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MAPLE LEAFS

'He knows he's my guy': Maple Leafs' Babcock backs struggling goalie Andersen as Panthers, Reimer visit Toronto

By Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — If Frederik Andersen wants some advice on weathering a goaltending storm in Toronto, he might want to do his pre-game warm-ups beside James Reimer on the Florida Panthers’ side of centre.

‘Sunny Jim’ went through a few of his own and stayed 207 games, overcoming his own foibles and taking on challengers such as Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas and, most notably, a three-year battle with Jonathan Bernier.

So it might be perfect timing that Reimer comes to town with Andersen under fire, coach Mike Babcock staunchly defending him in case of any fan “witch hunt”, giving his $25-million man every chance for redemption.

Florida coach Gerard Gallant won’t throw gas on the fire by starting Reimer on Thursday, with his plan already in place to have Roberto Luongo face the Leafs after Reimer started Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh.

Reimer didn’t want to comment specifically on the latest Leafs net nuttiness but, yeah, he knows the drill.

“It’s like anything, you have to bury your head in the sand, whether it’s Toronto, Florida, San Jose or Vancouver,” he said.

“You just lean on what you believe. Everyone is going to voice their opinion. Everyone is allowed to do that. People can boo and cheer, but you have to focus on what you can control. That’s what I did and had great support from my family, my wife. my team.

“Obviously, you keep tabs around the league on some things. I don’t know the complete ins and outs of this, I don’t know Andersen too well, but I think he’s an elite goaltender, things will play themselves out and he’ll get back to the puck-stopping everyone knows he’s capable of.

“(Toronto) is a fun market. As a goalie, there are a lot of pressures and expectations on you. One positive is that there is always excitement and a buzz in the air.”

The fun factor is definitely missing for Andersen, sapped by an .851 save percentage and some messy defensive work in front of him, complicated by team penalties.

But his work came under scrutiny after a road trip where the Leafs blew three third-period leads and came home Tuesday to have him allow four goals on the first 11 shots en route to a 7-3 loss to the Lightning.

“He knows he’s my guy,” Babcock repeated after Thursday’s practice.

“I know things have a way of evening out and when you’re good, you don’t just lose (ability). There is something affecting you, so we talked about that today. I expect him to be back and rolling (starting Thursday).”

Andersen and Jhonas Enroth came out for their usual pre-practice work with goalie coach Steve Briere. But other than indicating he’s spending more time with Briere breaking down video, Andersen is not drastically altering his routine, vowing he’ll keep working through the mental issues he’s having on the ice.

“We’ve talked,” he said of Briere. “I don’t want to go too much into that. That’s our little goalie fraternity. We work on stuff and try to improve. All that matters is what you do next, stopping the next puck.

“I think everyone around here wants us to do good. Everyone’s had a tough time, we just have to keep working at it.” Andersen, who had never allowed seven goals in an NHL game through his strong tenure in Anaheim, must have known there would be times like this with a young team, an unfamiliar defence and playing in a hockey town, with an unscheduled month-long shoulder injury layoff.

“I think anywhere you are, you will have tough nights,” he said. “It’s about bouncing back and showing what you are made of. (Babcock’s support) means a lot to me, but I have to do my work. I have a lot of expectations on myself.”

Babcock said he and the organization did a lot of homework on Andersen before signing him to a five-year deal and he’s not about to unscrew his lid to poke around the circuitry.

“Let’s not over-think this,” Babcock cautioned. “We’ve made a real point with not doing too much (extra-curriculars) with Freddy. He’s obviously had a way he’s done things and it’s important, until we get to know him, that we don’t change anything. He’s the guy and he has to fight his way through it.

“We play in the greatest hockey market in the world, the most fans, the most media and whether people believe this or not, they’re cheering for you. They want you to be great. That’s what you have to get through your head. There’s no witch hunt here. If you’re great, they’re cheering for. If not, they want a new guy. It’s that simple. I think that’s fair.”

THE SHIRT OFF HIS BACK

James Reimer can say that his old No. 34 has gone to a good home.

Auston Matthews’ four goals in his first game was probably more points than Reimer’s assist total in six years as a Leaf and the No. 1 pick will likely make the sweater a favourite fan purchase in coming seasons.

“It’s terrible, I can’t believe the kid did it,” joked Reimer, who gets his first close-up of Matthews and his old team on Thursday at the Air Canada Centre. “Maybe I’ll slash him in warmups or something.

“He’s a heck of a player and I’m not here any more, so it’s no big deal.”

Reimer, who has been in goal for two losses with the Panthers so far — one in a shootout — says he’s enjoying life in South Florida so far, with wife April moving into their new home this week.

The couple is expecting its first child in April.

Reimer, Toronto’s two-time Masterton Trophy nominee for dedication to hockey, played 207 games here, 10th in Leafs history.

“I enjoyed my time, the city, the team, a lot of good memories,” Reimer said. “It was a real special time. With Florida, we have a pretty good squad and we’re trying to get a feel for the team.”

Reimer was between the pipes for the Panthers’ 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, so Roberto Luongo will start against the Leafs.

lhornby@postmedia.com



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