Mike Babcock has a plan for Andersen and Sparks usage down the stretch. That might comfort a lot of people, but it doesn’t really comfort me.
You see, I’d really like Andersen playing as little as possible, since, I dunno, when he’s in he’s often looked like a guy who needs a night off, and you know, wanting you starter to be able to go the distance into the playoffs.
Now some folks will say that Andersen has had a lighter workload compared to the last two seasons, and that 56 games is decidedly less than 66 games. In fact, if Andersen plays all of the remaining games, it’s also true that 62 games is less than 66 games. (Sorry to hit you with all that math.)
Unfortunately, rehabbing an injury in January probably didn’t feel like getting too much rest, and if you look at Andersen’s workload in 2018-19 compared to the last couple of seasons, it’s pretty much right on target.
Unfortunately what has also been right on target is the late season slump that has come on in either March or April in the previous two seasons…
March has not been kind to Andersen, and generally that hasn’t led to favourable playoff results either, where we’ve seen Andersen’s save percentage take a nose dive compared to his regular season average over the past two seasons. While I’m not saying that save percentage is by any means the best indicator and cannot be put entirely on Andersen, I say that whether it’s the result of Andersen or whether it’s the result of poor defense or whether it’s the result of two top four defensemen being out for significant amounts of time, it seems that late season struggles are something we can count on.
Andersen’s results in Anaheim were stronger when it comes to the playoffs. He also sported the .918 save percent in the regular season there, which is probably a testament to how consistent Freddy is over the course of a season, but he also had greater playoff success with the exception of his rookie year. Andersen’s playoff save percentage steadily improved from .899 (7 games) to .913 (16 games) to .947 (5 games), and the seasonal usage was much lower in comparison to what he is having to work in Toronto…
Now, Toronto definitely does not have the benefit of a John Gibson to platoon with, and I’m not advocating for pursuing such an arrangement in Toronto either. What I am suggesting is that with Toronto comfortably in their 3rd spot in their division and the playoffs looking like a lock, and with the playoffs essentially looking like a certainty since back in November, a slightly higher usage of the backup goaltender throughout the year would be beneficial, and now in the late parts of the season, it seems that March and April really should be platoon time, especially since we’re not getting the performances out of Andersen that set him apart from Sparks anyways.
If the Leafs (god willingly) go on a playoff run this year, and break out of the first round, it’s entirely possible that Andersen will be playing more games this year than he has ever played in his career. Perhaps testing the limits of your goaltenders endurance when the games matter the most isn’t ideal, and a little rest now could go a long way.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I do not have a lot of faith in the abilities of Garret Sparks, but he is the goaltender the Leafs have right now and that is who we have to work with. It certainly seems that Mike Babcock’s view on Sparks isn’t that far off of mine, and that could be why we are in this pickle.
Nevertheless, if I can overlook my distaste for Sparks for the greater good, I’d hope Babcock could do the same because besides the obvious benefit of getting Andersen so rest down the stretch, the idea of playing Sparks more gets him back into regular game form, and it’s not just circling starts on a calendar. For the playoffs it would be nice to have a guy step in who has played more than once in the past three weeks step into the crease if Andersen needs relief. And in the most unfortunate event of an Andersen injury, it would be nice to believe that the Leafs are better off going with Sparks instead of recalling Michael Hutchinson from the Marlies to take over the net.
Nothing about a backup goaltender playing in the playoffs is comforting, but it would be nice if he was as game ready as possible.
If Babcock has a calendar of who is getting what start (he does), this exercise is completely pointless (most blogging is), but dang it, I’m going to share my ideas of who should start each game anyway.
Wednesday, March 27th: Garret Sparks. This is an easy decision. Start him.
Saturday, March 30th: Garret Sparks again. This is the first of 3 games in 4 nights. The majority of the workload should go to Garret.
Monday, April 1st: Freddie Andersen. Both games against the Islanders this season have gone to Sparks, and they haven’t gone well. Having Sparks face someone he’s struggled against doesn’t seem beneficial, and with games on back to back nights there needed to be an Andersen appearance in here anyway.
Tuesday, April 2nd: Garret Sparks. Second half of a back to back is comfort food. Also Carolina is still playing for something so they are going to come at the Leafs harder than the Isles probably will.
Thursday, April 4th: Freddie Andersen. Nothing about playing the Lightning seems easy, and in fact, Sparks has fared better against the Lightning than Andersen has, but Andersen really should get the last little stretch off, and playing your starter in the last game of the season seems unwise.
Saturday, April 6th: Garret Sparks. This allows for the maximum amount of rest for Andersen and keeps Sparks at his freshest. This seems obvious and since the game isn’t at home you aren’t even upsetting home fans for sitting players. Don’t just sit Andersen, sit every core player with a hangnail or worse.
For those of you counting at home, I’m saying that Garret Sparks should have four more starts. I am not saying that Garret Sparks has earned four more starts or deserves four more starts. I’m saying Frederik Andersen deserves to be ready for the playoffs.
Neither one of the Leafs goaltenders have done well against the Bruins this year, with Andersen sporting a .882 save percentage and Sparks carrying a .868 Sv%. Interestingly enough Hutchinson’s .897 sv% leads the way. I’m not going to expand into that or how the newly signed Joseph Woll is very comfortable playing in front of a Boston crowd, instead I will just state it one last time for good measure.