Coming into the 2021-22 season, the biggest question mark for the Carolina Hurricanes was how the goaltending position was going to shake out.
Now, for many Carolina fans, who had seen many a season sunk by the netminders, this was a spot of worry.
Three-year netminder Petr Mrazek had helped break the team’s nine-year playoff drought and rookie netminder Alex Nedeljkovic was coming off an amazing rookie season that saw him nominated as a Calder finalist.
Now the team was taking on a serious gamble, entirely revamping the goaltender position with two free-agent signings. Were these the right moves to make?
Well now that the season has begun, it seems that those fears were misaligned because seven wins, 196 saves and NHL Third-Star of the Month honors later, it’s safe to say that at least Frederik Andersen is the real deal.
Now this isn’t to say that Andersen will be hoisting a Vezina trophy alongside a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe at the end of the year — yet — but if he can stay consistent, then those aren’t just far-flung dreams.
The 32-year old netminder led the NHL in wins (7) and was third in save percentage (0.956) and second in goals against average (1.29) among goaltenders who played at least four games in October.
Andersen was also just the second goaltender in NHL history to win the first six games of a season with a new team since Frank McCool in 1944.
The biggest strength in Andersen’s game is his poise. Even in desperation moments, he tracks the puck so well and never panics. His ability to keep himself level and make the right technical movements under pressure is such a treat to watch.
“The key to my game is good position and being athletic,” Andersen said after a 3-2 win in Nashville where he made 38 saves. “You’re going to have different emotional swings during a game. It’s a really exciting sport, so there’s going to be lots of ups and downs in every game and every period. The better you can ride that wave and not let it affect you, it’s beneficial for you.”
Another key contribution by Andersen has been his synergy with the penalty kill units. The Hurricanes had the fifth best penalty kill in the NHL through October with a 88.9% success rate.
Andersen had a 0.923 power play save percentage in October, conceding just two power play goals against, including one at 5-on-3.
“The most important thing in a penalty kill is our goaltender,” Derek Stepan said after a 4-3 win in Chicago, “and when he needed to make some saves, he made some giant ones.”
The Hurricanes are off to their best start in franchise history, an undefeated 8-0-0 record through October and are the only team without a single loss in the entire league, and that all can be almost entirely attributed to the Danish netminder.
The Canes targeted Andersen as their go-to guy out of training camp as he got the call to start Game 1, the Canes’ home opener against division rival, the New York Islanders.
That first game wasn’t the smoothest for Andersen, who allowed three goals on 28 shots — a sub 0.900 save percentage. He was scrambling to make saves and had trouble corralling pucks and managing rebounds. But he did mix in a handful of big saves and did his part before the Canes’ offense overpowered the Islanders.
Quite the gathering around Andersen's crease a few moments ago, denying an Anthony Beauvillier cut to the front of the net.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) October 15, 2021
Islanders have come out for the third buzzing and now it really feels like a one goal game. pic.twitter.com/M6vJg5RXHL
But if any game can be written up as first-game jitters, this one might have been just that, because from that one on, Andersen just got better and better.
Nashville saw a much more calm and collected Andersen, who turned away 38 shots in a game where his team looked flat most of the night.
While the puck squirted to the outside of the post, still a remarkable effort by Andersen to reach back, keeping Luke Kunin's attempt out. pic.twitter.com/4FPL0GzW6p— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) October 17, 2021
Even his head coach knew that the win in Nashville was all because of him.
“Well clearly, [Andersen] was the difference,” Rod Brind’Amour said after the game. “Haven’t seen a lot of games like that in the three years I’ve been doing this, where clearly the goalie was the reason we won the game or that we needed him to win. It’s usually that the goalie plays good, but we’re also playing well. That was not the case tonight. We didn’t play a very good game in front of him, but he came up huge.”
After his first two games in a Hurricanes uniform saw a total of five goals go against him, Andersen allowed just one or fewer goal in each of his next five starts.
He quieted the Bell Centre...
Silenced the cannon in Columbus...
Freddie did the thing yet again pic.twitter.com/BNRCobPTxi— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) October 24, 2021
Thwarted the star-studded offense of his former team...
HOW did Freddie save this?! pic.twitter.com/k7ruHjb2Va— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) October 26, 2021
Shutout the Boston Bruins...
And capped off the month with his seventh win in a Halloween matinee against the Coyotes.
No tricks, just treats from Freddie today pic.twitter.com/6wG8GHIyy3— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) October 31, 2021
Andersen was electric all month and it wasn’t like he was sitting back and relaxing in his crease either.
The Canes got their money’s worth out of Andersen, because according to NaturalStatTrick.com, Carolina was ranked 24th in the entire league in terms of high danger chances against per 60 — giving up 11.93 per game — through the month of October.
“[Andersen’s] been phenomenal,” Vincent Trocheck said after a 5-1 win in Columbus. “He’s kept us in all of these games. We’ve had a lot of flurries in the defensive zone. We’re not usually a team that gives up so many grade-A’s, but when we have in these last few games, he’s stepped up and kept us in them and that’s a big part of the reason why we’re winning games.”
So Andersen is being called upon time and time again to make big saves, turning aside high-danger chances and multiple breakaway opportunities.
The Canes’ undefeated streak just continues to chug along — up to nine-straight wins now after their first game in November — and if Andersen continues to play the way he has so far, the rest of the league better be very, very scared of the Carolina Hurricanes.