When teams are struggling to find consistency, it’s easy for fans and pundits to start pointing fingers at perceived scapegoats. In baseball the blame is often assigned to the pitchers, in football it’s the quarterback. In hockey a lot of the woes are placed on the heavily padded shoulders of the goaltender. It makes sense. They are the one man standing in the way of the opposition getting a tally on the scoreboard. Even if a lot of different factors can contribute to the opposition scoring, the lion’s share of the blame is placed with the masked man between the pipes.
We’ve seen quite a lot of this in Tampa’s shortened season in regards to Anders Lindback. Making the young netminder the scapegoat is extremely short sighted. A lot of people need to take a chill pill. Tampa has had goaltending issues for quite some time, but there’s no reason to write Lindback off as a failure 18 games into the season.
Anders Lindback is only 24 years old. He has played less than 40 NHL games in his entire career. He also spent most of his time in Nashville on the bench behind Preds’ number 1 Pekka Rinne. Goalies, like defensemen, often take longer to mature into their positions. There’s a lot of instinctual things they have to learn. How to position themselves, how to handle rebounds, how and when to go out to play the puck. It takes time to learn these things, which is why most of the elite goalies in the league today are in their late 20s and early 30s. There are going to be bumps in the road in the meantime.
The psyche of athletes is extremely important. Once confidence becomes an issue for a player, it’s difficult for them to overcome it. The last thing a team wants is a tentative goalie in net. This is purely speculation, but Mike Smith seemed to deal with this here. He would start games well, but if one or two got past him he would collapse. He showed flashes of brilliance in Tampa, but didn’t truly blossom until he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes. Whether being here triggered negative reactions in his head or pure coincidence, it’s hard to argue that Smith’s game has transformed in a new environment. That’s a big reason why Lindback’s development needs to be nutured here. If it isn’t, he may end up being that number one goalie… somewhere else.
Damian Cristodero shared head coach Guy Boucher’s thoughts on the subject in the Tampa Bay Times:
“The reality is we have a lot of patience for forwards who get in the NHL and a little less patience with defensemen. If we have patience with them, we have to have patience with our goaltenders, too, when they make a little mistake. (Lindback has) got to feel he’s allowed to make mistakes. We have his back because he has our back often.”
Has he allowed some soft goals? Absolutely. Is Lindback solely responsible for the struggles of the team? Absolutely not. Mathieu Garon is not going to be their savior. The biggest issue isn’t even necessarily the goaltending. The biggest problem I’ve seen this season have been the turnovers and careless mistakes before the puck is even put on net.
Lay off Lindback. Especially if you were singing his praises during the first 6 games of the season. He has the tools to become a extremely successful goaltender in this league, but right now what he needs is ice time. Any issues he is having won’t be solved by riding the pine.