TORONTO — Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock briefly considered pulling Frederik Andersen in what was ultimately the worst game of his NHL career.
Andersen gave up a career-high seven goals on only 24 shots Tuesday night, the third time in his first five starts as a Leaf that the 27-year-old has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. Andersen is sporting an unseemly .851 save percentage so far this season.
"I felt like everything just bounced the wrong way and (I) wasn't able to make any saves when we needed to," said Andersen after the 7-3 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa struck for four goals on the first 11 shots, including a pair by Steven Stamkos who matched a career-high with four points. Still Babcock stuck with his struggling No. 1, whom the Leafs acquired in a summer trade with Anaheim.
"He's my guy, I want him to play," Babcock said after Toronto's fifth loss in six games to start the season (1-2-3). "So I could pull him and then say OK I showed you!' But what did I show him? To me dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can't do that sitting on the bench."
Andersen arrived in Toronto with considerable pressure, inked for five years and US$25 million before he'd even played a game with the Leafs. He was instantly crowned the club's undisputed starting netminder, a position he never held over three seasons with the Ducks.
After the latest defeat, which followed 5-4 shootout loss in Chicago, Andersen said he was still adjusting to a new team and city with infinitely brighter lights and significantly more attention. He was also trying to rediscover a confidence which has eluded him so far this fall, an injury prior to training camp foreshadowing a rocky October.
"Definitely an adjustment," he said of the move to Toronto from quieter confines in Anaheim. "But you've just got to keep doing what you're doing, don't try to change too much. I think that's something that I've got to be better at, just play my game and then the results should come."
It didn't take long for Tampa to get to Andersen, Stamkos scoring the game's first goal 79 seconds into the opening frame.
Andrej Sustr intercepted Auston Matthews's failed pass attempt in the Toronto zone and then found Stamkos in alone behind the Leafs defence and though the Lightning's captain lost control of the puck, Leafs defenceman Matt Hunwick inadvertently batted it past his own netminder.
It was about six minutes later that Andersen couldn't handle a Braydon Coburn point shot, the attempt slipping through where it was eventually tapped in by Alex Killorn. Andersen had come up with fine stops on Valtteri Filppula and Killorn a few minutes before that, but was unable to maintain those efforts as the period wore on.
Stamkos rubbed more salt in the goalie's wounds late in the first frame, whistling a perfect one-time shot past beyond the blocker from the top of the faceoff circle. Andersen, the NHL's only Danish netminder, seemed to think the shot was going to his glove-side as he fought to see it through traffic.
The Lightning scored their fourth goal on only their 11th shot, Stamkos setting up Victor Hedman's first goal of the season.
Andersen wasn't helped at times by the occasional glaring error of his teammates, such as the giveaway by Matthews and on the fourth goal, too, Hedman somehow slipping unnoticed to the net front. But he also looked rattled from the early shelling, flailing his glove almost helplessly on the fifth Tampa goal.
The seven-goal shelling eclipsed a prior career-high of six goals against, which came last March, oddly enough, against the Leafs.
"You've just got to challenge yourself to work harder," Andersen said of digging out from the early rut. "That's the only thing to get out of it if you aren't feeling like you're being hit with the puck or seeing the puck; you've got to just work harder to see it."
Babcock passionately defended Andersen's play on Tuesday morning, pointing to widespread struggles at the position in October, not to mention the very small sample size.
He reiterated his faith in Andersen afterward.
"It hasn't gone as good as he would like it to go," Babcock said. "(But) we're very confident in his ability. We did a lot of work in advance to know what he's capable of doing. He's done it for three years straight."
"It's very important that we support him," the coach added. "But he's got to get to work too and do his part."
The Leafs outplayed the Lightning for much of the evening, outshooting them 43-24 overall and 34-18 at even-strength. Toronto's hotshot rookie duo of Matthews and William Nylander came up with a goal and assist each in defeat.
Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick at the 2016 draft, now leads the NHL in scoring with 10 points in his first six games, Nylander tied for second with nine points himself.