Over the weekend, NHL.com posted an article on Mathieu Garon and his supportive role of the newly-acquired Anders Lindback. It included some quotes from Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, shedding light on how the tandem’s workload might play out.
“They’re both going to get a lot of ice time,” Boucher said. “I’m not expecting Lindback to come in here and play 65 games. He played 15 games the past two years, so it’s not fair to him. It’s not fair for the expectations.”
I share this cautious optimism with the Lightning’s coaching staff; Lindback is placed 25th overall in my Top-30 Fantasy Goalie Rankings for NHL Fantasy.
In hindsight, maybe that ranking is a few spots too low for an expected “starter” this season. Lindback has a chance to surprise a lot of people, and even beyond his unreal combination of size and athleticism, he has many other valuable weapons at his disposal.
Some of those weapons include (but are not limited to) his quality training and steady development in Sweden, his ability to learn from watching Pekka Rinne every day for two seasons, and the wisdom gained from Preds goalie coach Mitch Korn’s tremendous guidance.
In terms of the elements that could downgrade Lindback’s value this season, it starts and ends with his limited games played. He started 18 games in the 2010-11 season, and only 10 games last season (38 total appearances).
The rest of those potential downgrades are technically based, and get fairly complicated. In a nutshell, I think he still displays various levels of excess tension and rigidness in his posture, and I think he needs to improve his ability to read plays, track pucks, manage shots through traffic, and control rebounds.
But that’s the case for most 24-year-old goalies with limited NHL experience, and ultimately, I understand that Lindback is still miles away from reaching his true upside. There’s plenty of maturing, improving, and learning to be done, and how this process unfolds in Tampa Bay (compared to Nashville) is the true burning question in my mind.
Photo Copyright: Tom Turk – Piratical Photography
When it comes to understanding Lindback’s expectations, a major key to his success will be applying what he learned from watching his Rinne, his friend and counterpart. As I mentioned above, this is a major advantage for Anders; he benefits from watching a Vezina finalist exhibit similar posture patterns and in-crease movements for two straight years.
Therefore, this legitimate symbiosis with Rinne’s game, an idea you’ll find in my School of Block text, the Science of Shadowing, leads me to believe Lindback learned things at a faster and more efficient rate than if he was watching someone else.
Lindback’s ability to mimic and mold himself in Rinne’s image and likeness will be an intriguing dynamic, especially without his familiar support group in place. This is clearly new territory for the Swede, but I’m still confident that as time goes on, he’ll slowly evolve into a much stronger and more consistent goaltender.
Nevertheless, until Lindback personally goes through the motions and experiences of what it takes to play 60-plus games in a Lightning uniform, I suggest you temper your expectations. It’s going to take some time for Lindback to grow into the role of a workhorse starter.
Boucher also echoed these sentiments in the NHL.com article:
“We know he’s going to be good, but how good we don’t know,” Boucher said of Lindback. “That’s why Garon is perfect for him. He’ll be able to help him with how to manage things. And we know we can put Garon in net and get good results.”
But what are those “things” Boucher speaks of? What does Lindback need to better manage his game, and how likely is he to exceed expectations? Below is a short list I’ve compiled to help you make your own notes during the season.
1. SHIFTING CONFERENCES: When an inexperienced goalie changes conferences, he must manage the shift in the style of play, the shooters he faces, and a variety of other opponent-based dynamics. Every goalie will have different ways of explaining and experiencing those changes, but the key is to realize that not every goalie will adjust seamlessly.
I looked at Lindback’s short two-year NHL career and saw that in his 38 appearances, 14 games came against the Eastern Conference. For only 38 games to work with, 14 is a decent sample size.
In his rookie season, he went a remarkable 6-1-2 with a 1.99 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage, and two shutouts against the East. The two shutouts came in back-to-back starts at home against the Panthers and Islanders on Dec. 11 and 13. That transpired in the middle of a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) that lasted from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17.
Back on Oct. 24 of 2010, Lindback made his NHL presence felt against, coincidentally, the Lightning. He stopped 42 of 45 shots, was voted the game’s First Star, and basically left a lasting impression on Tampa Bay’s scouts. They probably discussed and reviewed tape from that game when discussing his potential future with the club.
Last season, however, Lindback went 0-5-0 with a 3.25 GAA and .872 SV% against the East.
Consider that a “sophomore slump” if you’d like, but when looking at past statistics like these, there’s always more than meets the eye.
At the end of the day, I come to the conclusion that Lindback is in for a significant adjustment when the season gets underway. Even then, there’s no knowing how long it will last, or how things will transpire. Your guess is as good as mine.
2. SHIFTING TEAM STYLES: I don’t know the Lightning intimately, so I won’t speak on how they might differ from Nashville. We know Boucher is not afraid to muck things up in the neutral zone, but I don’t think that’s the style he really wants to play on a nightly basis. Regardless, contrasts between Predators hockey and Lightning hockey do exist, and that calls for an adjustment in certain elements of Lindback’s game.
Not only will Lindback need some time getting comfortable communicating with his new defensemen, but he’ll need to learn the team’s systems, their breakouts, and the mannerisms of his Top-6 blueliners. Conversely, the defensemen will need some time to learn his mannerisms as well.
Again, these things are all part of a gradual process every goalie on a new team faces. Spending time on these things in practice will help the transition process go faster, but even then, there’s no way of knowing how long it will take.
Photo Copyright: Tom Turk – Piratical Photography
3. IMPROVING DURABILITY: It is easy to stay rested, hydrated, and physically prepared when a goalie only plays once every five or six games. It’s quite another when a goalie is asked to play three out of every four games. Lindback’s durability has never been tested beyond four or five straight games at the NHL level before, so there’s another learning curve you’ll need to keep in mind as you manage your expectations.
This same topic of an elevated workload was discussed in my recent article on Tuukka Rask, and the benefit of his injury. It can help some goalies, it can hurt others. It just depends.
Lindback will have to learn over time how to shift his daily routine, how to mentally prepare for his new role, and how to do everyday things like managing energy. It must also be pointed out that his routine of managing his Adult-onset Still’s disease (diagnosed prior to the 2008 NHL Draft) will probably have to be monitored more closely than before, since he’ll be exerting more physical energy throughout the season.
4. MATURING MENTALITY: The most important aspect of Lindback’s value this season will be how he mentally handles the additional pressure, the brighter spotlight, and the higher expectations he holds from himself. For the first time, he’s being relied upon to lead a team to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and there’s no knowing how a goalie will respond to that mental obstacle.
To get a better understanding of how Lindback might perform in his first season trying to carry the “starter” label, I highly suggest reading my short interview with Korn, which took place right after Lindback was traded. Korn had great insights on how Lindback might handle the transition, and it further echoes some of the topics I discuss above.
As you can see, despite the fact Lindback clearly has terrific upside and a bright future as an NHL starter, it’s important to limit expectations during his first season with Tampa Bay.
If there’s one thing I have learned over the past three years, it’s that there is no one specific reaction to progress and change. Some goalies learn consistently and adjust smoothly, others in spurts and stages, and others seem to make no progress at all until they experience a moment of pure enlightenment.
When I’m wearing my scouting hat, that moment of pure enlightenment is something I live for.
In many instances, it’s like seeing a shooting star streak across the night sky out of the corner of your eye. If you happen to witness it, you usually don’t even know what you saw until it’s already gone.
In other instances, it’s like a lunar eclipse. You know when it’s coming, you can prepare for it, and witnessing it is a memorable spectacle.
And in my experience, the former happens way more often than the latter.
I have also come to learn that, at times, a certain amount of pressure needs to build up in a goalie’s mind before major leaps in maturity and development take place. If a goalie never feels the need to elevate certain mental aspects of his game, he might go through an entire season lacking the motivation he truly needs to evolve or excel in key situations.
When Lindback does eventually (or in my opinion, inevitably) experience a breakthrough with the Lightning, he will greatly benefit from a massive boost in confidence. From there, he will move with more ease, he’ll think the game better, and everything from rebound control to timeliness will be seen on a more consistent basis.
But for now, I think it’s smart to expect some inconsistency from Lindback. It’s not going to be an easy transition for him to make, no matter how prepared you may think he feels.
At the same time, learning from Rinne and Korn over the past few seasons is more support than any goalie could ever dream of having. It is truly is a gift, and along with his sheer will and talent, there is plenty to be excited for if you’re a Lightning fan.