Craig Anderson’s first start of the season was a 35-save shutout over Buffalo and it’s been all downhill since.
The American started 2013-14 with very real aspirations to grab a No. 1 or No. 2 job at the Olympics in February. But two months into the season Anderson is crumbling to the point where he only has a tentative hold on the top job in Ottawa.
Anderson has now allowed four goals in four consecutive starts and he only made it halfway through Thursday’s humiliating 5-2 loss to Vancouver on home ice. Over his past nine starts, Anderson has allowed 37 goals and earned only two wins. His save percentage over that stretch is .859, which is the equivalent of a Jason LaBarbera. Pee-yew.
Now, to be clear, Ottawa’s troubles run much deeper than its goaltending. Their average of 35.4 shots-against per game ranks 28th and defensive breakdowns, like this one that led to Daniel Sedin’s 300th carer goal, are all too common and all too easy.
Anderson had a .941 save percentage in 24 games behind the 23rd-ranked defense just last season and is supposed to be lifting his team the way rival Toronto’s two-headed monster of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer has kept the Maple Leafs in the thick of the Atlantic. But this season Anderson is, more often than not, allowing at least four goals each time he takes to the crease.
Enter Robin Lehner.
The first rumblings of any goalie battle in Ottawa came earlier this month when Lehner won three games in a row and earned NHL player of the week honors. Anderson took over the next three, allowed 11 goals and officially lost the confidence of the Ottawa faithful.
When Lehner has played he’s faced the same heavy workload, but has handled it much better, much more consistently. He has a .938 SP, similar to Anderson’s 2012-13 mark, and a record that reflects a .500 points percentage – a mediocre pace that shines a light on the poor performance of the team in front of him.
With Ottawa quickly slipping in the standings and risking a team like Florida coming up on them, the team needs to run with any stability it can find. Right now, that’s Lehner. But even after Lehner carried a .931 SP through road games in Detroit and Carolina on back-to-back nights, coach Paul MacLean still turned to Anderson, who allowed four goals in Washington on Wednesday. And Thursday against Vancouver the coach still went to Anderson.
Members of the Sens have of course played down a controversy in Ottawa, but there’s no doubt one is slowly brewing as fans of the team yearn for the level of goaltending they got in 2012-13. Lehner is providing it, Anderson is not.
Two weeks ago, as public opinion began to turn against Anderson, MacLean joked: “Craig’s the No. 1 goalie. It came up heads.” The Senators are in no position for games anymore, though – they need to do whatever they can to try and gain some traction.
MacLean needs a two-sided coin with Lehner’s face printed on it.