Everything about the Anders Lindback trade suggested that Tampa GM Steve Yzerman made one of the shrewdest offseason moves. After enduring a season of ugly goaltending, he addressed it decisively in June by sending three draft picks to the Predators for Lindback, formerly the 6-foot-6 backup to Pekka Rinne.
Lindback is just 24 years old, and the Predators, with goalie coach Mitch Korn, have a history of developing quality goaltenders. He's making a reasonable $1.8 million per season, a consideration that Yzerman no doubt appreciates because he was raised on a Detroit goaltending model that typically prefers to distribute cap dollars elsewhere.
And when given the opportunity to play in Nashville, Lindback was strong, posting save percentages of .915 and .912 in his first two NHL seasons.
It added up to the perfect addition, and it still might be. But a couple of factors have contributed to a slow start to the Lindback era in Tampa.
For one, Lindback went from a generally more defensively sound Western Conference to the East, where teams seem more willing to exchange chances. There's definitely an adjustment to new players and teams.
It was even more extreme for Lindback, who left the systemically sound and defensively focused Predators, who rarely sacrifice defense to score goals.
"We have the offensive skill set that Nashville doesn't have," Lindback said of the Lightning. "It's pretty obvious that we have to use that, focus on that. It turns into a different game. We score the most goals in the NHL, when you have that kind of offense, the defense is going to open up a little bit."
Lindback is 7-4-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in his first season as a No. 1 goalie. His game has been hindered at times by the occasional soft goal that stands out during otherwise acceptable performances.
"There's been some bad goals here and there, but overall I think it's been going well," he said. "I feel confident, I know what I can do."
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher also remains confident in his young goalie despite the slow start. Earlier in the season there were games when he could have rested Lindback but opted to play him and push his comfort level a bit. It wasn't a test, but more an opportunity to give him experience.
"That was a lot to chew on for a goaltender who hadn't lived it," Boucher said when we chatted Saturday afternoon. "It's good for his development. It's good for what he needs to manage."
Lately, Boucher has provided Lindback that time to reflect on the start. He hasn't played since allowing three goals on 10 shots against the Penguins on Feb. 24. Mathieu Garon has started three consecutive games, all losses on the road.
It's a fine line between giving Lindback needed practice time and too much time to overanalyze his play. That's what Boucher is currently balancing.
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