Monday, December 30, 2013

Anderson Still Hanging In There After Terminal Diagnosis From Fans

Fans who have been (impatiently) waiting for Robin Lehner to supplant Craig Anderson as this team’s number one goalie are likely to be waiting a little longer than they thought.

It’s not happening just yet.

Anderson still has the confidence of Coach Paul MacLean and the goalie’s recent efforts have rewarded the sometimes stubborn-to-the-brink-of-death coach.

Most of the damage to Anderson this season has been done by the Western Conference. Against the much superior West, Anderson is 1-6-2 with a 4.48 goals against average and a brutal .867 save percentage. Those games have been among the worst of Anderson’s career, giving up 6 goals to Chicago, 5 to San Jose and 4 to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vancouver and Phoenix respectively. That means out of 11 games against a Western Conference opponent, Anderson has given up 4 or more goals in 6 of them. That would have been enough to make Hardy Astrom retch all over his beautiful Colorado Rockies jersey.

But when Anderson faces Eastern teams, his numbers are actually quite good. In 15 games he’s 10-3-2 with a 2.56 GAA and a .921 SV%. He’s won 7 out of his last 10 against Eastern teams and that includes Boston (twice), Pittsburgh and Washington among others. His biggest pain in the East has been the Philadelphia Flyers who racked up 9 goals on Anderson in only 2 games. Yet Anderson still came out on top in one of those via the shootout.

The good news is Anderson is getting better as the team improves defensively in front of him. The bad news is Ottawa faces Western teams in 4 out of their next 6 games. Yet none of those are the elites. They see Winnipeg on Thursday and go out on a 3 game swing into Denver, Nashville and Minnesota. Keep in mind all of those teams have more points than Ottawa with the exception of the Preds who sit with 38 points to Ottawa’s 39 (as of Monday morning).

So what does MacLean do? Don’t expect him to deviate from starting Anderson throughout most of this stretch unless things really go to hell (and that’s always a possibility with this team). Sure, Lehner has better numbers against the West but only one win to show for it (at home against St. Louis). He’s done a lot of cleanup work for Anderson in Western Conference games and may have to step in again, but I think that’s less likely to happen now.

As good as Lehner has been, the one result that matters – wins – have been elusive for Lehner. He has one win in his last 9 appearances, not long after becoming the go-to fan favourite for his 3-game winning streak in November. Many even point to MacLean going back to Anderson right after Lehner’s streak as the reason the season rolled into the ditch just as the snow started falling in the Capital.

Forgetting the math, what this probably comes down to is MacLean’s personality. It’s not carved out of marshmallows like Dustin Byfuglien’s physique. It’s weather-beaten rock, creased and chipped from many hard years in this league. People laugh at things like a “code” in today’s NHL, mostly because everyone is hyper-cynical and irrationally non-traditionalist, but coaches have a “code” as well as the players. A lot of that code has to do with loyalty and MacLean follows it religiously. And 9 out of 10 coaches would have done the same thing with Anderson and Lehner, especially when Anderson helped win you a Jack Adams one year and made you a finalist the other. There’s a belief there that a hockey player is more than just a month’s worth of stats. His whole career and what he’s capable of factor into the decision.

Losing games can change that in a hurry, but is there any coach with more security right now than Paul MacLean? Maybe only Mike Babcock in Detroit or Joel Quenneville in Chicago. Sometimes you have a little house money to play with and MacLean is spending some of it on Anderson in the belief that long-term it's the best decision for the team.

Good goalies have a tendency to work their way out of slumps and Anderson is undoubtedly a good goalie. Yet whatever steps Anderson would take, team defense would send him back a couple. Lehner has been victimized by the same giveaways and soft play that his defenseman and backchecking forwards have been providing all season and his numbers have been hurt too. Think of how good Lehner’s stats would be if he was playing behind even a reasonably better defense?

It’s all conjecture, and so is any prediction of what MacLean will or won’t do with his lineup. But if you wet your finger and put it to the wind, the breeze is still blowing Anderson’s way right now.

Stay tuned for the next disaster when all this could change in a moment.


Anonymous said...

Nice post and a timely comment about MacLean. I agree with you in that he's sitting pretty secure. He just signed a new deal, and we're a budget team.

I love his whole "I'm just a fisherman" routine, and he can be pretty colourful when calling out players like "Player 61"

He's got a big emotional bank account with the fan base, but he's definitely spending his savings. People are rightfully questioning his moves. Some of them are pretty bizarre.

Some of his decisions rival the Craig Hartsburg era when our best line in hockey started dumping and chasing. It made no sense. Gerber also kept seeing the ice, not because he stopped pucks, but because he worked hard and was good in the room.

At times, MacLean has shut down our offence better than any opposing team could ever do by not playing certain players, or by not playing certain combinations.

We're 41 games in and a tad below .500. If he played Spezza with Ryan for the next 41 games, could we be worse? I don't think so. We'd stay the same or get better. I'm hoping he tries something new in 2014.

ksubramani said...

Tonights win seems to validate MacLean's faith in Anderson. Good to see Andy and the team start to round into form. Although with only 2 wins in a row, I hope I'm not getting ahead of myself!

Flow Man said...

Anderson has to be the guy in Ottawa