OTTAWA - You remember Craig Anderson, right?
The very valuable Senators goalie who somehow suffered a sliced hand tendon in an off-ice incident that threatened to spoil his team’s unexpected run back to the playoffs?
Well first off, tell Chicken Little the sky is not falling after all.
Thanks to the strong responses of rookie netminders Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop, the Senators are 4-3 since Anderson was cut — and that stretch includes three games against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. It also includes a 5-3 loss to Boston in the first game without Anderson. Backup Alex Auld was between the pipes for that one. He’s been back on the bench ever since.
The two young fellas now with a combined total of 22 NHL games under their belts have given up a grand total of 10 goals in six games.
The Senators could be confident starting the playoffs with either Lehner or Bishop right now.
But it’s starting to look more and more like that won’t be necessary.
A week after facing the media with his right hand heavily bandaged and mostly covered by a coat, Anderson appeared before 19,000 fans and a TV audience to accept an award Thursday. The hand was completely exposed and he did not shy away from shakes of congratulations.
The next morning, he was on the ice in full gear before his teammates practised for a second time.
“I think there’s some real good progress, real positive progress,” said coach Paul MacLean. “There’s still not a time frame on it, but he’s making good progress.”
The next step, whenever that will be, is a full practice with the team.
“To take shots, use his stick and see how much it’s going to hurt,” said MacLean. “Just a matter of him getting the ability to use the stick the way he needs to.”
Bishop will be looking to make it three wins in a row when the Senators host the desperate Buffalo Sabres Saturday. He’ll bring with him a decimal-less goals against average of two.
Asked if he’s ready to assume full No. 1 goalie duties in the NHL, Bishop spoke mostly of the team.
“Everybody wants to have that responsibility,” he said. “It’s just something where you’ve got a couple of wins, you can’t get too comfortable. There’s still a big road in front of us. You can’t get too comfortable. There’s another must-win (Saturday) night, against a good team. They’re coming off a loss, they’re going to be hungry.
“As long as we don’t get too comfortable with ourselves after a couple of wins like that, we’ll be fine.”
Bishop showed poise in his first game as a Senator at Scotiabank Place, giving up a goal in the first five minutes then shutting the door on the conference-leading Rangers after that.
“It was kind of one of those things, a little unfortunate,” he said of the Ryan Callahan shot got past him. “But when your team can respond as fast as we did, it just wipes out the goal completely. Everybody forgets about it, you have all the momentum again. It made it a lot easier when we scored a minute later. I don’t think we got rattled at all. For the rest of the period, we played well. Even the second period when we got outshot, we had a lot of chances but just missed the net.”
SHARING THE LOAD: At last, the likes of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson are getting some consistent help. In fact, with all the slumps that have been busted the past week, the coldest Senator regular forward other than Erik Condra (29 games) is Alfredsson, who hasn’t scored in six.
Zack Smith is the most recent to shed the monkey off his back, scoring his first in 14 games Thursday.
“It was a relief, to say the least,” said Smith. “It’s nice to break a goal-less drought as long as that one was. Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do, they won’t go in. It’s a good feeling when it finally does.”
Yet it’s not because he wasn’t scoring that had Smith spend a game in the doghouse known as the press box.
“Last couple of games he’s been real good, playing with a little bit more of an edge, and he’s shooting the puck, he’s involved in the game,” said MacLean. “It’s good to see. He’s an important player on our team. We need him to be consistent, knowing at the same time it’s real hard to be consistent in this league. That’s the test for every player.”
Kyle Turris is now consistently putting the puck in the net, if that can be said about a two-game scoring streak. Before that, scored just once in 14 games, and it was into an empty net.
“I’m just trying to keep shooting pucks and going to the net,” said Turris. “It seems that most of the goals come from five feet around the net, so I’m trying to just to put my body there. Alfie’s been giving me tons of opportunities, I’ve just got to start to bury them.”
An example of how is luck might be changing was evident on his goal against New York Thursday. Turris skated full speed to the net and was fortunate that the rebound of an Alfredsson shot fell right on to his stick for an easy tap in.
“It could have bounced a different way, or over my stick instead of on my stick,” he agreed. “It seemed like for the last 15 games they were going over my stick over I was hitting it into the goalie instead of into the open net. It’s a positive I’m taking out of it.
“I think everybody knows how important secondary scoring is,” Turris added. “Spez and Karl and Alfie and Milo .. they’re some of the best players in the league. But they need some help at times as well. We’re just trying to chip in where we can and help them out.”
THIS AND THAT: Entering Friday’s action, the Senators were eight points up on the ninth-place team, and the Jets only had one game in hand. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” maintained MacLean. “We might be ahead a little bit in the race, but until you get to 82, nobody is in the right place yet. We try to deal it on day-to-day basis, not get too big of a road map, just try to stay on the road, one day at a time.” ... Rob Klinkhammer doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon — or perhaps at least not until Jesse Winchester returns from concussion problems. “He’s got real good speed, gets around the rink real well,” MacLean said of Klinkhammer, who picked up his first NHL point and was named the third star in Thursday’s game, just his third since being recalled from Binghamton. “I think he does a good job in the defensive zone, along the boards. He does a good job on the forecheck, shares the puck real well. I think he makes our team faster and a little more skilled.”