Had things gone differently, the Carolina Hurricanes could have had goalie Freddie Andersen in net and the Toronto Maple Leafs started Petr Mrazek in their game Monday at PNC Arena.
Talk about an odd juxtaposition. Andersen left the Maple Leafs after last season and signed as a free agent with Carolina. Mrazek left Carolina and signed with Toronto. Word has it they’re not living in each other’s old housing.
Nor will they face each other.
Mrazek is injured, though he’s with the Leafs on the road. Andersen has started all four games in the Canes’ 4-0 start, and has put up some sweet numbers — a 1.75 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
“I’ve been in a nice groove,” Andersen said Friday. “I think I’m staying within my process, trying to focus on every game, every shot. The guys have played well in front of me. They work hard to try and limit some of the chances and they make it easier for me.”
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour did not commit Saturday to starting Andersen again Monday.
“He might play,” Brind’Amour after the 5-1 win at Columbus. “We’ll assess everything (Sunday), where everybody’s at, and go from there.”
In Brind’Amour’s first three years as head coach, only one goalie made five straight regular-season starts — Mrazek early in the 2019-20 season. Last season, James Reimer played in five consecutive games, relieving an injured Mrazek in an early-season game against Dallas and then starting the next four.
Andersen loving the game
When healthy, Andersen, 32, has been a workhorse goalie during his NHL career in Anaheim and in Toronto. He wasn’t healthy last season. He says he is now. It’s that simple, he said.
“I’m enjoying playing hockey,” he said. “My main thing is feeling good, feeling healthy and enjoying playing hockey. That’s the important thing. All the other things are just distractions and doesn’t really matter too much. The love of the game is what has to come first.”
The Canes have given up a few too many chances for Brind’Amour’s liking. The Blue Jackets had 24 scoring chances and 10 “high-danger” chances in Saturday’s game, according to Naturalstattrick.com. Their goal by Boone Jenner came with a two-man advantage on a second-period power play.
Andersen twice stopped the Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine, one of the league’s pure snipers, after Carolina turnovers. He stopped Yegor Chinakhov on a breakaway after Chinakhov knocked down a pass at the Carolina blue line, and later stopped Sean Kuraly on a shorthanded shot from the slot,
Canes center Vincent Trocheck, who had two goals and an assist, was named the game’s first star. It easily could have been Andersen.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Trocheck said to the media. “He’s kept us in all of these games. We’re not usually a team that gives up so many grade-A’s (scoring chances) but when we have in these last few games, he’s stepped up.”
Putting last season in Toronto behind him
It has been some 20-month ride for Andersen since the game in Toronto that made David Ayres an instant hero for the Canes, and the game an instant classic.
On Feb. 22, 2020, Reimer and then Mrazek were injured in the game at Scotiabank Arena. Ayres, the emergency backup goalie, entered late in the second period, shutting out the Leafs in the third as the Canes scored twice to cap an improbable victory.
Andersen was in the Leafs net, the guy beaten by the “Zamboni driver,” as Ayres, then 42, was called by many in the media. Andersen allowed six goals on 47 shots in the 6-3 loss.
The pandemic put an end to the 2019-20 regular season soon after the Ayres game. The Maple Leafs, with Andersen in net, were defeated by Columbus in a 2020 Stanley Cup playoff qualifying round. They lost again in the 2021 playoffs to Montreal, with Andersen injured during a seven-game series that had an excruciating end for the Leafs.
Andersen prefers not to say much about his troubles last season. In a five-part docu-series on the Leafs’ 2021 season shown on Amazon, the goalie’s injury situation became a major focus for the Leafs as the NHL trade deadline approached and Andersen was sidelined.
“The Freddie situation. It’s a huge concern for all of Leafs Nation,” narrator Will Arnett said on “All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs.”
During the series, Andersen is shown flexing a leg in the treatment room and saying, “It’s one of those injuries that kind of come over time and could be a number of things, the small impacts or just wear and tear from playing a lot.”
Andersen has played a lot. He started more than 60 games in his first three seasons in Toronto and has played in 397 games since his NHL career began in 2013 with Anaheim after initially being drafted by the Canes in 2010.
Andersen said he did not have an issue in the way he or his injury were portrayed in the behind-the-scenes Amazon series.
“It’s not the most fun season to look back on,” he said. “It had some stuff about my injury but that’s never fun to look at, so I’m just happy that I moved on and feeling good now.”
The Canes also signed goalie Antti Raanta in the offseason. Brind’Amour could give Raanta his first start with the Canes on Monday. Or it could be Andersen against his former team.
No pressure either way, Andersen said.
“There’s going to be pressure everywhere you look,” he said. “It’s just a matter of focusing on the things you can control.”
Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.
TV/Radio: Bally Sports South, WCMC 99.9 FM.