Lindback Making Most of 2nd Chance
By Jason Karnosky
Dating back to their inaugural season, 1998-99, the Nashville Predators and their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Milwaukee have rarely lacked depth in their goaltending department.
The defending Western Conference champions feature one of best netminders in the game in Pekka Rinne, plus a blossoming young prospect in Jusse Saros. But after the trade of Marek Mazenec in the offseason, the cupboard was left bare behind the two talented Finns.
Enter Anders Lindback—a journeyman NHL talent with 130 games of top level action, who spent the majority of 2016-17 in the Swedish Hockey League. With an opportunity to compete for the Predators No. 2 goaltending slot (a spot he formerly occupied from 2010-12) as well as audition for 30 other NHL teams, the towering Swede jumped at the chance to return to the Predators franchise.
“I’ve been jumping around a lot recently, so it’s nice to be back in a familiar organization,” Lindback said before the season. “The last couple of years (the Predators and Admirals) have done some good things, so I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Admirals coach Dean Evason welcomed “Lindy” back with open arms, and was thoroughly impressed with the veteran at Predators training camp.
“Lindback is definitely going to be our guy and we’re excited about having Lindy back,” Evason said before the season. “He’s a mature, big and strong goaltender. But not only is he a quality goaltender, but he’s a great, great person.”
At 29 years old Lindback has certainly been there and done that as far as his professional hockey career. At one point in his career the Gavle, Sweden native seemed destined to become an NHL starter once he left of the shadow of good friend Pekka Rinne.
“Pekka’s always been kind of a mentor to me ever since I got to this organization in 2010,” Lindback said. “Practicing with him and watching him play every day really helped my game. He was excited that I was coming back here.”
After playing in parts of five seasons in the Swedish Elite League, Nashville’s 2008 seventh-round draft choice joined the Predators and immediately stepped in as Rinne’s backup. From 2010-12 Lindback played in 38 games for Nashville, posting a solid 16-13-2 record.
During that time he was also introduced to Admirals fans on a couple of occasions, dressing for six conditioning starts.
An offseason trade to Tampa Bay in the summer of 2012 provided Lindback a chance to earn a No. 1 role in the NHL. There he played in 47 games over the next two seasons with the Lighting, splitting time with Ben Bishop and Mathieu Garon. He also started all four games on the losing end of a series sweep against Montreal in the spring of 2014.
Lindback then moved on to NHL stints with Dallas, Buffalo and Arizona. That was followed up by a rough start to 2016-17 with the AHL’s Ontario Reign that signaled the fact that his North American career might be over.
Lindback went back to his native Sweden and Rogle BK, where he played in 23 games. It proved to be an important step toward carving a potential path back to the NHL.
“I was coming off a big injury from the year before when I joined Ontario,” Lindback said. “It didn’t turn out the way I wanted to there, so I went back home and played. I finished the season well and got a couple of National Team games in. It was tough situation, but a good experience for me.”
In the summer Nashville General Manager David Poile got in touch with Lindback with a job opportunity. Now back with the Predators organization, Lindback found a comfortable landing place in Milwaukee.
Much like his team, Lindback started out the season red hot by winning his first five starts—all in October, and 10 of his first 13 games.
“(Anders) is an unbelievable goalie and an awesome teammate,” Admirals forward Tyler Kelleher said. “I used to watch him on TV as a kid when I was younger, and now it’s great to play with him. He’s extremely athletic, and probably the most athletic goalie I’ve ever played with.”
As an added bonus his Milwaukee teammates have come to relish Lindback’s stellar puck skills. The goaltender serves as an extra defenseman on his teams breakout, fielding dump-ins with ease.
“Lindy’s so good at handling the puck,” Evason said. “When the puck gets dumped in on him, we’re not as worried about our defensemen getting back to retrieve it. We can just open up and he has the ability to make as good a pass as anyone on the team. It definitely helps with our breakouts and alleviating the pressure that’s on us.”
Lindback’s top moment in Milwaukee so far came in an early morning start against Central Division rival Chicago on November 8. There he stopped 29 shots to earn a shutout in front of 8,000 mostly screaming kids in the Admirals annual Baird School Day Game at UWM Panther Arena. It was Lindback’s first blanking since April 8, 2014 with Tampa Bay.
“(Anders) gives us a chance to win every night,” said Admirals defenseman Frederic Allard after the game. “He deserved the zero goals against (today), and we’re proud to help him get that.”
To date Lindback has been superb with Milwaukee, posting a 12-5-1 record, with a 2.37 goals against average and .925 save percentage. Thanks to his terrific play, the Predators have been more than willing to bring up Lindback to Nashville to once again serve as a backup to Rinne. Though he’s yet to earn a NHL start in 2017-18, Lindback allows the Predators the opportunity to send Saros back to the AHL to get conditional playing time and stay game-ready.
It’s not an ideal situation for Lindback, but something he’s trying to make the most of as he continues to log significant frequent flyer miles.
“It’s a different situation, but at the same time I have to make it beneficial,” Lindback said. “I get good practice in with our NHL team and I have to take the good out of that. (However), it’s a little tough to stay in rhythm playing-wise.”
Having Lindback in the fold is a luxury that neither Nashville or Milwaukee (13-12-2-0—28 points, .521 win percentage) is taking for granted. Whether it be with the Admirals, or potentially the Predators, wherever Lindback spends his time this season, that squad will be playing in front of a motivated and still hungry goaltender that always gives his very best effort.
“I am the third string goalie right now for the Predators, but I’m still just one step away from where I want to be,” Lindback said. “It’s good to be here, and it’s my job to be ready for whatever I’m needed for.”