OTTAWA - The Senators will pay their goalies $3.75 million this season, but spend nary a dime on shampoo for Craig Anderson and Alex Auld.
“Tomas Vokoun and I, we looked pretty similar a couple of years back,” said Anderson, referring to his follically challenged puck-stopping partners, past and present. “I think as long as you guys keep the camera off the top of our head from up above, we’ll be okay.”
Not likely. All eyes will be on Anderson, from top to bottom, as he arrives for Day 1 of training camp Saturday as the Senators’ single-most important player. Ranked 29th in goals scored last season, Ottawa didn’t do a whole lot to immediately help its offence during the summer.
That being the case, the Senators’ fortunes this season will rest largely on the hard work of Paul MacLean’s skaters and the performance of the goalie Bryan Murray obtained last February for a song, then inked to a four-year, $12.75-million contract extension.
Wearing the centurion, Anderson was 11-5-1 with a 2.05 GAA and a .939 save percentage, completely blowing any chance the Senators had of drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall.
“It wasn’t just in the games with us last year,” Murray said of offering the long-term deal to Anderson when 20-year-old ’tender Robin Lehner is so obviously very close to becoming an NHLer. “There’s some history with Craig that we have followed his career. We just think he’s a real stable guy. He stops the puck pretty well and gives confidence to our team.”
Anderson was on a similarly young team with low expectations in 2009-10 and he wound up playing 71 games while leading the Avalanche to the playoffs.
He notices a likeness with this Ottawa club and, as far as a heavy workload goes, well, he says, bring it on.
“You play as much as you earn,” said the 30-year-old Anderson. “For me, when you’re getting into a groove and you’re feeling really well on the ice, you want to keep playing more. If I end up playing 50 games, it’s 50 games. If I play 70-75, that’s what it ends up being. You can’t put a number on it. Just take it day by day.
“(In Colorado) we got off to a hot start and any time you’re playing well ... you’re not going to take out your first centreman when he’s scoring four goals in five games. When a guy is doing well, you’ve got to ride him, play him until he can’t go anymore.”
Last season, Anderson was alone in Ottawa, his wife Nicole in Florida, pregnant with their first child.
Now, he’ll be able to come home from Scotiabank Place and road trips to Nicole and their boy, Jake.
“It’s been a very great experience, a learning experience,” Anderson said of being a dad. “I’m glad that it happened in the summer, and I’ve had two or three months to adjust now, to get my schedule and routine down.”
He also appreciates the fact he was able to play the final 10 weeks for Ottawa and is not arriving here at camp as a free agent, and anxious to get the experience of playing a full season in a hockey market.
“It’s Canada, and hockey is Canada, as opposed to playing in Florida and Colorado,” said Anderson. “In those cities, you’re going to get a hockey buzz when you win, whereas here, regardless of how you do, soon as you come in, you feel the hockey buzz and the energy and excitement that has already started here, and the season hasn’t even started yet.”
With that comes incredible pressure, especially for a No. 1 goalie that so much is expected from. What about that, Craig?
“I like you guys, so it should be great,” he joked with the assembled media. “For me, it’s just go out there and do your job. Stop the puck for the guys in front of you, work on communication with the ‘D,’ and the better the guys in front of you play, the better my game will look. If I can get all the guys on the same page back there, with communication, and our coaching staff gets everyone on the same page, then everyone’s going to look like superstars out there. It doesn’t take individuals, it takes team work.”