The Goaltending Distraction

In the wake of last night’s 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, it certainly felt like the masses were ready to gloss over the result and other pressing concerns that plague the Senators because they wanted to focus on… the goaltending.

From listening to the opening moments of the postgame show on TSN 1200 to reading the reactions and commentary on Twitter, there wasn’t a lack of opinion on who should be this team’s number one goalie or a shortage of individuals second guessing Paul MacLean’s decision not to go to Robin Lehner after Craig Anderson was average the night before.

Suffice it to say, some, like Travis Yost, have even drawn attention to analytics that demonstrate how uncommon it is for goaltenders, who play in both games of back-to-backs, to post strong numbers on no rest. It’s the kind of important information you would like to believe Paul MacLean’s privy to.

And maybe, just maybe, the belief that Robin Lehner should get the bulk of the starts is a thought that permeates the confines of the dressing room and creeps into the minds of the players.


Here are some numbers to chew on:

Andy has a 2-6-2 record in his last nine games that includes a GAA of of 4.36 and a save percentage of .859.

The number of games this season where Ottawa’s goaltenders have had a save percentage less than .900: Craig Anderson has 9 in the 17 games he’s appeared in. Robin Lehner has zero.

Of the goalies who have played in 10 or more games, Lehner has the seventh highest even strength save percentage (.939) and the fifth best save percentage when his team is killing a penalty (.920). Conversely, Anderson’s .915 at even strength isn’t that bad and puts him in line with guys like Martin Brodeur (.915), Marc-Andre Fleury (.915) and Roberto Luongo (.914).

Where the numbers show Anderson is getting hammered this season is when his team is shorthanded. The old adage is that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer and Andy simply hasn’t. His .770 save percentage while his team is shorthanded is the second worst rate for a goaltender with 10 or more games played – only the New York Islanders’ Kevin Poulin is worse.

Just to hammer the point home, here are Anderson’s save percentages while his team was shorthanded:

2012/13: allowed 10 goals on 133 shots (.925)

2013/14: allowed 17 goals on 74 shots (.770)

And yes, as ridiculously easy as it is to criticize the last line of defence and bemoan Craig Anderson’s porous play of late, it ignores Ottawa’s struggles in front of the blue paint. For all of Lehner’s brilliance this season, he’s still 4-4-2 on the season. The Sens have simply not won consistently with him in goal either.

At this point, I don’t think there’s any question that Robin Lehner gives this team the best opportunity to win, and if Ottawa’s going to have any sniff of the postseason, they’re going to have to do a lot of it and soon.

Barring a ridiculous stretch of play, the likelihood of Ottawa making the playoffs grows more and more remote by the game.

The other day on TSN1200, Eugene Melnyk emphasized how losing wasn’t fun and he’s right.

It’s not fun, but at least it can be tolerated insofar as that it feels like the organization is building towards putting a contender on the ice.

And for as much as the next few days will inevitably see this discussion on goaltending come to the forefront and make for rabid talk radio debate, I think it’s a convenient distraction that helps absolve the team’s skaters of their share of blame.

For as bad as Anderson’s metrics have been, this team’s puck possession metrics have been just as bad and for all of this having to win now, I’d like to think that properly evaluating the talent and composition of the roster in front of Lehner (and/or Anderson) is just as equally important and will lend itself to how Ottawa operates over the course of the next few months.

As it stands, the Senators have three options:

1. They can buy now and give this team an opportunity to put itself in playoff contention.

Given this team’s inconsistency coupled with the frequent reports in the media that the Senators are reluctant to take on salary to make this team better now, barring some cash dump moves that allow this team to have the financial flexibility to acquire talent. The danger here is that the Senators would likely have to pay a premium at this point in the season to improve and there’s no guarantee that the incoming player could make a lick of difference. In buying now however, the Senators would still have time to flip the incoming player in a separate move should they fall out of playoff contention.

Likelihood: small

2. Stand Pat With Current Group

With the exception of the movement of players between Ottawa and Binghamton, the Sens and their coaching staff can hope that the solutions come internally. Doing so gives affords this group an opportunity to turn things around and gives management a longer window to evaluate their group and decide which players are building blocks for the future.

If this team continues to fall out of the playoff mix, they can trim the roster of expendable and replaceable players.

Likelihood: High

3. Start Selling

In doing so, the Senators would be admitting that this season is already lost and that they’re happy to stockpile assets to augment this team’s young core. Moreover, there’s the question of whether it’s in this team’s best interests to sell when so many of their players are playing at such a low level. It simply doesn’t make sense to see this team make a deal when so many parts have such low trade values.

I can’t envision this team selling this early, especially when casual ticket sales haven’t exactly been booming this early and the Sens desperately need to retain their season ticket holder base.

With so many of this team’s top six forwards and one-half of their top defensive pairing approaching unrestricted free agency following the 2014/15 season, you would hate to see this organization mortgage any of the future by moving assets when many of these impending UFAs could leave without netting anything in return.

Looking ahead…

At some point in the future, the organization has to establish this team’s core and whether it includes Bobby Ryan (hopefully) and Jason Spezza. Now obviously that’s contingent upon the Senators’ ability to sign them to extensions that aren’t too prohibitive for a small market team. The difficulty for Ottawa will come this summer when both players can are eligible to negotiate extensions. If neither is willing to negotiate, the leverage will only work in the players’ favour as the season moves along because everyone knows that the Sens can ill afford to lose Spezza, and or Ryan when they’ve already lost Silfverberg, Noesen, a 2014 first rounder, and Alfredsson already. They simply can’t lose all of these players over a two-year span with nothing to show for it.  

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