There was a time in the not too distant past when Buffalo's Anders Lindback was a relatively hot commodity. He was 6-foot-6. He could move like he was 6-foot-1. He was positionally sound, confident, ready to take a starting job.
And after Predators general manager David Poile got two 2012 second round picks as part of a package for Lindback from Tampa in the summer of 2012, it appeared the big Swede would be the Lightning’s goaltender of the future.
Only he swooned, horribly.
His first year in Tampa he had a 2.90 goals against average and .902 save percentage. His second year, again at 2.90 for goals against and .891 save percentage. He was not the goaltender the Lightning was looking for.
And it didn’t get much better with Dallas this season where he had a 3.71 goals against average and .875 save percentage in 10 games. At that point the future of Lindback’s NHL career looked grim.
When Buffalo acquired him for Jhonas Enroth in mid-February, it seemed like the Sabres were just taking a guy with two good legs who could stop a few pucks. Lindback’s shot confidence could only enhance Buffalo’s tanking, right? Wrong.
In seven games with the Sabres, Lindback has picked up points in three contests. THE HORROR! He has a 2.41 goals against average and .934 save percentage. Has he cemented himself as a starter of the future? Hardly.
But he looks way, way better and NHL-caliber once again, at age 26. On Tuesday night he stopped 43 Boston shots on goal in a 2-1 shootout win.
What has been the difference? Latvia’s favorite goaltender still believed in Lindback:
But Lindback stopped 35 of 38 shots and went 2 for 3 in the shootout in Monday’s 4-3 loss to Washington in First Niagara Center. (Coach Ted) Nolan and goaltending coach Arturs Irbe decided they wanted to test him in a back-to-back situation, and Lindback came through in fine fashion.
“He’s the one who saw something with this kid,” Nolan said of Irbe. “He worked with him, worked with him. We were thinking about going with Hackett, and he said, ‘Hey let’s put him back in.’ He has a real good feel for goaltenders, and he’s doing a great job.”
And if anything, this has to make you wonder about the Dallas Stars’ defensive system. If Buffalo’s is somehow better, maybe Kari Lehtonen’s 2.91 goals against average and .905 save percentage aren’t so horrible.
“All season I’ve been feeling good but haven’t got it done,” Lindback said. “I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just small things. You need that first save. It puts you in a good spot and right now I’m feeling good.
Not very long ago, Lindback was considered a Swedish clone of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Lindback made the NHL as a regular at a younger age than Rinne, and was further along in his development when Lindback backed up Rinne for two seasons in Nashville. The two were commonly seen together around town, and filmed goofy in-game videos:
If anything, Lindback is living up to where his Buffalo predecessor Michal Neuvirth left off – of totally preventing the tank job. Who would have thought that Lindback would outplay Enroth who had a 3.27 GAA and .903 save percentage with Buffalo?
Now, the Sabres are just three points clear of Arizona and Edmonton for the worst record – and highest probability of drafting No. 1 – in the NHL. And the Sabres play the Coyotes twice next week. Oh that will be epic. There’s a “Stripes” EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle and tank joke in there somewhere.
But even if the Lindback trade isn’t working out quite so well for Buffalo’s tanking purposes, it has at least helped resurrect the goaltender’s career. And if all continues to go well, and Buffalo gets Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel with one of the top two picks, there would be worse options than re-signing Lindback, provided he continues this pace.
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