The Leafs need to lighten Frederik Andersen's workload

Photo by: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Toronto Maple Leafs approach the midway mark of the 2016-17 season, they find themselves in the middle of a playoff race. Despite their 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the Leafs (18-13-8) are just two points behind the Boston Bruins for 2nd in the Atlantic Division with three games in hand.

Everyone on the Leafs roster has played a part in the team's turnaround season this year. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander among other rookies have played exceptionally well at both ends of the ice. The defensive unit, while still a work in progress, continues to improve. The team is seventh in the league in goals for, third in shots-per-game, seventh on the power play, and eighth on the penalty kill.

Another player who needs to be added to that list is Frederik Andersen. After suffering through a disastrous October, Andersen has since rebounded to become the reliable starter the team had hoped for. Currently, as of January 8, he has 17 wins, a .918 save percentage, and 2.69 goals against average.

While Andersen's solid play since November has helped the Leafs get in the playoff race, he has not been himself of late. Over his past five starts, he has a save percentage of .884. While he did manage to win 3 games in that span, his most recent start should have the coaching staff concerned.

Against Carey Price and the Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada, Andersen looked shaky early on, allowing four goals on the first 12 shots he faced. Specifically, the second and fifth goal he allowed were both stoppable ones that could have altered the game in the Leafs favour had he made both saves.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and it resulted in a loss at the hands of their long-time rivals. He finished the game with 26 saves and a .839 save percentage while Price made 33 saves and a .917 save percentage.

One possible reason for Andersen's struggles of late may be due to fatigue. He has made 33 starts so far this year and is currently on pace to appear in 69 games by season's end, well above his active career high of 54. He has also faced the second-most shots of any goaltender at 1074, which is behind only Cam Talbot of the Edmonton Oilers. Because of his small sample size of games as a starter during his hockey career, Andersen may be playing to the point of exhaustion.

Another thing that Leafs management needs to keep in mind is that over the past few seasons, the number of games top tier goalies have appeared has decreased since 2009.

Originally from The Atlantic

Based on these trends, the logical conclusion would be that the Leafs have to give the backup goalie(s) a start more frequently from this point on. That is easier said than done, however, because the Leafs backup goaltenders have not been very reliable this season.

The two goalies have posted a combined .899 save percentage, 2.96 goals against average, and only one win as of January 8.  Jhonas Enroth has struggled all year and is currently in the AHL, while Antonie Bibeau, although he has been good in his two starts, does not have solid AHL stats to prove he can be reliable in the NHL right now.

Another part of the problem is that the Leafs' schedule the rest of the way is extremely condensed and will not be in their favour.

Following last night's game, the team completed their ninth back-to-back game this season. The Leafs have struggled to find much success in this situation, as they have a record of 2-6-1 in the latter half of the back-to-backs. A possible reason for their struggles in the back-to-backs may be the strategy Mike Babcock has implemented: it is either Andersen getting both games (1-2-0) or the backup starting the second game (1-4-1).

This recent back-to-back could have been better if Bibeau started against the New Jersey Devils and Andersen play the Canadiens. Instead, Andersen got both games and it resulted in a shaky overall performance in the two games, which Babcock later admitted was the wrong decision.

After this bye-week, the Leafs will have 43 more games in 87 days to play as well as nine more back-to-back situations, including one immediately after the five-day rest. While it appears that Andersen will play in a majority of those games, the Leafs cannot afford to allow him to appear in nearly all of them.

The only two options the team has at this point is to either give Bibeau more starts, as Enroth does not appear to be the answer, or look to acquire a new backup goalie. If management is serious about making a run at the playoffs, then having a reliable backup netminder is essential in giving the Leafs the best chance to make the postseason.

Because the last thing the Leafs need, should the get into the playoffs, is a burned out and exhausted Andersen when the games matter the most.

All stats for this article are from
You can follow Michael Mazzei on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3.


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