Anderson 'most important player' for red-hot Sens
Three straight road wins earn Ottawa goaltender NHL's first star of week honours
|Senators goaltender Craig Anderson stopped 96 of 99 shots he faced and recorded a shutout string of more than 129 minutes in backstopping three road wins last week (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).
"He's probably been our most important player for the last 10 games or so," the Senators blueliner said of goaltender Craig Anderson, whose stellar play of late has been duly noted once again by the National Hockey League.
On the heels of a sweep of a three-game road trip, the Senators have arrived home for a quick pit stop of sorts, facing the Winnipeg Jets tonight at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). It's the team's last appearance at home for the rest of the month, with another road swing — this one five games in duration — set to begin Tuesday in Toronto.
Those who venture out to Scotiabank Place wil get the chance to catch a glimpse of one of the NHL's hottest stoppers. In three games last week, Anderson backstopped the Senators to a trio of wins, posted a 0.98 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage. Included was a 3-0 blanking of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York, in game in which Ottawa was able to weather an early storm largely because of their goaltender.
"(Anderson) has been bailing us out a lot, especially early in the games," said Karlsson, the NHL's top-scoring defenceman with 44 points. "We're really happy for him that he's playing well and feeling good. I think the whole team is playing really well and when we're not, he's usually been there for us, making some big saves and key saves."
Since coming on in relief of Alex Auld in a Dec. 30 home game against the Calgary Flames, Anderson and the Senators (25-15-6) have posted an 8-0-1 record that has rocketed them into the thick of playoff contention in the East — their only stumble a 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Jan. 7. The Senators currently sit fifth overall in the conference and just a single point behind the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, who've played five less games.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean suggests Anderson's improved play mirrors that of the team as a whole. Since starting 1-5-0, the Senators have posted a 24-10-6 record. Their goals for-against ratio has gone from minus-15 after six games to dead even today.
"It’s a growth indicator for us," MacLean said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "Our team is growing and we’re getting better defensively. The shots on our net maybe aren’t coming way down, but the shots on net in the whole league aren’t way down. The glaring mistakes we made early in the year … we’re not seeing those at this point and I think it’s made a huge difference in our confidence as a team.
Ask the goaltender himself and he'll tell you he subscribes to that theory as well.
"It's a credit to how well the team is playing. I'm just riding the train and collecting the benefits," said Anderson, who was earlier named the NHL's third start of the week to start 2012. "Overall, everyone’s playing better and everyone’s getting the benefits (from) it. It’s just the way the team game goes. It’s not just one guy. You just can’t count on one guy to step up and do the job.
"It takes everybody and the better that guys play in front of you, the better the goalie is going to look. The better the linemates play, the better the centre man is going to look. It’s a team thing and the better the guys play around each other, the more benefit, the more results you’re going to get."
Anderson, who leads the league in games played (41), shots faced (1,219) and saves (1,106), acknowledges his current stretch of hockey rates among the best he's enjoyed as an NHLer. But as always, he maintains a level-headed approach to it all.
"You want to make sure that through the peaks and valleys ... (you) stay nice and even-keeled," he said. "You're not as good as you think you are, and you're not as bad as you think you are when things aren't going so good. It's just a matter of finding that happy medium and staying mentally tough to make sure that you're ready for every game, regardless of what happened the last game.
"There’s been some stretches in the past where you've put together a few good games. But it’s one of those things where you learn from that, so you try to replicate it and do it again and over again ... You take it one game at a time but at the same time, you’ve got to build off it and continue to get better and continue to learn."
Around the boards
The Senators are sticking with the same lineup they used in Saturday's win in Montreal, meaning blueliner Brian Lee will be tonight's healthy scratch ... Since dropping a 5-2 decision to the Bruins on Dec. 14, Ottawa has posted an 11-1-2 record to move 10 games above .500 ... Forward Jesse Winchester (concussion) isn't any closer to a return to active duty. "He says he feels a little bit better, but he still has the symptoms," said MacLean. "He's not progressing, really, he's just staying the same" ... In his last 25 appearances, Anderson is 17-5-3 with a 2.46 GAA and .920 save percentage ... The road trip that begins Tuesday will be a historic one of sorts for three Senators. Thursday in San Jose (10:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), blueliner Sergei Gonchar will play his 1,100th career NHL game. Captain Daniel Alfredsson hits the same milestone Saturday in Anaheim (4 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), when winger Chris Neil is also set to become just the fourth player to suit up for 700 games in a Senators uniform ... Fewer than 400 tickets remain for tonight's game against the Jets ... Centre Zenon Konopka sister, Cynthia, is slated to perform the national anthem prior to the opening faceoff.