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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes from Maple Leafs practices and game-day skates. The Leafs practised at the MasterCard Centre on Friday. 

Frederik Andersen has heard the criticism about how his game is slipping and how he’s wilting under a heavy workload and he just laughs it off. In fact, Andersen says he’s more than willing to take the heat as the Maple Leafs work their way out of a four-game skid. 

“I think it’s great,” the 28-year-old said with a grin. “If people are debating if a goalie should play a lot or not I think it kind of washes everything out so now we can just go play.”

Andersen jokes that he’s more tired from being asked the “being tired” questions rather than from facing a league-high 1,895 shots. He’s constantly telling anyone who will listen that he’s feeling fine and is actually enjoying the chance to play more than ever before. 

“It’s been incredible,” said centre Nazem Kadri. “He’s in great shape … Freddie’s done a great job with that and the more he gets in a rhythm the better he seems to play.”

Although that hasn’t necessarily been true of late. Andersen’s save percentage is just .895 in his last seven appearances (3-3-1). The decline appears to have started even before that. Since the calendar flipped to February, Andersen has allowed three or more goals in 11 of 13 starts. 

So, what’s going on?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I don’t make too much of it. You have a game like in Buffalo (on Monday) where everything seemed to hit something and go in and it’s not anything you can control.”

Andersen is quick to point out that everyone seemed concerned about his play in October when he got off to a slow start, posting a sub-.900 save percentage in the season’s opening month. But he followed that up by being among the NHL’s top goalies for the next three months. 

“It’s just another thing you got to keep working through and eventually it’s going to change as we’ve seen before,” Andersen said. “It’s those stretches you learn from and find out about yourself more and make sure you push yourself.”

Head coach Mike Babcock noted earlier this week that despite leading the NHL in starts (56), Andersen is getting a lot of breaks between games whether it’s over the holidays, the bye week, the all-star break or just a quirk of the schedule. 

The Leafs are currently going through a stretch where they’ll play just once in eight days, which has allowed Andersen to work on refining his game in practice. And in practices he seems just as intense as he is in games. At one point on Friday, he slammed his stick on the crossbar after allowing a goal. 

“I probably get more pissed off in practice when they score,” he admits with a chuckle. “I think the competition between friends is really important.” 

Is there anyone he hates giving up goals to in practice right now? 

“Lately, it’s been William (Nylander). I have a little bit of a duel with him,” Andersen revealed. “It’s fun. We’ll grab a guy once in a while to keep score and see who wins and pays for lunch.”

“When we play like three-on-three, two-on-one (drills) and stuff like that, that’s when it gets going,” Nylander confirmed.

How serious is Andersen in practice? 

“Oh, very serious,” said Nylander. “He’s dialed in and focused.”

“He’s a competitive guy,” said Kadri, “when you put one past him you get some bragging rights and I don’t think he likes to be constantly reminded of that so he’s trying to stop everything.”

Andersen seems to know when to unleash Fiery Freddie and when to stick with being the laid-back Steady Freddie. It’s a balancing act he’s perfected and it has allowed him to handle the ups and downs in the centre of the hockey universe. 

“The way he approaches the game is very unique and very professional,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly

Does Rielly have a story or any anecdote that sums of the essence of Andersen? 

“No, I don’t,” Rielly said. “And I think that’s a good thing. Just the way he handles his business doesn’t really change.”

Matthews progressing, but timeline remains unclear 

Auston Matthews skated once again on his own before Toronto’s practice, spending almost an hour on the ice with skill development consultant Mike Ellis. Matthews was worked hard, leaning over his knees at times to catch his breath.

Then, as was the case during the previous Leafs practice on Wednesday, the 20-year-old joined his teammates for the start of the main workout wearing a red jersey likely signifying that he’s yet to be cleared for contact. Matthews stayed on the ice for about 15 minutes of practice before heading to the dressing room. Despite skating hard, Matthews, who sustained a shoulder injury on Feb. 22, didn’t really seem to fire the puck at full speed. 

Is he making progress? 

“Yeah, he’s progressing, for sure,” said Babcock. “What does that mean? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t ask him every day. I say, ‘How you doing?’ just like to anyone else. When he’s ready, he’ll let us know for sure and, ideally, we’ll have him more than ready as far as fitness goes.”

Matthews will miss a sixth straight game on Saturday. Toronto doesn’t play again until Wednesday when Dallas visits the Air Canada Centre. 

Biggest difference for Rielly in year No. 5? ‘We’re good’

Rielly celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday and used the occasion to reflect on his five-year run in the NHL. What’s the biggest difference this season that’s allowed him to take his game to the next level? 

“We’re good,” he said with a smile. “The team’s better. I think we’ve come a long way. And you grow, you mature as the years go by.”

Rielly, who has already established a career high with 38 points, said the trying times he endured as the Leafs franchise stumbled during his first few seasons ultimately made him a better player. 

“I think it’s good. You get an opportunity to play when you’re young. You go through ups and down and you mature and you deal with it.”

Rielly, picked fifth overall in 2012, is viewed by some as the first big piece acquired in the Leafs rebuild although the Vancouver native doesn’t see it that way. 

Did it all start with him? 

“No,” he said while laughing and shaking his head. “No, it didn’t. I feel lucky to be a Maple Leaf and the team’s come a long way for sure, probably nothing to do with me.”

So, in the end, does being 24 feel any different than 23?

“Yes,” he said with a smile. “I feel old.”

Babcock welcomes McGill hockey team to Toronto 

The McGill University men’s hockey team watched part of Toronto’s practice on Friday and also got a chance to visit with Babcock, an alumnus of the Montreal-based school. 

“When I went there the hockey program wasn’t as good as the school,” Babcock recalled. “Now it is. I asked the seniors how many national championships they’ve been to and they told me, ‘Three in five years,’ so they’ve been to a number of them. They have a good program and kids are getting educated.”

What was Babcock’s message?

“What I tried to impart on them is, I graduated 31 years ago and during the break (bye week) I went skiing in Vail with five college roommates and their wives so 12 of us. Thirty-one years later, you’re still thicker than thieves so as much as it’s a foundation for life and a platform to chase your dreams, your career, you also get friends for life as well and I think those things are really important.”

McGill faces Brock University in the OUA championship game on Saturday night in St. Catharines, Ont. 

Lines at Friday’s practice:

van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Brown 
Moore, Matthews 



Power-play units at Friday’s practice: 

van Riemsdyk