Back-to-back games 24 hours apart this week could very well be remembered as the biggest save of them all by Senators goalies.
In stopping 57 of 58 shots from the Flyers and the Devils, Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson appear to have saved the season just as it was slip-sliding away.
That the guys in the big pads are the heroes of the day should come as no surprise, really. Anyone even remotely paying attention to the Senators knows the main reason they’ve had success. But to really appreciate what Anderson and Co. have done to this point, one needs to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
This season, the Senators aren’t just getting great goaltending. They’re getting goaltending as good any team has had in the modern-day history of the NHL.
In fact, it could end up being the best.
The Senators have allowed 89 goals this season. As of Saturday afternoon, that was two more than the Boston Bruins and four more than the Chicago Blackhawks, but both teams had played one less game.
With seven games left, Ottawa is easily on pace to set a new record for fewest goals allowed by a team — the mark is 115, established by Ed Belfour and the Blackhawks in the lockout-shortened, 48-game, 1994-95 season — as are Chicago and Boston.
Empty-netters aside, the Senators’ team goals-against average is 2.07, second only to Chicago’s 2.02. But as good as Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been, Anderson has been better.
When Anderson went on injured reserve with a sprained ankle Feb. 21, he was the league leader in GAA and save percentage. He never did lose hold of top spot. Even while suffering losses in the first two games of his comeback, Anderson only gave up five goals. And against the New Jersey Devils on Friday, he was flawlessly spectacular.
With the 33-save shutout, he improved his league-best GAA to 1.53. The record of 1.56, set by Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues in 38 games last season, broke the previous mark of 1.69 established by Miikka Kiprusoff in 2003-04, also in 38 games.
Anderson’s save percentage of .949 not only gives him a comfortable lead on runner-up Sergei Bobrovsky (.931) this season, but it’s also better than Elliott’s (.940) and Kiprusoff’s (.933) when they were the GAA kings.
When Belfour was the ‘Hawks’ No. 1 guy in the reduced 1994-95 term, his GAA was 2.28 and his save percentage was .906.
Now Belfour did play 42 games that season, so like Elliott and Kiprusoff he was good for a longer period of time than Anderson, who has been limited to 18 games. And Anderson is not challenging the fewest goals against record of all time by himself. Ben Bishop and Lehner have also contributed largely to Ottawa’s stinginess, as has coach Paul MacLean’s system.
As well, the defence was heaped with praise by coach, goalie and captain Daniel Alfredsson for its play in limiting second and third chances against the Devils. Marc Methot has been particularly outstanding in his own zone throughout the season.
Meanwhile, some even questioned MacLean’s decision to start Anderson in New Jersey. After his two losses, it was Lehner who put a halt to the team’s losing streak with a 24-save, 3-1 victory in Philly. Was MacLean not at least a little concerned about making the switch from his slump-buster to Anderson, who hadn’t tasted victory since Feb. 19?
“I didn’t have any worry about it at all,” he said post-game in Newark. “We have a lot of confidence in our goalies, and with this schedule the way it is, I think that’s what dictates how you play them way more than it would in regular circumstances.”
MacLean went on to aptly sum up his goaltending situation as it now stands.
“It’s very comforting,” he said with a grin.
It might be more even more than that. The Senators have never had a 1-2 punch as good as Anderson and Lehner, and that includes the days when Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes ruled the roost behind Jacques Martin’s tight structure. They have never had one guy that gives the rest of the team as much confidence as Anderson, and that’s counting Dominik Hasek, who was a fragile 40 when he wore their colours.
If today’s Anderson — not Emery in his sophomore season — had been the Senators’ netminder in 2007, they probably would have won the Cup, a couple of reporters decided late Friday night.
This season’s Senators will not enter the playoffs as the best team in the East, of course, but with Anderson as their goalie and Lehner his backup, they should have the best goaltending.
And that could carry them a long way.
A look at the leaders in GAA this season (minimum 10 GP)
- Craig Anderson, OTT 1.53
- Jonathan Bernier, LA 1.86
- Ray Emery, CHI 1.90
- Tuukka Rask, BOS 1.95
- Corey Crawford, CHI 2.00
- Sergei Bobrovsky, COL 2.01
- Henrik Lundqvist, NYR 2.12
- Cory Schneider, VAN 2.14
- Jaroslav Halak, STL 2.14
- Viktor Fasth, ANA 2.17
- Antti Niemi, SJ 2.19
- Robin Lehner, OTT 2.22
- Anton Khudobin, BOS 2.23
- Carey Price, MTL 2.28
- Pekka Rinne, NSH 2.29