OTTAWA - Craig Anderson is learning how to defend himself.
The way the Senators are playing in front of him, he has to.
“You need the guys around you for support,” said Anderson, who will start in goal against the reborn Winnipeg Jets Thursday at Scotiabank Place. “Just like a goal scorer. He needs support from his wingers and guys around him to help him score. Same thing with goaltenders. You’re only as good as the guys in front of you.”
Which has not been very good at all this season.
Two weeks into the NHL schedule, the Senators have surrendered 30 goals, more than any other team in the league. This is not a huge surprise. Most nights, half of their blue-line group is 21 years of age or younger. They’ve made the expected mistakes.
Members of the other half, meanwhile, have played like they’re 55. We thought a “Freedom” package was in order for Filip Kuba over the summer, and nothing he has done through six games has changed our mind.
The offence has been as stagnant as expected, putting the team in an early hole that usually turns deep. This has not helped matters.
All of it makes life difficult for a goalie. But then, nobody promised Anderson it was going to be easy. From the outset, he knew he would have to be brilliant for the Senators to have a chance.
He has to make the big saves when the team is slow starting. He has to perform the supernatural to keep his friends in a game. And generally, he has not.
In five games, Anderson has a 4.99 GAA and a .852 save percentage. It’s early, and he’ll improve those digits, but right now they are an eyesore.
And like everyone else, Anderson is making sure we know it’s not all his fault.
“I’ll be the first to give credit to my teammates when we play great,” he said. “ (But) I can’t do it by myself. We’re working hard and we’re going to come out of this.
“Stats are a funny thing. It’s what everybody kind of checks you on ... It’s what you guys check us on. It shows a little bit, but it doesn’t show the whole truth.
“I haven’t looked at them,” he added, unconvincingly. “If you look over the career of any goaltender that’s played seven, eight, nine years in the league, usually his career average ends up being his yearly average. At the end of the day it’s a long season and this is just a little blip on the map. You string five, six good games together and before you know it, you’re back to quote, unquote, a respectable number, or whatever you want to call it.”
Anderson’s backup, Alex Auld, has not helped matters. In his first start, he allowed a weak goal that proved to be the difference. Against Philly, Auld looked like Brian Elliott, giving up two softies and four goals altogether, before being yanked.
Daniel Alfredsson admitted a bad goal allowed is tough to overcome.
“It is,” Alfredsson said. “When we’ve had the starts we’ve had a few games this year, where we give up three goals in a period early, it wears on you. We have to be more resilient to start games. I think we can be a really good team when we’re up, but we haven’t done that at all this year. We scored the first goal in one game, but that didn’t last long. Overall, we’ve just got to do a better job of managing the puck early on in games, and be tougher mentally when we do get a bad break.”
Paul MacLean is not blaming any one individual.
“If everybody could have a game, that would be great,” said the coach. “As (former Blues GM) Ron Caron used to tell me, ‘We had 20 participants in the game last night but they didn’t all participate.’ We need everyone to participate that’s dressed in the game. We need everybody to have a game.
‘“Goaltending can hide an awful lot of stuff. It has in the past. Our expectations are our goaltenders are going to be good and give us a chance every night. We also expect our defence is going to be back and move pucks quickly, and that our forwards will play defence and attack the other team’s net. We don’t do that all the time, either.
“It’s so easy to say it’s the goalie’s fault. I’m not doing that. This is a team thing. It’s got nothing to do with one guy or one guy specifically. This is the Ottawa Senators, players and coaches. Not just one guy. We need everyone to come and have a game.”
Starting with Anderson. The heat is on him. It comes with the position.