It’s not as if the Tampa Bay Lightning are off to some sort of horrendous start, but perhaps as a point of contention, it is worth noting that Anders Lindback admitted his play between the pipes this season has been “just okay.”
Lindback has posted an impressive 4-1-0 record in five starts this season to go along with a .914 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against average. Most importantly, too, is that the team is winning.
But, “there have been a few times,” Lindback said, “where I wish I could have had some of those back.”
Take for example, Florida’s first goal scored during Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over the in-state rival Panthers.
With the Lightning off to a 1-0 lead, Lindback mishandled the puck behind his own net and was found helpless on his back as he attempted to thwart a shot from Peter Mueller that found the back of the net and evened things at one goal apiece.
Two nights earlier, in a 5-1 rout of the Philadelphia Flyers, it was Sean Couturier’s soft wrist shot that somehow snuck between Lindback’s skate and the goal post to open the scoring just 59 seconds into the game.
“As long as we’re winning, I can be fine with those,” Lindback added. “But I’m always trying to improve my game and get better.”
And the only way to do that, head coach Guy Boucher says, is to allow Lindback to play a lot of minutes and expose the 24-year-old native of Gavle, Sweden to as much game action as possible.
So far, the plan is paying off, as Lindback has appeared in five of his team’s six games this season, including three straight.
It, too, appears that Lindback is getting better as the season gets longer.
After allowing three or more goals in each of his first three starts, Lindback has not given up more than two in as many previous outings.
At times, he has come through in large fashion when his team has needed it most, making key saves at crucial points in the game that have either kept the Lightning in it, or thus far only once during the season against the Islanders, prevented the situation from being much worse.
Case in point, there was Lindback on Tuesday night denying Panthers forward Scottie Upshall on a clean breakaway to keep Florida at bay. Later in the third period, he turned back a solid scoring chance by Shawn Matthias from in close to preserve what at the time was a three-goal lead.
“He’s so big, but he’s also mobile and he has good positioning that allows him to make saves like that,” team goaltending coach Frantz Jean said. “That’s what we like about him.”
Also impressive is Lindback’s mental makeup that, on more than one occasion throughout the young season, has allowed him to quickly forget about giving up a soft goal. Instead, Lindback said, he makes it a point to refocus and continue on as if it had never happened.
“It’s something I work on every day, just getting your mind in the right place before and after something happens, whether it be trying to read the play as it unfolds or getting over a bad goal,” he said. “You just have to look forward. The next save you make could be the one that wins the game.”
Alleviating some of that pressure comes with having not only an NHL veteran such as Mathieu Garon on the bench for counsel, but also player development coach Steve Thomas, who was added to the coaching staff prior to the start of the year to help young players such as Lindback, expedite the maturation process.
Prior to joining the Lightning, Lindback only had 38 games of NHL experience under his belt, as he served primarily in a backup role to incumbent netminder Pekka Rinne in Nashville.
But as Boucher echoed, he himself is just as anxious to see what Lindback can do from behind the bench as any Bolts fan watching from the seats.
“Right now we’ve got a young goaltender in Lindback who we want to build up,” Boucher said. “He’s a young guy and he’s played well, so we need to get him some minutes. The situation is we want to give him an opportunity to grow.”
And as he’s done so far through five starts, give the Lightning a chance to win.
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