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Rule No.1: Always have you’re goalie’s back.
Auston Matthews may be young, but he understands this axiom like a grizzled veteran. A day after goaltender Freddie Andersen questioned everything from sloppy defensive play to the usage of some players in certain situations, the Leafs’ best forward defended his netminder’s sentiments.
“He doesn’t say much, but when he says something, people listen up. He’s absolutely within his right to be upset because we’ve left him out to dry too many times over this course of games,” Matthews said to reporters Friday.
“It’s something that has to be within the team, within every guy, looking at each other across the room and playing for one another.”
Andersen, who has been Toronto’s MVP this point, has seen more shots (1340), made more saves (1235) and played more minutes (2355) than any other goaltender in the NHL this season, stopping 31.5 pucks on average per night. He’s faced 35-plus shots in 19 outings and 40-plus shots in six of his starts — going 4-0-2 in those contests.
All that rubber has started to take a toll on the soft-spoken Andersen, who let a rare verbal condemnation of his team slip on Thursday.
“We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team,” the goalie said after the 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia, seemingly criticizing the effort of some guys whom he didn’t specify by name.
Andersen again voiced a touch of dissatisfaction with how certain players were being used when asked if he was frustrated to see an odd-man rush on a Maple Leafs power play early in the third frame.
“Yeah. A lot of guys on the bench, too. Pretty frustrating not being on the power play and seeing that kind of effort. I think we’ve got to look each other in the eyes and determine where we want to go from here.”
Whether the comments were voiced out of sheer emotion, or reflect his teammates and the fans’ true feelings on the current lineup structure and usage of certain guys, Matthews knows the team as a whole needs to elevate its level of play in front of its 28-year-old netminder.
“He’s absolutely right. We have his back. We need to be better for one another, and we need to be better for him.”