When good goalies go bad: Frederik Andersen, Brian Elliott headline crop of struggling NHL netminders
TORONTO — During times like these, when Toronto’s Frederik Andersen cannot seem to stop a beach ball and Calgary’s Brian Elliott has a worse save percentage than 38 other goalies, it’s worth looking back at what Cam Talbot went through a year ago.
After getting traded to Edmonton, Talbot struggled mightily in his first few months with his new team. The first-year starter looked lost. He couldn’t stop a puck to save his life. And with each loss, Oilers fans had to wonder if this was the same goalie who had looked so good with the Rangers the year before. Or maybe they questioned why the Oilers hadn’t instead acquired Martin Jones, who went from Los Angeles to San Jose and advanced to the Stanley Cup final.
“I had never been a starting goalie,” Talbot told Postmedia during the world championship, where he guided Canada to a gold medal. “I battled through some adversity in the beginning of the year, but I got better as the year went along. I think I learned a lot about myself.”
One year later, Talbot was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday after posting a .970 save percentage and allowing just three goals in three wins for a team that is 5-0-1 to start the season. The 29-year-old seems like a different goalie. Then again, Edmonton is playing like a different team.
The lesson: it’s a much easier transition to go from Los Angeles to San Jose than it is to go from New York to Edmonton … or Anaheim to Toronto … or St. Louis to Calgary.
Last year, Andersen was a co-recipient of the William M. Jennings Award for allowing the fewest goals. But he’s clearly not playing behind Anaheim’s defence anymore. After allowing seven goals on 24 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, Andersen’s 4.29 goals-against average ranks 46th out of 49 goalies who have appeared in at least two games.
Elliott has had a similarly rocky start to the season, allowing 10 goals in back-to-back losses to the Oilers and then giving up four goals to the lowly Hurricanes. While he looked sharp in winning his last two games, his .882 save percentage is still a far cry from the league-best .930 he posted with the Blues last season.
“Look at Brian Elliott, who comes from St. Louis where they give up literally 10 to 12 scoring chances a night, and you go to a team where you’re facing five or six more chances per game,” said TSN analyst and former NHL goalie Jamie McLennan. “I think Frederik Andersen is going through the same thing. From January on, Anaheim was one of the best teams in the league and maybe he wasn’t facing as many high-quality chances as he is now. That’s a massive adjustment.”
It’s not just Andersen and Elliott who are experiencing growing pains with their new teams.
Florida’s James Reimer heads into Thursday’s game against the Leafs with an .880 save percentage, Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop has a 3.51 goals-against average and Chicago’s Corey Crawford is 1-3-1. With Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray both starting the year on the injured reserve — and Boston using four goalies in seven games — it’s no wonder scoring has been on the rise.
But like Talbot’s play, expect things to even out.
“Goaltending is quite often a game about reads and reaction, and that includes reading off the system and reading off the sticks,” said NHL.com goalie analyst Kevin Woodley. “Even going from one conference to another means you’re guessing a little bit. I have no doubt (Andersen) is capable of handling this. Like Elliott, it is possible to turn it around in short order.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Two weeks into the season, no one is talking about further decreasing the size of goalie equipment. Based on how the following netminders have been playing, don’t be surprised if some goalie coaches want to make the equipment even bigger:
Frederik Andersen, Toronto
1-1-3, 4.29 GAA, .851 SV%
According to TSN, Andersen had the second-worst October by a Leafs goalie since 2005-06. The worst? Vesa Toskala. That’s not a name Leafs fans want to hear. It’s worth noting again that Andersen missed part of training camp with an injury.
Brian Elliott, Calgary
2-3-0, 3.37 GAA, .882 SV%
Back-to-back wins against Chicago and St. Louis have changed the mood around Elliott, who started the year by allowing 16 goals in three straight losses. Perhaps the biggest change has been the team’s defence, with Elliott facing only 24 shots in a 4-1 win against the Blues.
James Reimer, Florida
0-1-1, 2.90 GAA, .880 SV%
While he was signed as the eventual replacement for Roberto Luongo, the former Leafs goalie has struggled in his role as backup. Reimer allowed the tying goal with six seconds remaining in a 4-3 OT shootout loss to the Lightning and then gave up two late goals in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins.
Corey Crawford, Chicago
1-3-1, 3.02 GAA, .897 SV%
Is a goalie to blame for a poor penalty kill or does a poor penalty kill result in bad goaltending? That’s the question in Chicago, where Crawford has given up 10 power play goals in five games. Take those away and the Blackhawks goalie has allowed only five goals.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
3-1-0, 3.51 GAA, .885 SV%
The Lightning have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but it’s due in large part to the offence — and backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. While Vasilevskiy is 2-0-0 with a .952 save percentage, Bishop has twice been in net when Tampa Bay scored six or more goals.