Toronto Maple Leafs’ Hutch must ‘follow the puck’ Toronto Maple Leafs’ Hutch must ‘follow the puck’
After an 8-4 blowout loss to the surging Florida Panthers, the Toronto Maple Leafs are left to wonder about another underwhelming performance from their... Toronto Maple Leafs’ Hutch must ‘follow the puck’

After an 8-4 blowout loss to the surging Florida Panthers, the Toronto Maple Leafs are left to wonder about another underwhelming performance from their all-star netminder Frederik Andersen. Why? The simple answer is that the team cannot count on backup Michael Hutchinson to give Andersen a much-needed break.

Fans and media pundits alike are worried about Leafs’ starting goalie Andersen.

TSN hockey commentator Ray Ferrao made a comment during last Monday’s Leafs broadcast that Andersen, who has played the most games by a goalie in the league, has to get some “relief” down the stretch. To do that: Hutchinson is going to have to step up his game, according to Ferrao.

Hutchison spouts a record of 3-6-1 with a .892 save percentage and 3.68 goals-against average. Although the struggles of the defence have not helped his case, Hutchinson’s play has not allowed the defence to feel comfortable with its goaltender.

So, the question is: How can Hutchinson “step up his game”? Maple Leafs fans from Etobicoke have a few ideas.

Hockey lover Neil Moore told Skedline that Hutchinson needs to calm down and follow the puck. “He needs to stay square to the shooter and minimize the movement on his part.”

Paul Vautour told Skedline that the key to Hutchinson’s success is confidence. “He did a decent job last year,” Vautour said. “In his game against the Islanders on Saturday night, he played fairly well. But you’ll notice after many saves, he looks behind him. That’s a lack of confidence.”

Hunter Sachs, a lifelong observer of the game, told Skedline that Hutchinson’s biggest problem is rebounds. “A vast majority of the errors that Hutchinson makes is giving up juicy rebounds to wingers that are crashing the net,” Sachs said. “He overcommits to the shot, lets a rebound pop off him, and just like that the goal light is on behind him. If he can clean that up, he should be okay down the stretch.” 

Hutchinson has had some success. In his latest start on Jan 4, he recorded a shutout against the New York Islanders. 

In this small sample size, the Toronto defencemen limited shots to Hutchinson’s crease. The heat map of the game showed that the Leafs limited the high-quality scoring chances in front of Hutchinson.  He was still faced with the task of stopping odd-man rushes and breakaways.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

Etobicoke goalie coach Michael LoCicero told Skedline – when asked about Toronto’s game against New York – that Hutchinson was up to the task. “‘Hutch’ had his eyes on the prize,” LoCicero said. “He stopped overplaying the puck and let the game come to him. Unlike in most cases, his defence bailed him out. At the very least, they did not leave him out to dry more than they had in the past.”

LoCicero said that he believes his shutout against the Islanders could be a slight preview of what is to come if Hutchinson can face his demons.   

Hutchinson has to get rid of the bad habits, he added: “I see this time and time again with goalies. They get lost in the same routine,” LoCicero said. “They are practicing, but they are not fully taking in what they are learning; 95 per cent of playing goalie is knowing how to react to certain situations.

“For example, in a two-on-one, most goalies will look at the puck carrier and make their next reaction based on what he does. That is what goalies have been taught to do since like forever. For a goalie like ‘Hutch’, when he does that, he loses sight of what matters most, which is the puck. Now no matter what happens, Hutchinson is more so taking a leap of faith rather than reacting to where the puck is going.” 

LoCicero said that he believes if Hutchinson could keep his eye on the puck, his game would significantly improve. “In tennis, what does the player keep their eye on when they are rallying? The ball. In baseball, when a hitter is at the plate, he’s not looking at the guy in left field. He is looking at the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand so he can make an informed decision to swing or not,” LoCicero said.

“Why should it be any different for a goalie? He’s not trying to keep the player out of the net, he’s trying to keep the puck out of it.”

Christian Holmes

Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories as proven by his story about his lifelong love affair with hockey being published in TSN Hockey Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s and sports writer Jim Lang’s new book entitled "Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspirational Stories On and Off The Ice". You can follow him on Twitter below.

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