As of today, the Ottawa Senators are two points away from being out of the playoffs. That's just one game. Forget about tiebreakers. Forget about games in hand. Thanks to an extended losing streak, the team is sitting in a precarious position: they have to win to keep their spot. There's no more cushion. No more table.
The good news is that the Senators control their own destiny. They just have to win--it's as simple as that.
The bad news is that if anything happens to Craig Anderson over the next five games, the chances of that happening take a drastic hit, because with steady option Ben Bishop suffering from a groin injury, their hopes would rest on Alex Auld.
Auld has been terrible this year, and there's no way to defend him. He's gone 2-4-2 with a GAA of 3.35 and save percentage of 88.4%. That's awful. His two wins were by scores of 6-4 and 4-3, respectively. There's no point in rehashing the scores of the losses.
The bottom line is that the team has no confidence in front of Alex Auld, no matter what they might say publicly. They do have confidence in Robin Lehner--we saw that when he became the only Senators goaltender to outduel Tim Thomas this year.
The only logical choice, then, is to scratch Auld and call up Lehner. NHL rules state:
5.1 Eligible Players -[...]Not more than eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goalkeepers, shall be permitted.[...]
5.3 Goalkeeper - The recalling of minor league goalkeepers (as a result of suspensions incurred to both goalkeepers under Rule 11 – Goalkeeper’s Equipment) to ensure a complete lineup for subsequent games shall be deemed to be an emergency recall and subject to the twenty-three (23) man roster limitations.
The key here is "to ensure a complete lineup." The Senators reportedly have just two uses of their emergency recall privilege left. Is it worth using one on Lehner?
Yes. The team already has enough healthy scratches. Should they lose a forward, Bobby Butler, Zenon Konopka, and Jesse Winchester all stand ready to draw in. There is no need to call up anyone else from Binghamton. Should they lose a defenseman, Matt Gilroy is available. And really, if the loss is Erik Karlsson or Filip Kuba, there's no one available to replace that talent anyway. The remaining defensemen don't bring enough to the table to justify recalling a Mark Borowiecki or Eric Gryba. If the team feels differently, they still have their last recall to use.
But in goal, there's no room for error. Craig Anderson will be playing every minute until the team is guaranteed a spot--of that, there's no doubt. Between Anderson and Auld, there's no debate over who gives the team the best chance to win. Unfortunately for the team, between Auld, Bishop, and Lehner, there's also no debate over who gives the team the worst chance to win.
With five games left in the season, winning is all that matters. How the team accomplishes that isn't as important as making sure that it is accomplished. The team must evaluate its personnel with an eye towards winning. Using that standard, there's just one possible conclusion:
Alex Auld must not play.