Nine games. That’s the amount of time it took for an NHL team to get more than two pucks past Craig Anderson in a game this season.
A start that solid was certainly an effective foreshadow for the season he was about to have. Over the course of 24 games in 2013 — a total that was diminished by an ankle injury — Anderson had a record setting season. His 1.69 GAA was the lowest in a season by a Senators goaltender, topping Ron Tugnutt’s 1.79 GAA in 1998-99, while Anderson’s .941 save percentage was the best single-season mark by a goaltender in the NHL’s history.
Much of Anderson’s statistical spike has been attributed to his work with a pair of goaltending coaches over the last year — Francois Allaire, who was recently named goaltending coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and Sens goaltending coach Rick Wamsley.
The synthesis of his back-to-basics offseason training with Allaire and his day-to-day work with Wamsley has brought Anderson into the forefront of “best in the NHL” discussions alongside more heralded names like Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne.
With the benefit of hindsight, we could argue the lockout was a blessing in disguise for Anderson. After spending some time in Ottawa, he eventually returned to his home in Florida where he trained alongside Roberto Luongo, a close friend of Allaire’s who opened the door for Anderson to join in. The sessions took Andy back to goaltending school, working on movements he hadn’t focused on for years.
“It was kind of a favour for Roberto and I just kind of tagged along on the heels of them. It was goalie school 101. It was getting back to basics,” said Anderson. “Working on basic butterfly movements and being in position and being in the right spot at the right time.”
Needless to say, the experience was a positive one.
”I hadn't really done a goalie school since I was 15 years old so actually doing some basic movements and focusing on footwork and positioning, I think sometimes you need that.“
The work with Allaire isn’t solely responsible for Anderson’s season. He was quick to point out that they had skated briefly prior to the 2011-12 season and Andy “had a terrible start” despite the work together. While the additional work this time around wasn’t the sole spark to a career year, it was, at the very least, a useful refresher that got the ball rolling.
You still have to play the games, after all.
Preparation is a substantial part of life in the NHL. Getting yourself primed for the daily grind of professional hockey is a focal point for players at any position, let alone a goaltender. That habitual preparation is where Rick Wamsley has become so heralded for his work with Sens goaltenders.
The Sens owned the top goaltending unit in the NHL this year as performances from Anderson, Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop put Ottawa on top of the league with a .933 team save percentage. Lehner, who didn’t play enough games to qualify for the NHL leaderboards, finished the season with a .936 save percentage. Had he qualified, he would have been second in the league, just behind Anderson. Bishop finished the season with a .920 save percentage as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, down slightly from the .922 he posted in Ottawa prior to a deadline trade.
The cumulative play of this trio in 2013 raised eyebrows around the league. Obviously the Sens play a quality defensive system, but their goaltenders are stopping a lot of pucks. Something is being done right.
According to Anderson, Wamsley’s ability to build the confidence of his goaltenders and correct things that didn’t go right in past games on a daily basis is what makes him so effective. He also noted their relationship “has been a really good fit” since his arrival from Colorado.
Essentially, Wamsley’s ability to recognize — and build on — a goaltender’s strengths are what make him such an effective teacher.
“Rick's really good at finding things you do really well, breaking down why you have success. He knows how to build your confidence and build on that success,” said Anderson. “If he sees a game where you didn't have success, he's able to analyze it and figure out what changed from a game where you did have success and then make drills in practice to coordinate how to get you back on track.”
Wamsley’s ability to remedy a tough night out is visible on the statsheet. Anderson gave up three or more goals in back-to-back games just twice during the season. In the two games following those stretches, he was 2-0 with a shutout, stopping 61 of 62 shots against. Back on track, indeed.
The culmination of his prep work with Allaire and day-to-day development under Wamsley has established Anderson as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. While Anderson will be the first to point out that the team’s play has furthered his individual success, there are plenty who would counter that his solid goaltending is what allows the system to thrive to the degree it does.
Should that relationship persist and 2013 was a sign of things to come in goal for the Sens, you’d be hard pressed to find a tougher team to play come 2013-14.
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