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Net Effect: Andersen Is Ducks Best Hope For Playoff Success This Season

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With precious few regular season games remaining, Anaheim must figure out their goaltending situation for the playoffs. The choice is clear.

Frederik Andersen waits to face the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month.
Frederik Andersen waits to face the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine you work in sales and have been very successful securing clients and making vast amounts money for your company. Then BANG. Involved in a car wreck through no fault of your own and kept out of work for nearly a month. When you return all of a sudden the accounts you helped secure have been given to someone else, your desk has been moved from that nice spot with the window view, and to boot that red stapler you love got taken away.

Such is life for Frederik Andersen, after suffering a head injury in the Ducks game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feburary 8. After carrying the crease load for the team for over four months, putting up a .917 SV% while backstopping the team to a 29-11-5 mark, the next 22 days were spent recovering and watching the goaltending position that he owned suddenly come in to question through no fault of his own. In his stead John Gibson posted a .914 SV% while earning a 10-4-0 record in his 16 appearances since the injury.

So now it's come down as seemingly every season has for a Bruce Boudreau coached team, heading into the playoffs there's uncertainty in the crease for a team near the top of the league points standings. As last year it was the question of Andersen or Jonas Hiller, this year it's the debate between a 25 year old who equalled a gaudy mark for wins, or a 21 year old with gaudy potential.

The Comparison

Since ascending to the Ducks last season, Andersen has posted a 51-16-5 record with a 2.37 GAA and .917 SV% in his time with the big club. He is the prototypical modern NHL netminder, playing a positional blocking butterfly style that takes full advantage of his 6'3", 236 pound frame, yet still has the athleticism to make recovery saves on rebounds or when out of position. Looking deeper into Andersen's numbers through 77 games with the Ducks his 5v5 SV% is .922, .896 while on the penalty kill, .934 with the Ducks holding a lead and .893 while trailing.

Meanwhile Gibson has appeared in 23 games for Anaheim over the last two seasons, backstopping the Pacific Division regular season title-winning game against San Jose last year and earning a 15-6-0 record, sporting a 2.41 GAA and .921 SV%. It's a significantly smaller sample size, but there have been plenty of signs of the goaltender he can become to live up to his touting as the 39th pick overall in the 2011 draft. Further digging into Gibson's save percentage numbers show he's stopped shots to the tune of a .927 SV% at even strength, .869 with the Ducks on the PK, .931 while leading and .870 with a deficit.

An additional comparison can be drawn from War On Ice's save percentage zone numbers, explained fully on their glossary page. To put it simply, shots coming from the yellow areas are considered low danger, red areas medium danger, and blue areas high danger:

In all situations, Gibson has post a better save percentage against low danger shots  with a .983 mark as opposed to .969, but Andersen has been better against medium danger (.936 vs .906) and high danger (.813 vs .810) shots. When looking at even strength circumstances Andersen closes the gap for the lower danger shots (.979 vs Gibson's .989), while performing even better against medium danger shots (.941 vs .905) and high danger shot numbers equalizing. With Anaheim leading Andersen is better in all three categories (.968 vs .964 low, .957 vs .936 medium, .852 vs .833 high), and the only significant difference while trailing coming in against medium danger shots (.951 vs .808 for Gibson).

Confounding Coaching

As detailed in an earlier article on Andersen's usage down the stretch (an issue that the unfortunate injury cleared up) Boudreau has a history of going against the grain as far as his playoff goalie selection. Here's the chart again showing his history of playoff goalie deployment:

Percentage of Games Appeared In By Playoff Goalies Under Boudreau
Goalie Reg. Seas. App Playoff App. Total App. Total Team Games Percentage
C. Huet WAS '08 13 7 20 89 22.47%
S. Varlamov WAS '09 6 13 19 96 19.79%
S. Varlamov WAS '10 26 6 32 89 35.96%
M. Neuvirth WAS '11 48 9 57 91 62.64%
T. Vokoun WAS '12 17 N/A 17 22 77.27%
J. Hiller ANA '12 52 N/A 52 58 89.66%
J. Hiller ANA '13 26 7 33 55 60.00%
F. Andersen ANA '14 23 7 30 95 31.58%

Four of six trips to the postseason have been with a goalie who's played less than a majority of the teams games. To Boudreau's credit in the 2008 playoffs Cristobal Huet had the best SV% numbers both overall and when broken down to low-med-high danger. While the gambit of riding the hot hand of Semyon Varlamov got a playoff series win in 2009, the following year Jose Theodore posted near equal overall SV% numbers and was better in both low and medium danger shots over the course of the season but again was mystifyingly left on the bench come playoff time despite posting better SV% down the stretch. Last year Andersen's SV% numbers were better both overall and zonally than Hiller for both the life of the regular season and from March on.

In the majority of the "hot hand" cases Boudreau picked the goalie who understandably had the better SV% numbers down the stretch, but they also reflected the numbers over the life of the season. Andersen has been better in a majority of the SV% breakdowns, and that remains the case when looking at action since the turn to calendar year 2015. It would be another 2010 Varlamov over Theodore decision to go with Gibson instead of Andersen come playoff time.

Rotation Is Not A Viable Solution

Then you have silliness like was suggested on the post game call-in show after the debacle against the Rangers, the idea that Andersen and Gibson should be used as a tandem with no defined number one. Since the 2005 lockout only two Stanley Cup winners have seen their starter win less than 15 games in the playoffs; 2007 when Jean-Sebastien Giguere missed much of the opening round due to medical issues complicating the birth of his son, and 2008 when Chris Osgood replaced an over-the-hill Dominik Hasek after four mediocre games in the first round.

That one must go all the way back to 1991 when Tom Barasso won 12 games and Frank Pietrangelo four says something, but even at that Barrasso appeared in 20 games whereas Pietrangelo played in just five games. Even the Oilers teams that were mentioned had a 16 games with 11 wins for Grant Fuhr and seven games with four wins for Andy Moog split at most when they won the Cup for the first time in 1984. The last Stanley Cup winner that had a true, even split between its goaltenders came back when it took 12 playoff wins to claim the Cup for the 1972 Bruins, with Gerry Cheevers playing eight, Eddie Johnston playing seven and each goalie winning six games.

The point of this is, the most recent example of a team riding a split to reach the Final is the 2010 losers the Flyers, with Michael Leighton playing 14 and winning eight, and Brian Boucher appearing in 12 and winning six. There is no Bucyk-Esposito-Hodge forward trio with Bobby Orr on the backend for the 2015 Ducks, nor a Gretzky-Kurri-Messier-Coffey quartet to pull the offensive wagon. To ask Anaheim to attempt to win the Stanley Cup with a goalie split is to task the team to attempt to do something that hasn't truly been done since the early 70's, and is hoping to be an exception to nearly 96 seasons of historical precedent.

It Must Be Andersen

There've been a lot of numbers thrown at you in this piece, but the majority of them tell that Andersen at this point in his career is not only the more established but also better performing NHL goalie. The Ducks have been better than league average at preventing shots in the medium and high danger areas, though on the road have allowed slightly more than average high danger shots, which makes Andersen's better performance against those opportunities all the more important.

Andersen has posted better save percentage numbers in every situation of the game, and considering he's seen a greater percentage of his shots against from medium (25.4% vs 24.5%) and high danger (27.6% vs 24.5%) areas it should mean all the more. That a freak injury has lead to a circumstance where this performance is being ignored is bothersome at the least and potentially psyche-shaking at worst.

Both goalies are signed through next season, and will be restricted free agents come 2016-17. Many think that John Gibson is the future for the Ducks organization in goal, and while he may indeed have the higher upside, it does this years team a disservice to not play the goaltender that has performed best.

Frederik Andersen has been that man.