I made one last game in Columbus, and he and [Jaccob Slavin] both bailed me out. It’s nice knowing that. Mistakes do happen in this game, but when it’s your mistake, those guys do have your back.”
Inevitably, there will be bumps in the road throughout an 82-game season, but we have seen Andersen at his best through the first few weeks of the season. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if they will get that same kind of goalie play in the playoffs.
New Guys Hit the Ground Running
The Hurricanes underwent a colossal roster overhaul over the offseason. Their fate as they returned to the Metropolitan Division was going to rely on how fast the new additions would get up to speed and fit into the existing core of players.
So far, that transition has been surprisingly smooth.
One of the most unsung heroes among that group has been Derek Stepan. The veteran pivot has fit in seamlessly on the fourth line and finally broke through for his first goal with the team against the Blackhawks on Friday.
He has centered what has been an outstanding fourth line to this point. Stepan, Jordan Martinook and Steven Lorentz rank one through three among Canes skaters in expected goal share at 5-on-5.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s contributions have been more up and down. The former Canadien scored against his old team, and, coincidentally, that might have been his best all-around game of the season.
Since then, he hasn’t been able to find his game consistently despite playing next to Sebastian Aho almost every step of the way. It’s still very much a work in progress for Kotkaniemi, but he has shown enough glimpses to this point where it’s not time to panic.
The three new blueliners have provided some consistently great returns in the early going.
The Hurricanes have deployed Tony DeAngelo just about as perfectly as you can deploy him, and he has meshed very well with Ian Cole on the team’s third pairing. It’s the tried and (sometimes) true hockey cliché of “offensive defenseman + stay-at-home defenseman + playing the matchups = success” pairing.
At 5-on-5, they have yet to be on the ice for a goal against. While Andersen’s performance has played a significant role, going eight games without surrendering a goal is a very impressive feat. The Canes coaching staff does deserve some credit for how they’ve used them to this point. Their 62.16% offensive zone start rate ranks first among Carolina’s three defensive pairings by a ~20% margin.
DeAngelo has stepped into his first unit power-play role and played well, despite some issues with turnovers. His mobility might be the biggest asset he can bring to a power play that has, at times, been stationary. The first unit’s production has slowed down considerably after a red-hot start, but they have all the pieces they need to be impactful.
At 5-on-5, he has shown offensive flair, an eagerness to jump into the rush, and a physical edge. So far, his defensive mistakes have been masked by terrific goalie play, but that applies to everyone on the roster.
We knew that he was a dynamic offensive player, and he has lived up to that so far.
Last but not least, Ethan Bear has been as advertised. He’s gotten steady 5-on-5 minutes with Slavin, and the results have been solid while handling some tough matchups despite not getting quite as much puck luck as the Cole-DeAngelo pairing.
Bear’s vision is great, he has moved the puck very well, and he has been a strong contributor in gaining possession of the puck and moving it out of the defensive zone. The puck routinely ends up in the offensive zone when he is on the ice.
There’s a lot to like with Carolina’s new guys, and with Nino Niederreiter’s injury, Seth Jarvis will likely get plenty of opportunities to add onto that over the next couple of weeks. The 2020 first-round pick looked right at home in his debut.